Benghazi emails: What do they reveal?

One email confirmed officials removed information about CIA warnings regarding an al Qaeda threat before the attacks in Benghazi, Libya in September 2012 from talking points the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations presented to the public. The administration released the emails in an effort to seem more transparent. 

AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin
A portion of a page of emails that the White House released Wednesday is seen at the White House in Washington. These emails document how the Obama administration crafted its public talking points immediately following the Sept. 11, 2012, deadly attack on a U.S. diplomatic post in Benghazi, Libya.

The White House on Wednesday sought to defuse controversy over its handling of last year's killing of four Americans in Benghazi, releasing emails that show how Obama administration officials presented a scrubbed-down version of the attacks to the public.

The documents gave a glimpse into the administration's message control as officials carefully debated via email which details U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice should highlight when she went on talk shows five days later to discuss the Sept. 11 assault on the U.S. mission in Benghazi, Libya.

There was little in the roughly 100 pages of emails about Rice's "talking points" that had not been leaked previously.

They included an email confirming perhaps the most damaging charge that administration officials removed mention from Rice's talking points that the CIA had warned of an al Qaeda threat in the area of the eastern Libyan city before the attacks.

The exchange between White House, State Department and intelligence officials showed the talking points went through a series of revisions that scrubbed them of references to terror warnings before Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans were killed.

While awkward for the White House, releasing the emails was an effort to counter complaints from Republicans and the media that President Barack Obama's administration is secretive.

It came as the government was battling criticism on several fronts, including a scandal over the Internal Revenue Service's targeting of conservative groups for special scrutiny.

In the Benghazi emails, then-State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland raised concerns about references to intelligence about the threat from militants in eastern Libya.

Nuland wrote that she had "serious concerns" that the talking points would provide members of Congress with material to "beat the State Department for not paying attention to (Central Intelligence) Agency warnings" about threats in the region.

Those references were deleted from the final talking points that Rice used on the Sunday morning talk shows on Sept. 16.

Nuland noted in one of her emails that changes during the draft process "don't resolve all my issues or those of my building leadership," suggesting officials above her at the State Department were also concerned.

It was not clear who she was referring to but Republicans have tried to link former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, a possible Democratic candidate for president in 2016, to the controversy over Benghazi.

"The seemingly political nature of the State Department's concerns raises questions about the motivations behind these changes and who at the State Department was seeking them," said Brendan Buck, a spokesman for Republican Speaker of the House of Representatives John Boehner.

Republicans say the talking points were an attempt to portray the attacks as arising from a spontaneous protest, and not an organized militant assault, so as to protect Obama in last year's presidential campaign from any charges that he was weak on fighting terrorism.

Cover-up denial 

The White House vehemently denies any cover-up and emphasizes that the controversy over the talking points focuses on intelligence that eventually evolved. The emails, officials said, showed a normal back and forth between government agencies on a fluid national security event.

"Collectively these emails make clear that the interagency process, including the White House's interactions, were focused on providing the facts as we knew them based on the best information available at the time and protecting an ongoing investigation," White House spokesman Eric Schultz said.

Officials also suggested that Nuland was not the only one with concerns about the original talking points.

A senior intelligence official said Michael Morell, the CIA's deputy director, had his own concerns that mirrored, independently, the issues raised by the State Department.

But the documents do not show any emails by Morell expressing those concerns.

In fact an email by his boss, then-CIA director David Petraeus, indicated he felt the talking points had been watered down too much.

"Frankly, I'd just as soon not use this," Petraeus wrote on Sept. 15.

Rice has become the most senior political scalp in the Benghazi controversy. She withdrew her name as a candidate to replace Clinton as secretary of state largely because of the political uproar over her remarks on the Sept. 16 talk shows.

The administration officials said the emails showed the talking points were based on intelligence information approved by the CIA and meant to avoid pre-judging the outcome of an FBI investigation into the Benghazi attacks.

(Additional reporting by Mark Hosenball; Editing by Paul Simao)

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.