This past weekend, Congressman Mike Rogers, who is chairman of the House intelligence committee, said that the talking points used to explain what happened in Benghazi, Libya on Sept. 11, 2012 were changed by political appointees in the Obama administration. Rogers pointed specifically to the deputies’ committee at the National Security Council.
Now we have another version of how the talking points evolved:
CBS News has learned that the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) cut specific references to "al Qaeda" and "terrorism" from the unclassified talking points given to Ambassador Susan Rice on the Benghazi consulate attack - with the agreement of the CIA and FBI. The White House or State Department did not make those changes.
… However, an intelligence source tells CBS News correspondent Margaret Brennan the links to al Qaeda were deemed too "tenuous" to make public, because there was not strong confidence in the person providing the intelligence. CIA Director David Petraeus, however, told Congress he agreed to release the information -- the reference to al Qaeda -- in an early draft of the talking points, which were also distributed to select lawmakers.
"The intelligence community assessed from the very beginning that what happened in Benghazi was a terrorist attack." DNI spokesman Shawn Turner tells CBS News. That information was shared at a classified level -- which Rice, as a member of President Obama's cabinet, would have been privy to.
An intelligence source says the talking points were passed from the CIA to the DNI, where the substantive edits were made, and then to FBI, which made more edits as part of "standard procedure."
What CBS News’s version of the story doesn’t say is how the administration (and presumably its talking points) came to pin the violence on a non-existent protest in Benghazi.
Note the quote from DNI spokesman Shawn Turner. He, like Rogers and others, claims that the intelligence community knew “from the very beginning” that it was a terrorist attack. If true, then removing the word “terrorism” from the talking points is especially curious, despite what a CBS News source says later in the piece about using “extremists” as a catchall.
And it is also curious that, according CBS News’s source, a questionable “person” provided the intelligence linking al Qaeda to the attack given what we know from published reports. We know, for instance, that some of the Benghazi attackers were in contact with members of al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) from intercepted communications – not a lone human source.
But again, none of this says anything about how the administration came to incorrectly blame the violence in Benghazi on a protest that didn’t happen.
It will take some time to get a more complete picture, but Mike Rogers' office says the new version doesn't match what the House Intelligence Committee was told behind closed doors:
"The statement released Monday evening by the DNI's spokesman regarding how the Intelligence Community's talking points were changed gives a new explanation that differs significantly from information provided in testimony to the Committee last week," House Intelligence Committee spokeswoman Susan Phalen told CBS News. "Chairman Rogers looks forward to discussing this new explanation with Director Clapper as soon as possible to understand how the DNI reached this conclusion and why leaders of the Intelligence Community testified late last week that they were unaware of who changed the talking points."
Thomas Joscelyn is a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.