Stephen Hayes’ three-page story on the CIA’s original Benghazi talking points puts the State Department in the spotlight. State spokeswoman Victoria Nuland had the CIA change its initial talking points so that they pointed away from evidence of a coordinated attack and toward a “demonstration.”
The CIA’s Office of Terrorism Analysis prepared the first draft of a response to the congressman, which was distributed internally for comment at 11:15 a.m. on Friday, September 14 (Version 1 at right). This initial CIA draft included the assertion that the U.S. government “know[s] that Islamic extremists with ties to al Qaeda participated in the attack.” That draft also noted that press reports “linked the attack to Ansar al Sharia. The group has since released a statement that its leadership did not order the attacks, but did not deny that some of its members were involved.” Ansar al Sharia, the CIA draft continued, aims to spread sharia law in Libya and “emphasizes the need for jihad.” The agency draft also raised the prospect that the facilities had been the subject of jihadist surveillance and offered a reminder that in the previous six months there had been “at least five other attacks against foreign interests in Benghazi by unidentified assailants, including the June attack against the British Ambassador’s convoy.”
The talking points were first distributed to officials in the interagency vetting process at 6:52 p.m. on Friday. Less than an hour later, at 7:39 p.m., an individual identified in the House report only as a “senior State Department official” responded to raise “serious concerns” about the draft. That official, whom The Weekly Standard has confirmed was State Department spokesman Victoria Nuland, worried that members of Congress would use the talking points to criticize the State Department for “not paying attention to Agency warnings.”
In an attempt to address those concerns, CIA officials cut all references to Ansar al Sharia and made minor tweaks. But in a follow-up email at 9:24 p.m., Nuland wrote that the problem remained and that her superiors—she did not say which ones—were unhappy. The changes, she wrote, did not “resolve all my issues or those of my building leadership,” and State Department leadership was contacting National Security Council officials directly. Moments later, according to the House report, “White House officials responded by stating that the State Department’s concerns would have to be taken into account.” One official—Ben Rhodes, The Weekly Standard is told, a top adviser to President Obama on national security and foreign policy—further advised the group that the issues would be resolved in a meeting of top administration officials the following morning at the White House.
Cutting references to Ansar al-Sharia conformed with the Obama campaign’s talking point that “al Qaeda is on the run,” as Ansar is al Qaeda’s Libyan brand. Most Americans wouldn’t have known that on 9-11 last year, but would have learned it by Election Day. The final talking points, though, still did not point directly to the YouTube video for which a man remains in jail. The most definitive effort to misdirect attention toward that video would come from US Ambassador to the UN Susan Rice, who appeared on five Sunday morning talk shows to blame that video. The Obama administration from the president on down would directly blame the video until September 26.
Victoria Nuland needs to be subpoenaed to testify under oath. Who were her superiors who were unhappy with the original talking points? What role did they play in working with her as she manipulated the CIA’s original intelligence assessment? Do their communications with her still exist as email or some other form (such as text message)? Did they work in State, and/or were Obama campaign officials involved in tracking and changing the talking points?