Changing the Talking Points: Who dunnit?

First story originally here:

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Posted at 08:45 AM ET, 11/19/2012

Talking Points and Omitted Facts

By Jennifer Rubin

Was U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice part of an Obama administration cabal to shade the truth with the American people after the 9-11-2012 attack and murder of our ambassador to Libya, or was she a pawn, duped into mouthing dishonest talking points? That is one issue, but hardly the only one, that has emerged after former CIA director David Pe­traeus’s testimony last week.

On NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Rep. Mike Rogers (R- Mich.), chairman of the House Intel­ligence Committee, helped flesh out some more detail on what happened before Rice went on five Sunday shows to tell Americans a story that was at odds with what the CIA knew and what the CIA chief believed at the time. He said, “I am with a high degree of con­fidence today will tell you that there was not an intelligence failure. The intelligence com­munity had it right, and they had it right early. 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 deputy’s committee. And what I found fascinating about this investi­gation, and, again, my role here in my mind is to say, was there an intelligence fail­ure? If so, how do we prevent it from happening again? It went to the so-called deputy’s commit­tee that’s populated by appointees from the administration. That’s where the nar­rative changed.”

Well, now the plot, as they say, thickens.

There are obviously a number of questions about all the parties involved, including Rice, but by no means limited to her.

Now even in Rogers’s telling Rice is a passive consumer of the revised talking points. But it is worth asking how that comports with her own access to intelligence and her own CIA briefing, if any? House Homeland Security Committee chairman Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) put it this way: “She certainly could have gotten a classified briefing. She would have sat down with the National Security Council, and she would have known that those talk­ing points had been watered down, and she could have caveated that — her statement, which she didn’t.”

Among the critical questions with respect to her role is whether she had the original talk­ing points or access to CIA officials who transmitted the substance of those. If so, then she’s not a bit player but part of the ensemble that tried to downplay the terrorist aspects of this and play up “the anti-Muslim movie made them do it” cover story.

Frankly on an event this big and this controversial, it is hard to believe that people such as national security adviser Tom Donilon, national intelligence director James Clapper, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, White House terrorism advisor John Brennan or Petrae­us would have been hands off in the coordination of information and the preparation of the sole representative of the administration on five talk shows that Sunday. Really, if you were someone important in the administration on national security, wouldn’t you have been in the huddle to help formulate the administration’s response?

And if the deputies meeting (convened when the bosses aren’t present or the matter can be delegated downward) did play a role, it is hard to imagine that their bosses didn’t check up to see what had become of those talking points. Would deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes not have told his boss Donilon what happened? Are we to believe some­one like deputy secretary of State William J. Burns would have kept Hillary Clinton in the dark? In any event, there must be, as former officials of other administrations have told me, gobs of conversations by phone and e-mail and possibly in person ( any note takers present?) in which the talking points were edited, reedited, massaged some more and fin­ally handed off to Rice. Certainly all of that should be able to clear this up rather swiftly, no?

If some or all of these top national security figures and/or their deputies were involved in the dulling down of the talking points, then it is not accurate to say the White House acted alone in spiking the talking points. But neither is it believable that on something this significant the White House would not have been in the center of the action. And if the excuse is that the information pointing to the involvement of entities linked to al-Qaeda was too secret to disclose, then the only appropriate move would have been to keep Rice at home that Sunday. (Wouldn’t she in retrospect have been much better off had that been the conclusion?)

There was this exchange on Sunday between host David Gregory and Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.):

GREGORY: Why not just call it what it was? Who — why are we protecting?

FEINSTEIN: I happen to think that’s absolutely correct. I don’t know ... who we were protecting. I do know that the answer given to us is we didn’t want to name a group until we had some certainty. Well, ... where this went awry is anybody that brings weapons and mortars and RPGs and breaks into an asset of the United States is a terrorist in my view. I mean, that’s ... pretty clear. Also the other point was, once the video was put to­gether, it was clear there was no demonstration. This should have been known much ear­lier. It also raises the concern of talking points by committee. And I have some concern about that.

It is getting harder to escape the conclusion that the people “who we were protecting” were the ones working in the White House.
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Second story origially here:
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Who Changed the Talking Points, and Does it Matter?

By Eliana Johnson

November 20, 2012 12:51 P.M.

That’s one of the central questions of the Benghazi investigation right now, and CBS news reports that the substantive changes — the removal of “specific references to ‘al-Qaeda’ and ‘terrorism’ ” — were made in the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper.  According to CBS, those references were excised from the unclassified version of the talking points because the links to al-Qaeda were, at that point, too “tenuous” to make public.

The CBS report directly contradicts the statements of House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers, who said Sunday on Meet the Press that changes were made in a “deputies committee” meeting consisting of administration officials.

At the heart of this debate is whether the Obama administration politicized Susan Rice’s talking points in order to promote the belief that, the president’s words, “al-Qaeda is on the path to defeat.”  Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham have both suggested this is the case.  If the administration did in fact doctor the Benghazi intelligence, there’s one person who’s not concerned, and that’s Joe Scarborough.  On this morning’s edition of Morning Joe, he told his fellow panelists that, in fact, politicizing intelligence is a stan­dard procedure:

Listen, first of all, let’s just say what happened, ok?  You know, the Pres­ident’s punch line was, al-Qaeda’s on the run, blah blah.  They politicized intel, they did.  Guess what?  White Houses do that.  You know what?  I’m not shocked, I’m not stunned.  I wish they hadn’t of done it, but I’m a lot more concerned, all of us, about how do you protect Americans in the future than about what happened after the ambassador was already killed.

In hindsight, then, I’m not sure why Colin Powell’s presentation to the UN back in 2003 was such a big deal.  Hey, if, as many insist to this day, the Bush administration politi­cized the intelligence, you know, “White Houses do that.”
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Third story originally here:
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CBS: “Office of the DNI” Cut al-Qaeda and Terrorism References from Benghazi Talking Points

posted at 11:01 am on November 20, 2012 by Ed Morrissey

Meet James Clapper — the latest fall guy for the White House on Benghazi. After last week’s hearings in Congress showed that the talking points from the CIA had been changed to eliminate the mention of terrorism, Washington erupted into a whodunit. CBS reports today that the culprit has been found...sort of:

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.  ...

The head of the DNI is James Clapper, an Obama appointee. He ultimate­ly did review the points, before they were given to Ambassador Rice and members of the House intelligence committee on Sept. 14. They were com­piled the day before.

 Note that this report doesn’t pin the blame on Clapper himself.     It instead locates the change in Clapper’s “office,” allowing for a rather non-specific assignment that makes almost no sense at all.     Are we to believe that a Clapper aide overruled David Petraeus’ assessment of Benghazi? If so, on what basis?

The report also states that the reason for the redaction was because the link to AQ was “too tenuous.” However, the presence of mortars and RPGs, as well as coordinated fire and attack strategies in play, made it clear “almost immediately” to Petraeus and others in the CIA that this was much more than a spontaneous demonstration run amok.     That made the YouTube video explanation rather “tenuous” too, no? and yet that stayed in the talking points while terrorism got excised.

This explanation seems even more tenuous than the previous stories coming from the White House.  If Petraeus knew “almost immediately” that this was an act of deliberate terrorism and included that in his talking points, then we need an explanation of who in the “office of the DNI” removed that explanation, and why — more than just the “too ten­uous” excuse here that turned out to be totally wrong — and whether they got pressured to do so.

 

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