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Evolution of the Benghazi Talking Points

A new report by ABCs Jonathan Karl reveals that the inclusion of the word "demonstrations" in the Benghazi talking and the removal of "al Qa'ida" happened before officials in the State Dept. and the White House had even seen them. However, other significant changes, which highlighted CIA warnings about similar attacks in the area, still appear to have been made after complaints from the State Department.

The original Weekly Standard report offered just 3 sets of talking points. However the new ABC report has 12 separate versions (pdf). The word "demonstrations" is substituted for the word "attacks" in the 3rd draft completed at 4:42pm. But the talking points were not distributed to other agencies until 6:52pm.

The same draft, at 4:42pm also removed mention of al Qa'ida and replaced another instance of the word attack with "violent demonstrations." Again, these changes apparently took place internally before the talking points were shared with other agencies, including the State Department and the CIA.

Early reports, made shortly before the first State Department briefing on Sep. 12th, suggested that intelligence was pointing in a different direction. This CNN report quotes two different individuals saying Benghazi was not a demonstration but a planned attack.

Rep. Mike Rogers, Chair of the House Intelligence Committee told CNN, "This was not a demonstration gone bad. This was a clear, targeted, planned event." In addition, CNN's Jill Dougherty, relying on unnamed State Department sources, says "At this point, State Department officials believe the attack was planned in advance, but do not believe Ambassador Stevens was directly targeted." Yet two days later the CIA seemingly went all in on spontaneous demonstrations which evolved into an "assault."

However, other changes to the talking points still seem to have come down from the State Department. One significant change was the deletion of a paragraph about prior attacks in Benghazi. All of the early drafts, including those sent to the State Department contain this paragraph (or one like it):

The Agency has produced numerous pieces on the threat of extremists linked to al Qa'ida in Benghazi and eastern Libya. These noted that, since April, there have been at least five other attacks against foreign interests in Benghazi by unidentified assailants, including the June attack against the British Ambassador's convoy. We cannot rule out the individuals had previously surveilled the U.S. facilities, also contributing to the efficacy of the attacks.

According to ABC, State's Victoria Nuland took issue with this paragraph in an email "could be abused by members [of Congress] to beat up the State Department for not paying attention to warnings, so why would we want to feed that either?" By Saturday morning (Sep. 15th) the entire paragraph had been removed.


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