The Benghazi Emails: Talking Points Changed at State Dept.'s Request

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The newly released emails provide a fuller picture of the discussion among federal departments, the intelligence community and the White House about Benghazi. Throughout the drafting process, intelligence officials had included the idea that the Benghazi attack was spawned by a spontaneous demonstration.

The first of three talking points in the final version read: "The currently available information suggests that the demonstrations in Benghazi were spontaneously inspired by the protests at the US Embassy in Cairo and evolved into a direct assault against the US Consulate and subsequently its annex. There are indications that extremists participated in the violent demonstrations." Similar language topped all drafts of the Benghazi talking points.

Then Deputy National Security Adviser for Strategic Communications Ben Rhodes urged the participants of the email chain to sort out their differences over the talking points with each department's interests in mind. In "a draft note to the DIRECTOR," intelligence officials appear to have identified the State Department as driving the changes to the CIA's drafts.

"The White House cleared quickly, but State has major concerns," an official, whose name was redacted, wrote.

In the end, administration officials signed off on major changes to the talking points. One email includes handwritten edits in which sections of the talking points were crossed out. According to a senior administration official, the handwriting is Morrell's.

The following sections were crossed out and removed from later drafts:

  • "On 10 September the Agency notified Embassy Cairo of social media reports calling for a demonstration and encouraging jihadists to break into the Embassy."
  • "... as to who is responsible for the violence, although the crowd almost certainly was a mix of individuals. That being said, there are indications that Islamic extremists participated in the violent demonstrations."
  • "The wide availability of weapons and experienced fighters in Libya almost certainly contributed to the lethality of the attacks."
  • "The Agency has produced numerous pieces on the threat of extremists linked to al-Qaeda in Benghazi and eastern Libya. Since April, there have been at least five other attacks against foreign interest in Benghazi by unidentified assailants, including the June attack against the British Ambassador's convoy. We cannot rule out that individuals had previously surveilled the US facilities, also contributing to the efficacy of the attacks."

One official, whose name was redacted from the email chain, responded to the changes: "They are fine with me. But, pretty sure HPSCI won't like them :-)" HPSCI refers to the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, members of which had requested the talking points.

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