Curioser and Curioser . . . .

| November 17, 2012

By now, you’ve all heard (or read in Jonn’s excellent prior article) that the former CIA Director, David Petraeus, testified to Congress that the original CIA assessment of the Benghazi consulate attack indicated the attack appeared to have “al Qaeda involvement”.   Maybe it’s just me 0 but now things starting to get a bit confusing.

Because I could swear that’s not what we were told originally.  And no one seems to know when the change occurred.

Here’s what’s been reported so far.  Petraeus apparently testified yesterday that the CIA’s original assessment indicated that the Benghazi attack included participation by “al Qaeda-affiliated individuals”.  This language was contained in the original CIA assessment prepared the day after the consulate attack.  That assessment appears to have been sent to various agencies – including State, the National Security Counsel, Justice, and the White House

However, the assessment was later changed to read “extremist organizations”.  Obviously, that does not convey the same message as the original.  Al Qaeda is specific; “extremist organizations” could be anyone.

It also seems that no one can say, precisely, when the assessment was changed.  Nor can they say who made the change.

Indeed, the current Acting CIA Director, Mike Morell, reportedly doesn’t know who made that change or when it was made.  Ditto for the Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper.

UN Ambassador Susan Rice had access to both classified and unclassified sources of information about the Benghazi attack before she made her now-famous public remarks on Benghazi.  So she damn well should have consulted the CIA’s assessment on what caused it.

But the change must have been made before Ambassador Rice ever saw the document.  Because in her famous public remarks on Benghazi, Ambassador Rice blamed the attack on an unreleased film made by a felon.  A film that was at the time unknown to exist by most of the world.

Either that, or Ambassador Rice . . . simply wasn’t truthful.

Petraeus still has some explaining to do.  His testimony yesterday doesn’t seem to jibe very well with at least one previous briefing to Congress on the subject.

But a second source has confirmed that the original language of the CIA assessment was changed as noted above.  Further, both Clapper and Morrell have indirectly done so via failing to challenge Petraeus’ claim that the original assessment was watered down.  So I think we can trust that part of his testimony today.

And it’s really curious that no one so far seems to know just who made the change – or when.

I thought this might get interesting.  Looks like it’s beginning to do exactly that.

And an old question keeps tugging at the back of my mind:  “What did the President know, and when . . . . “

Category: Foreign Policy

Comments (25)

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  1. RaptorFire22 says:

    Of course they changed it. It couldn’t have been al-Qaeda. They’re dead. The One said so.

  2. 2-17 Air Cav says:

    Yes indeed, RaptorFire22 or, as often happens, Mr. Big has to give no specific instructions at all because those who work for him know what he wants and doesn’t. As for Rice, she is only one tile in this ugly mosaic. We also had Clinton, of course, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Marty the Wonder Horse, and various admin and state department underdogs and spokesliars actively involved in perpetrating the silly story about the spontaneous demonstration that did not occur, that was sparked by a video no one had seen.

  3. OWB says:

    Did anyone actually change the CIA assessment? Or did someone use the CIA assessment, along with whatever they chose to use, to produce a public statement? Because those actually are two quite different things.

    IF someone edited the CIA assessment and sent it back to the CIA with instructions that all file copies need to be changed to reflect thus and so, then we do indeed have a problem. BUT, if the assessment simply went forward, as we would expect it to do, and it, among other things, are reflected in an official public statement on the topic, then what exactly is the problem??

    Yes, I agree that it is outrageous to blame a video for a terrorist attack. Stupid, really. And yes, the public statements made by various departments need to be investigated. And yes, I find it beyond curious that the terrorists and the administration used the same descriptive terms, or entirely too close to be coincidence, so I would also like to know where THOSE talking points originated.

    Anyone else find it rather disturbing that the term “talking points,” which used to be a rather derogatory expression, is now apparently used to mean any approved/official public statement?

  4. Ex-PH2 says:

    Someone in Washington, DC lied? NOOOO!! Really?

    Somewhere out there in the land of the Big Cheese’s Special Thoughts, there is one person (aka The Person Who Changed The Wording) who changed the wording.

    Some day The Person Who Changed The Wording will retire or quit and blow the whistle — er, lid — off the mess.

  5. Anonymous says:

    I want answers on this as well, but I have to shake my head every time the ‘video’ bit is mocked — it certainly seems clear to me that there WAS a ‘spontaneous’ demonstration over a video. And that the vast majority of the people present were there for that reason, even though, yes, they never saw the video, knew anything about it, etc. The most likely reason for this is because the well-planned terrorist attack that coincided with this used the video to rile people up so the protestors would be a smoke-screen for their operation.

    The WH saying that there was a spontaneous demonstration, when the majority of the people there were there for that reason, is less wrong than people claiming there was no demonstration. It’s not the FULL story, since it leaves out the terrorist attack, but it’s partially accurate. Saying there were no protests over a video is almost completely inaccurate.

    As for who changed things, that IS a big question – and the three main options seem to be the (office of) the DNI, State or the WH. It’s an unfortunate truth that CIA is no longer top dog on Intel matters, with them reporting to DNI, and if DNI had other assessments -possibly from other points on the globe where video protests were happening sans AQ terrorism- it’s reasonable that they changed things. Wrong, but reasonable. That’s not a scandal but an error in judgement and a question of how our IC makes assessments.

    Or State could have made the call since this related to the embassy and they also had ’email confirmation’ of Ansar al-Sharia claiming responsibility, though this was later proven false. If they had this ‘confirmation’, and the CIA report thought it was AQ but had no proof, it’s reasonable to see them cast doubt on the AQ connection and simply label it extremist elements.

