Director of National Intelligence Clapper Removed Al Qaeda From Benghazi Talking Points, Source Says

James Clapper (Photo: AP)

More than a month after Ambassador Stevens and three other Americans were killed in a September 11 attack on a U.S. outpost in Benghazi, Libya, CBS News is reporting on how, exactly, inaccurate “talking points” were pushed on the American people in the aftermath.

It is well known by now that Ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice told five Sunday talk shows that the attack was a “spontaneous” response to a YouTube video, and that White House Press Secretary Jay Carney echoed the sentiment.  Though it was obvious to many at the time that terrorism was a factor, now that it has been confirmed, Congress has begun to ask why the inaccurate talking points were pushed.

“Every member in the intelligence community says that references to al-Qaeda were removed by somebody, [but] they don’t know who,” Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-GA) explained over the weekend.

According to CBS sources, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) was responsible, expunging references to “Al-Qaeda” and “terrorism” from the talking points.  Though the head of the DNI is Obama appointee James Clapper, CBS is making it explicitly clear that the edits did not come from the White House.

CBS writes, giving more information on how the CIA and the FBI were involved:

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.

[...]

…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.

An intelligence source says the talking points were passed from the CIA to the DNI, where the substantive edits were made, and then to FBI, which made more edits as part of “standard procedure.”  ​[Emphasis added]

CBS adds that Clapper, who once called the Muslim Brotherhood a “largely secular” organization, reviewed the talking points before they were disseminated.  However, their sources were unclear about who within the agency suggested the changes to begin with.

CBS continues, discussing the blowback:

“The points were not, as has been insinuated by some, edited to minimize the role of extremists, diminish terrorist affiliations, or play down that this was an attack,” the official tells CBS News, adding that there were “legitimate intelligence and legal issues to consider, as is almost always the case when explaining classified assessments publicly.”

“Most people understand that saying ‘extremists’ were involved in a direct assault on the mission isn’t shying away from the idea of terrorist involvement,” added the official. “Because of the various elements involved in the attack, the term extremist was meant to capture the range of participants.”  ​[Emphasis added]

Watch CBS’ video report for more: