We're getting warmer. As Guy pointed out yesterday, General David Petraeus told the White House immediately after the 9/11 attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi that he believed the attack was carried out by al Qaeda affiliated terrorists. In his memo about the attack, Petraeus used the words "al Qaeda" to explain the situation. When UN Ambassador Susan Rice appeared on five Sunday shows five days after the attack to blame a YouTube video, she didn't refer to terrorism or al Qaeda. After Petraeus' testimony in front of Congress last week, we learned the talking points given to Susan Rice on behalf of the White House were changed, with "al Qaeda" being swiped from the material. As a result, the natural question became, "Who changed them?" CBS News is closer to finding the answer.
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."
The head of the DNI is James Clapper, an Obama appointee. He ultimately did review the points, before they were given to Ambassador Rice and members of the House intelligence committee on Sept. 14. They were compiled the day before.
Brennan says her source wouldn't confirm who in the agency suggested the final edits which were signed off on by all intelligence agencies.
One angle I believe is being missed here is the role the Department of Justice may have also played in editing the talking points. Obama's DOJ has a history of downplaying terrorism and treating terror attacks like crimes. Not to mention, the FBI is supposed to be investigation the scene in Benghazi.
On top of the al Qaeda reference being taken out of the talking points, President Obama was briefed about the al Qaeda connection days before Rice's public denials about a pre-planned attack.