Obama Administration in Pre-Edited Talking Points: Al Qaeda Behind Benghazi Attack

The recent New York Times article attempting to downplay terrorist involvement in the Benghazi attack that claimed the lives of four Americans on Sept. 11, 2012, directly contradicts evidence in the now infamous pre-edited talking points of then-United Nations Ambassador Susan Rice.

“Months of investigation by The New York Times, centered on extensive interviews with Libyans in Benghazi who had direct knowledge of the attack there and its context, turned up no evidence that Al Qaeda or other international terrorist groups had any role in the assault,” David D. Kirkpatrick wrote in the Times. “The attack was led, instead, by fighters who had benefited directly from NATO’s extensive air power and logistics support during the uprising against Colonel Qaddafi. And contrary to claims by some members of Congress, it was fueled in large part by anger at an American-made video denigrating Islam.”

The Times story seems to back up the administration’s initial narrative – that a YouTube video sparked a spontaneous uprising, and that terrorists were not involved in the attack.

Nonetheless, Kirkpatrick attempts to make it appear as though he is critical of both congressional Republicans like House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform chairman Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) and the Obama administration. 

“Fifteen months after [Ambassador Christopher] Stevens’s death, the question of responsibility remains a searing issue in Washington, framed by two contradictory story lines,” Kirkpatrick wrote. He intended his narrative to walk a middle path:

One has it that the video, which was posted on YouTube, inspired spontaneous street protests that got out of hand. This version, based on early intelligence reports, was initially offered publicly by Susan E. Rice, who is now Mr. Obama’s national security adviser. The other, favored by Republicans, holds that Mr. Stevens died in a carefully planned assault by Al Qaeda to mark the anniversary of its strike on the United States 11 years before. Republicans have accused the Obama administration of covering up evidence of Al Qaeda’s role to avoid undermining the president’s claim that the group has been decimated, in part because of the raid that killed Osama bin Laden. The investigation by The Times shows that the reality in Benghazi was different, and murkier, than either of those story lines suggests. Benghazi was not infiltrated by Al Qaeda, but nonetheless contained grave local threats to American interests. The attack does not appear to have been meticulously planned, but neither was it spontaneous or without warning signs.

As others like Breitbart News's Kerry Picket have already noted, the themes of Kirkpatrick’s article directly contradict the reporting of others at the New York Times over the past year or more since the attack in Benghazi. According to Fox News, eyewitnesses to the attack on the ground in Benghazi say there were terror commanders orchestrating the attack and that any claims, like those from the Times's Kirkpatrick, to the contrary are "completely false."

Kirkpatrick’s writings also contradict the Obama administration and intelligence community themselves – including a now-former White House official involved in the talking points issue who has touted Kirkpatrick’s story as some kind of saving grace for himself.

Months and months of congressional investigation have uncovered internal Obama administration and intelligence community communications that show the administration did believe al Qaeda-affiliated organizations were involved in the attack.

On page four of the pre-edited talking points for then-United Nations Ambassador Susan Rice prepared by the intelligence community, the Obama administration itself explicitly stated that al Qaeda connected terrorists were involved in the attack on the consulate in Benghazi.

“The crowd almost certainly was a mix of individuals from across many sectors of Libyan society,” the second talking point on page four reads. “That being said, we do know that Islamic extremists with ties to al-Qa'ida participated in the attack.”

The document is a communication marked “confidential” between a number of different intelligence community officials, including some from the CIA. In it, the author, whose name is redacted, indicates that the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence (HPSCI) “has asked for unclassified points immediately that they can use in talking to the media.”

“I have been asked to provide a bit on responsibility,” the author writes. “NE is pulling together the final product. In addition to other topics, NE will add material about warnings we gave to Cairo prior to the demonstrations, as well as other material on warnings we issued prior to 9/11 anniversary.”

That document was created on the morning of Friday, Sept. 14, 2012, around 11 a.m. Shortly thereafter, the CIA Office of Public Affairs chief of media relations emailed Tommy Vietor, then a White House-level National Security spokesman for the Obama administration, to inform him he would soon receive a list of talking points that included that specific detail.

