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The Seeds of the Benghazi Talking Points

11:04 AM, May 14, 2013 • By JERYL BIER
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Again, when given the opportunity to connect the Cairo protests with Benghazi and the anti-Muhammad video, the State Department official referred to the lack of "any connection between this internet activity and this extremist attack in Benghazi," not "the protests in Benghazi." This complete absence of "protests" or "demonstrations" in the State Department's discussion of Benghazi makes the revision in the talking points changing "attacks" in the first version to "demonstrations" in the third version even more curious.

A second point of contention regarding the talking point revisions relates to the spontaneous versus planned nature of the attacks and the participation of al Qaeda or al Qaeda affiliates. Andrea Mitchell raised this question early in the briefing:

QUESTION: ...there’s a lot of reporting now on this being linked to a terror attack, an organized terror attack – possibly al-Qaida sympathetic or al-Qaida linked. Can you speak to that?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: ... Frankly, we are not in a position to speak any further to the perpetrators of this attack. It was clearly a complex attack. We’re going to have to do a full investigation. We are committed to working with the Libyans both on the investigation and to ensure that we bring the perpetrators to justice. The FBI is already committed to assisting in that, but I just – we’re – it’s just too early to speak to who they were and if they might have been otherwise affiliated beyond Libya.

As the administration has stressed in defense of the early statements, the official declined to confirm or deny the suspected participation of al-Qaeda groups.  In fact, Mitchell's question contains the only reference to al Qaeda or "terror" in the entire briefing, and yet the first version of the talking points prepared by the CIA included multiple references to al Qaeda and its affiliates.  This is perhaps an early indication of the differences between the State Department and the CIA that would eventually lead to the twelve revisions in the following days.

Regardless, the State Department official did note that "[i]t was clearly a complex attack."  In fact, "attack" or "attackers" is used twelve times throughout the briefing.  By contrast, in reference to Benghazi, "protest," "demonstration," and "spontaneous" are not used at all.

A third and final point raised over the talking point revisions was the removal of references to prior attacks in Libya in the months leading up to September 11.  A questioner raised the issue of prior security incidents at the briefing:

QUESTION: ... Listen, there’ve been troubles in Benghazi for some time now. I understand the Consulate was attacked or bombed two, three months ago. The British have put out threat warnings about Benghazi. Was there any consideration before the attack yesterday of beefing up security there? 

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: Well, again, I’m not going to get into the specifics of how we were postured in terms of security at our mission in Benghazi beyond what I said. So – because we don’t ever talk about the details of those kinds of things.

What I would say, though, is that we did, as we did in missions around the world, review the security there in the context of preparing for the anniversary of September 11th. And at that point, there was no information and there were no threat streams to indicate that we were insufficiently postured.

Although the official stated that "we did, as we did in missions around the world, review the security there in the context of preparing for the anniversary of September 11th," an overview of State Department warnings and alerts shows a clear drop off between 2011 and 2012 in 9/11 anniversary warnings.

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