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Update on the Benghazi Talking Points

Man, Susan Rice does not know when to be quiet. She appeared Thursday night on the Daily Show:

Appearing on The Daily Show with host Jon Stewart last night, U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice addressed the ongoing criticism of the administration of President Barack Obama and its handling of the attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, calling Republicans “dead wrong, and they are in fact doing a disservice to those we lost,” for their attitudes toward the matter.

Rice has become the scapegoat in the eyes of the right for initially painting the attack as a protest instead of a premeditated strike.

“I shared the best information that our intelligence community had at the time, and they provided the talking points that I used,” she told Stewart.

Rice added that “they were wrong in one respect, we learned subsequently… and that is that there wasn’t, in fact, a protest. But in every other respect, they have more or less held up over time.”

So, she thinks critics are “dead wrong?” Let me explain why the opposite is true.

Let’s start with the substance of the now infamous “talking points.”

The CIA’s talking points read as follows:

“The currently available information suggests that the demonstrations in Benghazi were spontaneously inspired by the protests at the US Embassy in Cairo and evolved into a direct assault against the US diplomatic post in Benghazi and subsequently its annex. There are indications that extremists participated in the violent demonstrations.

This assessment may change as additional information is collected and analyzed and as currently available information continues to be evaluated.

The investigation is on-going, and the US Government is working with Libyan authorities to bring to justice those responsible for the deaths of US citizens.”

This is not what the intelligence community thought. How do I know? Because I have seen the actual intel briefings used to inform Panetta and Chairman Mullens of what the situation was believed to be on the ground.

Panetta gave a hint of this last week when he testified:

Mr. Panetta told Congress last week that he knew immediately the attacks were a terrorist assault, though the White House downplayed that notion in the first five days after the attack.

But, even before Panetta spilled the beans, we had CIA Director Petraeus giving the same account last November:

CNN reports that former Central Intelligence Agency director David H. Petraeus wants to tell Congress that he knew “almost immediately” that the attack on the U.S. Mission in Benghazi was perpetrated by terrorists. According to the source, reports attributing the attack to protests surrounding an anti-Islam video and protests in Cairo were not disproven until after Petraeus made his initial report to Congress. Despite that, according to CNN, Petraeus had separate talking points from Rice’s and that her talking points came from somewhere else in the administration.

ABC reported this fact in October 2012 citing State Department sources:

Key point–the protests in Cairo did not “evolve into a direct assault against the US diplomatic post in Benghazi.” Cairo was irrelevant. I have spoken with a Senior US Counter Terrorism official who, along with many others from the FBI, the CIA, Diplomatic Security, NSA and State were monitoring the events that night. All of the watch centers knew early on that mortars were being used against the US diplomats and intelligence officers. That key fact was known the night of the event.

Why is that important? You do not have to be Sun Tzu or Clauswitz to understand that mortars are not a weapon that you just pick up and point and shoot. Mortars are crewed served weapons–crew-served weapons require more than one person to operate them.

Intelligence analysts worth a damn knew this and briefed seniors on that fact.

The claim that “no one knows who changed the CIA talking points,” is total nonsense. Hell, even Jon Stewart picked up on this:

Listening to some of the Senators and Representatives today befuddled by the inability of David Petraeus, Jim Clapper and Mike Morell to identify who changed the CIA memo during the inter-agency coordination process, and the accompanying cluelessness of most of the media to grasp that this was just a big smokescreen, I am compelled to elaborate on how an unclass intel product is generated.

We know, thanks to CBS, that the so-called “talking points” were drafted by the CIA. What does that mean? An analyst in the Counter Terrorism Center aka CTC (most likely) was asked to put together a brief presenting what happened and who carried out the attack. As the analysts puts together the talking points, he or she will start coordinating with other analysts. In this case, for example, the CTC analyst will ask other analysts who work on the same issue or topic to review the prose and and approve the draft. This is called coordination.

Once the analyst secures the approval of colleagues with a substantive interest within his or her branch, the analyst must reach out to others with a substantive interest, such as the Libyan analyst. Once the Libyan analyst gives the CTC analyst recommended changes, two things happen. First, the analyst gives the Branch Chief a copy to edit. Second, the analyst then reaches out to analysts at the Defense Intelligence Agency, the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR), the FBI and the National Counter Terrorism Center. Since this was an Unclass piece, the analyst probably would not coordinate with the National Security Agency aka NSA because there was no information drawn from signal intercepts. If such info had been included, then the brief would have had to classified at a least the SECRET level.

Once the interagency input is received a couple of things can happen. Change the points or write a dissent.

I recall getting into knockdown, drag-out verbal brawls with counterparts at DIA and, on occasion, at INR, over the wording and conclusions of pieces I was writing for the National Intelligence Daily. We would either reach a compromise or I would diplomatically tell them to pound sand. If I did the latter, then the person from the objecting agency had the option of writing a dissent. In other words, putting a separate paragraph into my piece indicating disagreement. Dissents were rare. We faced pressure from our respective bosses to work out our issues and reach consensus.

Once the inter-agency piece was coordinated, it then moved up the CIA hierarchy. The folks in the front office of CTC would go over the draft and then, ultimately, someone on the staff of the Director of Analysis. (Note, the Director of Analysis reports directly to the Director of CIA, i.e. Petraeus at the time). The only people left to coordinate with at this point would be the folks at the Director of National Intelligence–that’s Jim Clapper’s outfit.

The coordinated talking points, once approved by the DNI, would then be delivered to the National Security Council. We know that the talking points that came out of the CIA were reviewed and approved by the DNI’s staff. The talking points did not go out to any other Department or Organization for clearance at that point.

That leaves only one possibility for who altered the agreed upon community position that the terrorist attack in Benghazi had been carried out by jihadists with links to Al Qaedaa–the NSS. The name of the principal analyst who drafted those talking points is recorded at CIA and included somewhere in the document delivered to the White House. Clapper, Petraeus and Morell easily know who that is. But they were not put under oath, therefore they could easily claim they did not know who “changed” the talking points.

That is delusional. Anyone who has ever worked at CIA and coordinated a community piece knows how the process works. No other Agency or Department would unilaterally change a coordinated piece.

There is only one entity in Washington who tamper with intel community approved talking points–that is the White House.

Susan Rice was sent out with one mission–protect Barack Obama from the legitimate charge that he was not protecting Americans from an attack launched by Al Qaeda elements. That, my friends, is a cover up of deadly proportions.