During an appearance on NBC’s Meet the Press on Sunday, Congressman Mike Rogers, who is the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, accused political appointees in the intelligence community of spinning the September 11 terrorist attack in Benghazi.
Rogers was asked about the talking points U.N. ambassador Susan Rice relied on five days after the assault on the U.S. consulate. Those talking points portrayed the terrorist attack that killed four Americans as a “spontaneous” episode of violence that grew out of a demonstration against an anti-Islam film. There never was any demonstration in Benghazi, however, only a terrorist attack.
Did the intelligence community simply give Rice the wrong information? No, Rogers claimed.
“The intelligence community had it right, and they had it right early,” Rogers said. “What happened was it worked its way up through the system of the so-called talking points, which everyone refers to, and then it went up to what’s called a deputies committee … that’s populated by appointees from the administration.”
“That’s where the narrative changed,” Rogers said.
The White House has denied that top Obama officials revised the talking points. And Senator Dianne Feinstein, who appeared alongside Rogers, was quick to defend the White House. But her defense missed Rogers’s point.
“Now, with the allegation that the White House changed those talking points, that is false,” Feinstein said. The senator continued: “There is only one thing that was changed, and I’ve checked into this. I believe it to be absolute fact. And that was the word consulate was changed to mission. That’s the only change that anyone in the White House made, and I have checked this out.”
Feinstein’s comments track closely with what Ben Rhodes, the deputy national security adviser, has told the press.
While emphasizing that he gets “along well” with Feinstein “on many, many issues,” Rogers disagreed with the senator’s explanation, and implicitly the White House’s as well.
The talking points, “in other words, the narrative of how we would call this event, went up to what’s called a deputies meeting,” Rogers said. And “no one in the professional intelligence community could tell us who changed what.”
That is the “disconnect,” Rogers claimed. “So the intelligence community said this is-- this was a terrorist act.”
So, it wasn’t that the White House physically changed the wording of the talking points to downplay terrorism. Obama’s political appointees did, according to Rogers. It is natural to ask whether they were in contact with anyone in the White House on the matter.
If Rogers is right, then the American public deserves to know who, exactly, decided to spin the terrorist attack in Benghazi. And we should also learn why, given the many intelligence failures since September 11, 2001, the intelligence community is still so dysfunctional that partisan appointees can rewrite assessments in such a manner.
Thomas Joscelyn is a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.