THE RIGHT PERSPECTIVE: The CIA knew terrorists attacked the U.S. embassy in Benghazi despite Obama administration claims it was not, former CIA Director David Petraeus said during closed-door testimony before a House investigating committee last week.
The testimony Petraeus gave directly contradicts the line given by the Obama administration – and one Petraeus himself repeated – that the attack was sparked by a spontaneous Muslim protest over a YouTube video mocking the Prophet Mohammed that spun out of control.
Behind closed doors on Capitol Hill, now-civilian Petraeus stressed to the House Foreign Affairs Committee that he always felt it was a terrorist attack, and that Al Queda related groups may have had a hand in it. But he also said that was unclear until key information, such as live security camera footage, came to the CIA over the days following the attack.
That information showed there was no demonstration and it was clearly a terrorist attack from the beginning to the end.
The initial story of a protest spun out of control unraveled shortly after the Obama administration launched a media offensive to establish that narrative. When it was revealed terrorist group Al Queada planned the assault to coincide with the anniversary of September 11, 2001, the CIA was blamed for refusing aid to the besieged embassy. The spy agency denied the charges, directly contradicting the White House.
Two of the Americans killed during the attack were later revealed to be CIA agents, as were a large number of Americans on the ground at the site.
Congressional hearings in October revealed that not only was the State Department aware of several requests for increased security in Benghazi, the department rejected them.
The meeting did nothing to settle the argument on whether there was enough security at the consulate, or if the attack was actually preventable.
That debate divided along partisan lines during last week’s hearing, with Republicans arguing there was not enough security, and Democrats insisting the situation was too unclear to determine proper levels of security.
Petraeus also told lawmakers that in his initial report, he declared there was “al Qaeda involvement.” But that reference was stripped from his agency’s original talking points.
White House national security council spokesman Ben Rhodes denied on Saturday the administration made any changes to the intelligence, reports the Washington Times, suggesting instead that the CIA itself altered the documents.
Other than changing change the word “consulate” to “diplomatic facility,” the White House “worked off of the [talking] points that were provided by the intelligence community,” Rhodes said. “So I can’t speak to any other edits that may have been made within the intelligence community. I can’t speak to what the process is within the CIA.”
The issue of who changed the memo became a main issue following Petraeus’ testimony, with top Republican lawmakers taking to the Sunday morning talk shows to make their case, reports the Washington Times.
Michigan Republican Congressman Mike Rogers blamed the White House’s National Security Council Deputies Committee for altering an unclassifed summary of what U.S intelligence knew of the attack.
Speaking on Meet the Press, Congressman Rogers said that the flow of information went from the CIA to the Committee, which is “populated by appointees from the [Obama] administration.” It was there that the story changed from on of a terrorist attack to a protest that spun out of control, which U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Susan E. Rice repeated over the following week.
“The narrative was wrong, and the intelligence was right,” Congressman Rogers said.
Sen. Saxby Chambliss, vice chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, blamed the changes on the National Security Council.
Ranking Democrats disputed Republican claims. California Senator Diane Feinstein, chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, called Rep. Rogers’ claim that the White House changed the narrative “false,” adding it was still unclear who changed the “talking points.”
She added that intelligence officials told her committee that the talking points were changed because it was not clear which groups had been involved in the consulate attack.
“The answer given to us is [U.S. intelligence agencies] didn’t want to name a group until [they] had some certainty,” the senator said.
According to intelligence officials, the talking-points changes removed the names of two extremist groups suspected in the attack — the Libyan Ansar al-Shariah militia and al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, the terrorist network’s affiliate in North Africa.
An intelligence official told The Washington Times that the changes also were intended to protect intelligence sources, because evidence of the groups’ involvement came from highly classified electronic surveillance methods.