“Echoing my voicemail to you: You should be seeing some ‘White Paper’ talking points from us this afternoon for coordination,” the CIA public affairs chief wrote to Vietor in an email addressed to “Tommy.”

“They are for congressional use, per their request, re Benghazi issues,” the email continued.

Benjamin Rhodes and another White House National Security press staffer were included on the email, which was sent to Vietor at 11:17 a.m. on Sept. 14.

Sure enough, another email sent from the CIA’s public affairs office to Vietor, Rhodes, and other White House press staff at 3:04 p.m. on Sept. 14 shows that Vietor was provided with that exact talking point, reading in part, “we do know that Islamic extremists with ties to al-Qa'ida participated in the attack.”

Over the course of the next two hours, CIA officials edited the talking points to remove the reference to al Qaeda. During that time, the internal Obama administration emails that Congress has uncovered shows that Vietor asked the CIA press office, at 4:57 p.m. on Sept. 14, “Is there an updated version of this I can circulate internally?”

The CIA’s public affairs chief responded seven minutes later in another email addressed to “Tommy.”

“Very sorry for the delay,” the CIA press chief wrote. “We’ve been steadily working on them and they are now at the final stop before coming to you soon. I’ll rush to you as soon as possible.”

At 5:09 p.m., five minutes after that response to Vietor, the CIA sent Vietor and the other White House press staffers the updated talking points. Those new talking points had removed previous references to al Qaeda, saying instead that there is an “on-going” investigation to determine “who is responsible for the violence.”

“That being said, we do know that Islamic extremists participated in the violent demonstrations,” the next edits of the talking points read.

Over the course of the next several hours, the emails show Vietor, then-chief counter-terrorism adviser to President Obama John Brennan – who has since been nominated, and confirmed, as Obama’s new CIA director – and several others participated in a round of edits to the talking points.

Throughout the night, Vietor and others like Victoria Nuland – then a State Department spokeswoman and top aide to then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton – continued editing the talking points ahead of their usage by Rice a couple days later, when she infamously falsely claimed that the YouTube video caused the attack over her course of appearance on five different shows.

Nonetheless, despite all that the Obama administration and the White House itself knew and obviously still knows, when Kirkpatrick’s piece in the Times ran this weekend, a jubilant Vietor took to Twitter to claim some kind of victory. “Here's the key question - was the #Benghazi attack pre-planned and executed by AQ? Answer is unequivocally no,” Vietor wrote in one Tweet, for instance.

Over the course of several other Tweets, Vietor attacked Sens. John McCain (R-AZ) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC), demanding that they respond to quotes from Kirkpatrick’s piece. He also accused GOP members of Congress of being “craven politician[s]” who have “exploited the death of 4 Americans” and aggressively attacked Fox News. Vietor is no longer a member of the Obama National Security White House press team, having resigned his position to join fellow former Obama White House staffer Jon Favreau to found Fenway Strategies.

Interestingly enough, Vietor’s Twitter claims about Benghazi and his backing of the Kirkpatrick piece directly contradict comments Vietor himself made in May 2013, many months after the attack. In fact, in an email to certain members of the press that liberal Washington Post blogger Greg Sargent published on May 15, 2013, Vietor admitted that al Qaeda-linked terrorists were in fact behind the terrorist attack in Benghazi.

“[W]hile it’s true that some of the Benghazi attackers had links to al Qaeda,” Vietor wrote in part, before adding, “no one has ever claimed that this was a long-planned AQ operation by Zawahiri or AQ’s leadership like 9/11.”

In that May email to press, Vietor made an argument very similar to the one Hillary Clinton notoriously made before Congress when she said, “Was it because of a protest or was it because of guys out for a walk one night and decided they’d go kill some Americans? What difference – at this point, what difference does it make?”

Vietor’s version of that “what difference does it make” argument centers around blaming a lack of security in the compound on the Obama administration, but argues that there should not have been any criticism for the misleading talking points – which he admitted in May were, in fact, misleading – because, in his view, such criticisms were baldly political.

“Clearly there was not enough security in Benghazi,” Vietor wrote. “The administration should be held accountable for that fact, and we should have a very serious discussion about how to ensure this never happens again. However, this focus on talking points and a Sunday show appearance nine months ago is political, and it has distracted us from focusing on protecting our people.”


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