The White House has denied deleting the reference to al Qaeda and its affiliates from the CIA’s talking points about the Sept. 11 terror attack on the American Consulate in Benghazi, Libya.
During a closed-door congressional hearing on Friday, former CIA director Gen. David Petraeus said neither he nor his agency ever believed the Benghazi incident was anything but a terror attack. Four Americans, including Ambassador Chris Stevens, died in the assault.
“The only edit that was made by the White House and also by the State Department was to change the word ‘consulate’ to the word ‘diplomatic facility,’ since the facility in Benghazi was not formally a consulate,” said Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes, as quoted by the New York Post.
Rhodes was on board Air Force One when he told reporters that, “Other than that, we were guided by the points that were provided by the intelligence community. So I can’t speak to any other edits that may have been made.”
Petraeus, who suddenly resigned from the CIA Nov. 9 because of an extramarital affair with his married biographer Paula Broadwell, reportedly told lawmakers in the secret hearings that the CIA made reference to al Qaeda in draft talking points to administration officials following the attack, but it was removed from the final version, according to the Associated Press .
That AP’s report said the CIA’s draft talking points named the militant groups Ansar al-Shariah and al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, but the final version just referred to “extremists.” Petraeus doesn’t know who removed the reference to the terror groups, but he doesn’t believe this was a politically motivated move.
Though the CIA might have been clear in informing the administration that terrorists were behind the attack, that wasn’t what the nation was told immediately after the deadly assault.
President Barack Obama referred to "an act of terror" in his Rose Garden speech the day after the attack. But U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice went on various Sunday talk shows and claimed the incident resulted from the escalation of a spontaneous protest against an American-made anti-Islam film.
The administration is now on the same page in saying Benghazi was a terrorist attack. But the initial confusion doesn’t sit well with some lawmakers, notably Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., who have accused the administraion of a coverup.
Obama has denied any coverup, saying the public was informed as soon as the facts were known.
The Post’s report also stated that intelligence officials have said the references to al Qaeda connections were removed in order to protect sensitive intelligence sources and methods.
Whatever the reason for the deletion, Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., said, “The fact is, the reference to al Qaeda was taken out somewhere along the line by someone outside the intelligence community. We need to find out who did it and why.”
Congress is now on a mission to investigate what happened and who created the talking points to the administration.
‘‘I know the narrative was wrong and the intelligence was right. ... We’re going to get to the bottom of how that happened,’’ Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Mich., chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, told the AP.
Head of the Senate Intelligence Committee Sen. Dianne Feinstein also told the news agency she doesn't believe the White House had anything to do with the altering of the talking points, especially not for political reasons. She said Congress has asked for a detailed explanation from the administration.
"We’re going to find out who made changes in the original statement," she said. "Until, we do I really think it’s unwarranted to make accusations."