Start with the intelligence that the CIA and FBI seemingly relied upon in trying to describe what happened. Emails released by the White House show that the very first draft of the infamous talking points suggested “that the attacks in Benghazi were spontaneously inspired by the protests at the U.S. Embassy in Cairo and evolved into a direct assault against the US Consulate and subsequently its annex.”
The intelligence agencies and the White House stuck with that explanation through a rash of revisions, winding up with the 12th version that eliminated an earlier statement that “we do know that Islamic extremists with ties to al-Qaida participated in the attack.” The final version also cut references to Ansar al-Sharia or members of that jihadist group being involved in the attacks.
It seems inconceivable that the CIA and FBI would back off the references to Islamic extremists, al-Qaida and Ansar al-Sharia. But they did, and the emails give some insight into what happened.
An email from CIA General Counsel Stephen W. Preston expressed concern that the people working on the talking points needed to determine if the information “conflicts with express instructions” from the National Security staff, the Department of Justice and FBI “that, in light of the criminal investigation, we are not to generate statements with assessments as to who did this, etc. — even internally, not to mention for public release.” How’s that for a blackout?
Following that, State Department Deputy Press Secretary Victoria Nuland emailed her “serious concerns” about parts of the draft talking points “and arming members of Congress to start making assertions to the media that we ourselves are not making because we don’t want to prejudice the investigation.”
It seems inconceivable to me that in talking about a terrorist attack, there would be such concern about prejudicing the investigation into it. How would that prejudice the investigation? No explanation.
Nuland’s email continued: “In same vein, why do we want (Capitol) Hill to be fingering Ansar al Sharia, when we aren’t doing that ourselves until we have investigation results … and the penultimate point could be abused by members (of Congress) to beat the State Department for not paying attention to Agency warnings so why do we want to feed that either?” That referred to one of the early drafts that included this from the CIA: “On 10 September we warned of social media reports calling for a demonstration in front of the Embassy (in Cairo, Egypt) and that jihadists were threatening to break into the Embassy.” That was cut.
It’s inconceivable that the talking points were controlled by a deputy press secretary in the State Department without Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and President Obama signing off on the final wording. It’s also inconceivable that the Obama administration can get away with trying to depict the terrorist attacks as a demonstration over a cheap Internet video mocking Islam.