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E-mails released by the White House that describe how the CIA’s assessment of the Benghazi attack was edited to exclude any mention of terrorism appear to be part of a routine process by Washington bureaucrats, says a former CIA agent who used to take part in such processes.
“There’s no conspiracy here that I can see,” said Reuel Marc Gerecht, now an analyst at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies. “It’s just how the U.S. government works.”
But Republicans say the editing process wound up misleading Americans when the final version of the CIA assessment made no mention that the attack was a pre-planned assault by al-Qaeda-linked terrorists.
The intelligence agency’s assessment was alluded to by the Obama administration in claims now proved false that the attack was not terrorism but sprang from a spontaneous protest over an anti-Islam video on the Internet.
Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, a member of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, says the editing represented “grappling” between the State Department and the CIA, which wanted it known that it warned the Obama administration of terror threats in the region. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said in the e-mails that her “leadership” didn’t want to appear to have ignored the warnings.
“That resulted in more inaccuracies,” Chaffetz said. “It’s right before the election, nobody wants to take the blame, and the casualty is the truth. Truth was not the primary motivator or we wouldn’t have gotten this fiction.”
In the latest news, House oversight committee chairman Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., issued a subpoena Friday for former ambassador Thomas Pickering to testify about his role in the State investigation of its actions before, during and after the Sept. 11 attack.
Pickering co-chaired the Accountability Review Board, which Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton appointed to look into allegations that State failed to protect its staffers and refused added security in the weeks leading up to the attack.
In a letter to Pickering, Issa called the board’s investigation process “opaque” and says he had to subpoena Pickering because he refused to submit documents requested by the committee or appear before committee staffers for a transcribed interview.
House Republicans want to know how the White House and State Department came up with a false narrative about an attack by al Qaeda-linked terrorists in Benghazi that killed Chris Stevens, the U.S. ambassador to Libya, and three others. The narrative wound up in talking points given to Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, who insisted the attack was a protest gone awry.
The CIA’s first unclassified assessment of the Benghazi attack said “we believe… the attacks in Benghazi were spontaneously inspired by the protests at the U.S. Embassy in Cairo,” which occurred on Sept. 11. That wording, which proved to be false, was kept in the final CIA memo on the attacks. But references to the attack being the work of al-Qaeda-linked terrorists, which U.S. counterterrorism officials say is what happened, were removed.
The editing process shows administration officials, such as Nuland, questioning the basis of that and other assertions in the CIA assessment. They show White House officials, such as Ben Rhodes and Tommy Vietor, then-spokesman for the national security adviser, insisting that State’s concerns be addressed.
At least 16 named officials and 13 unnamed officials or offices in the departments of Justice, State, CIA, the National Directorate of Intelligence and the White House participated in the process.
“They’re deleting references to Ansar al Sharia,” a Libyan al-Qaeda affiliate whose members the CIA said it knew were involved in the attack “because that’s what government bureaucrats do,” Gerecht said. “They’re trying to be precise, to be overly meticulous. Unless you know for sure you don’t say it.”