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The Seeds of the Benghazi Talking Points

11:04 AM, May 14, 2013 • By JERYL BIER
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Last week, the Benghazi talking points took center stage in the ongoing investigation of the 9/11 anniversary attacks in Libya.  Jay Carney came under intense questioning at Friday's White House press briefing as he struggled to justify a dozen iterations of talking points before Susan Rice used the final version for her now-infamous five Sunday talk show appearances on September 16, 2012.  However, a background briefing by the State Department four days before Rice's appearances provides the earliest extended look at the information used to prepare those talking points.

On September 12, in the evening following the attacks, three unnamed State Department officials briefed journalists via teleconference on the rapidly developing story.  Although President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton had already made some public statements, this briefing contained far more detail than any previous remarks.  As the teleconference commenced, the most striking part about it is that "senior administration official one" (who has been widely reported as Assistant Secretary Victoria Nuland) does not mention "protests" or "demonstrations":

So let me give you a little bit of the chronology to the best of our knowledge. Again, the times are likely to change as it becomes a little bit more precise, but this is how we’ve been able to reconstruct what we have from yesterday.

At approximately 4 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time yesterday, which was about 10 p.m. in Libya, the compound where our office is in Benghazi began taking fire from unidentified Libyan extremists. By about 4:15, the attackers gained access to the compound and began firing into the main building, setting it on fire...

Later in the briefing, a journalist asks a question about protests [emphasis added]:

QUESTION: ...[T]he larger question is, you didn’t talk at all about the protests. You started your timeline with that the firing began. Can you talk about the timeline of when the protests started, how that fit in with it, and your sense of whether or not the protestors and the assailants were the same?...

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: ...With regard to the protests – I assume you’re not talking about protests in Cairo, are you? You’re talking about protests in Benghazi? ... We frankly don’t have a full picture of what may have been going on outside of the compound walls before the firing began. So I really just don’t have any specifics on that at the moment. I apologize.

It is apparent that the idea of protests at Benghazi had not yet even entered into the discussion at the State Department. The official in fact clarifies that the questioner is not referring to the protests outside the Cairo embassy, which of course had dominated the news the previous day. Another journalist raised the Cairo protests again later in the briefing:

QUESTION: ... Do you believe that this attack was in any way related to the incident in Cairo? You suggested this attack in Benghazi was more complex; so is it safe to rule out that this was a reaction to the inflammatory internet video?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: ...With regard to whether there is any connection between this internet activity and this extremist attack in Benghazi, frankly, we just don’t know. We’re not going to know until we have a chance to investigate. And I’m sorry that it is frustrating for you that so many of our answers are “We don’t know,” but they are truthful in that.

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