The Benghazi Emails: Talking Points Changed at State Dept.'s Request

The White House releases 100 pages of communication

ByABC News
May 15, 2013, 3:44 PM

May 15, 2013 — -- After months of demands from Republicans in Congress, the White House has released emails related to what the administration said in the days after the terrorist attack in Benghazi.

The emails confirm the ABC News report that the so-called "talking points" written by the CIA on the attack underwent extensive revisions – 12 versions – and that substantial changes were made after the State Department expressed concerns.

The early versions of the talking points, drafted entirely by the CIA, included references to the al Qaeda affiliate Ansar al-Sharia and to previous CIA warnings about terror threats in Benghazi. State Department spokesman Victoria Nuland expressed concerns about including those references in the talking points.

In one email, previously reported by ABC News, Nuland said that including the CIA warnings "could be used by Members [of Congress] to beat the State Department for not paying attention to Agency warnings so why do we want to feed that? Concerned …"

After some changes were made, Nuland was still not satisfied.

"These don't resolve all my issues or those of my building leadership," Nuland wrote.

Read the Benghazi emails here

A senior administration official said that Deputy CIA Director Mike Morrell agreed with Nuland's concerns and made the changes himself. There is no email record, however, showing that Morrell shared Nuland's concerns.

All 12 versions of the talking points, as previously reported by ABC News, say that the attack in Benghazi was "spontaneously inspired by protest in Cairo." In other words, all the talk of protests – which proved to be wrong – started with the CIA. What did get removed was the CIA's saying that it believed Ansar al-Sharia took part in the attack and that the CIA had warned of the terror threat.

Republicans have extensively criticized U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice for indicating, in a TV appearance after the attacks, demonstrations outside the Benghazi diplomatic facility had spawned the attack. The White House has repeatedly maintained that Rice used intelligence-community talking points that represented the administration's best knowledge of what had happened. White House press secretary Jay Carney has maintained that the intelligence community drafted the talking points and that White House staff only made cosmetic and stylistic changes to them.

But emails show that the State Department had also raised concerns about mentions that the CIA had produced material -- before the attack -- on the threat of al-Qaeda-linked extremists in Benghazi. In addition, State expressed concerns about pointing to Ansar al Sharia before the FBI/Justice Department had concluded its investigation of the attack.

"I'm with Toria," wrote then Assistant Secretary of State for Legislative Affairs David S. Adams, agreeing with Nuland's concerns about a section on the CIA's intelligence on Benghazi extremists. "That last bullet especially will read to members [of Congress] like we had been repeatedly warned."

Another email, with the sender's name redacted, indicates concern about accuracy that the CIA "warned" about calls for jihadists to storm the U.S. Embassy in Cairo, a word that was originally included in the CIA's talking points. CIA press official Shawn Turner expressed the same concern about the word. "I've been very careful not to say we issued a warning," Turner wrote, before State Department officials raised its concerns.