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U.S. Official: Benghazi Talking Points Weren't Edited To Minimize Terrorist Role

Nov 16, 2012
Originally published on November 16, 2012 6:00 pm

Rep. Peter King caused a row coming out of the closed-door hearings on the attack of the American consulate in Benghazi, Libya.

In an interview with Fox News, King, a Republican from New York, said that when former CIA Director David Petraeus said he believed from the start that this was a terrorist attack, he was contradicting earlier testimony.

King went on to say that someone in the administration changed the talking points approved by the intelligence community in order to minimize the role terrorists played in the attack.

A senior U.S. official familiar with the drafting of the talking points tells NPR's Tom Gjelten the unclassified talking points were drafted by the CIA, and reflected "what it believed at that point in time."

The official added: "The points were not, as has been insinuated by some, edited to minimize the role of extremists, diminish terrorist affiliations, or play down that this was an attack. There were legitimate intelligence and legal issues to consider, as is almost always the case when explaining classified assessments publicly. First, the information about individuals linked to al-Qaida was derived from classified sources. Second, when links were so tenuous — as they still are — it makes sense to be cautious before pointing fingers to avoid setting off a chain of circular and self-reinforcing assumptions. Third, it is important to be careful not to prejudice a criminal investigation in its early stages."

Of course King was referring to the talking points read by U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice, who has come under fire for comments she made about the incident in television interviews shortly after the attack.

Based on those comments, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said he would oppose her nomination to be secretary of sate. During his press conference on Wednesday, President Obama vigorously defended Rice.

"She gave her best understanding of the intelligence that had been provided to her," Obama said.

The talking points given to Rice said the demonstrations in Benghazi were "spontaneously inspired" by the protests in Cairo, but they also said that there were "indications that extremists participated in the violent demonstrations."

The U.S. official said that using the word "extremist" means they weren't "shying away from the idea of terrorist involvement."

The official added: "People assumed that it was apparent in this context that extremists who attack U.S. facilities and kill Americans are, by definition, terrorists. Because of the various elements involved in the attack, the term extremist was meant to capture the range of participants. The controversy this word choice caused came as a surprise."

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