    Finally, if the WH changed it, then that’s where you get into the possibly messy territory. If it was the National Security Advisor and it was a similar synthesis of intelligence above, that’s not a huge deal – intelligence is murky and it doesn’t seem like anything was definitive – but if it was done for political reasons, then … yeah, finally that’s something of a minor scandal.

    Why minor? Because right now we’re arguing over whether we labeled the group responsible ‘AQ’ or ‘extremists’. Come on. Names. Hardly the most important thing at this point.

  6. Twist says:

    According to consulate and surveillance footage taken by an unarmed CIA Predator drone there was no demonstration prior to the attack, and then, suddenly armed men started streaming into the mission.

    That is what a U.S. official who spoke on condition of anonymity because the official was not authorized to discuss the investigation publicly. Since it was an unkown official take it with a grain of salt.

  7. DaveO says:

    One may safely say the cyber-criminal group “Anonymous” is now allied with Hamas.

    Two things to note here:

    If someone did a cut-and-paste of the CIA report to delete certain terms/names, this was done as part of a formal policy that was developed from the POTUS’s personal preferences. Nobody comes in and says ‘oh, I can’t spell Al Qaida, so I’ll use violent extremism instead.’ Staff does whatever the Boss likes.

    The original report on Benghazi will live forever on whatever computers and servers were used to view, edit, store, and move the report. Forensic technology is only getting better. Which is to say: there is a for-real, unchangeable truth that does exist.

    Maybe that’s why the FBI took all of Broadwell’s and Petraeus’s computers?

  8. Hondo says:

    Anonymous: if you’d bothered to have read the linked article I provided, you’d have seen that the DNI, Clapper, does not know who changed the CIA’s assessment. I do not think he is either incompetent or unable to determine whether someone in his organization changed the assessment. Unless he’s lying through his teeth, I think we can presume that no one in DNI altered the assessment.

    Ditto for the Acting Dir, CIA. He also does not know who altered the assessment. For the same reasons, I think we can presume no one at CIA made the change either.

    That leaves State, White House, FBI, or NSC. And none of those would have had better info than either CIA or DNI. Ergo, I’m forced to conclude that either (1) the change was made for political reasons and we were bald-faced lied to by Rice, or (2) one or more people in the current Administration are abysmally incompetent. Or possibly both.


  9. UpNorth says:

    @8. I’ll go with both for $1000, Alex. Nice break down, Hondo.

  10. Frank says:

    It’s rather obvious the General was set up for being a patriot by a lying administration and minions.

  11. Common Sense says:

    @10 – if that’s true, then why did Petraeus lie the first time he went before Congress on Sept 14th and say it was a demonstration about a video?

    It’s been pretty clear since 9/12 that there was no “spontaneous protest”.

    The best analysis from 9/16, which really shows the failings of the CIA:

  12. Nik says:

    As I recall, the video evidence is there was no demonstration. Surveillance footage showed no crowds. No demonstration in Libya.

    Now, was there a demonstration in Egypt? Sure. There’s ample evidence there was. The spontaneity of the should be in question. I suspect it was a drummed up demonstration, perhaps for it’s own sake, perhaps with the intent of doing the same thing in Egypt as happened in Cairo, but it fell apart. Perhaps as a distraction to what was happening in Libya. Really, it doesn’t matter as each occurrence should be handled and interpreted wholly separate at this stage. Later, as we better understand what happened, then it’s reasonable to look to see what, if any, links there are.

    “Why minor? Because right now we’re arguing over whether we labeled the group responsible ‘AQ’ or ‘extremists’. Come on. Names. Hardly the most important thing at this point.”

    Names are important. Being able to identify your opponent is essential. It’s very important to be able to determine if you’re dealing with one group or two, unless you want to be playing defense forever. It’s hard to go after a group if you can’t identify them. It’s hard to go after “people” if you don’t know if they’re truly working together or if these two actions were spawned coincidentally.

  13. Anonymous says:

    @ Hondo: I had read your article, actually, but I don’t consider a sole source (King), especially one with a particular bias, to be definitive. Clapper himself hasn’t confirmed that DNI didn’t alter the report (or, rather, that the AQ link was still in it when sent up the chain) in a non-closed doors briefing, so I’m still open to the idea that it’s possible this happened at the DNI level. Time will tell. I’m not saying the administration DIDN’T do it, I’m simply saying that there are more details to be known before we leap to that conclusion.

    And while I would generally argue for the Intel coming from the IC being better than that which comes from State, I would disagree with the (presumed) universality of the statement that nobody would have better info than DNI / CIA. This happened at an embassy, and one could argue State, with its various contacts, has a reasonable claim to having just as much info ability as CIA in that particular place. Again, I personally trust CIA over State, but I could see how the NSC could, by virtue of the locale, give State equal or more footing on this issue.

    I’ll wait and see what else turns up before laying blame. This is all after-the-fact information; there’s no urgency in rushing an investigation. It won’t change the election and can’t bring back our losses. All it can do is result in misplaced aim.

  14. Ex-PH2 says:

    Why on earth are you people quibbling over who did this or that? How can that possibly compare to the far more important task required of the Big Cheese to respond to the petitions for secession by 7 – count ’em – seven states.

    The Big Cheese cannot possibly address two issues at once.
    He left his balls in his wife’s purse and his brain is too small to handle more than one task at a time.

    Please cease and desist from trying to identify the Lone Gunman who changed the wording on that piece of paper.

    N.B.: The above information (except for the link) is brought to you by sarcasm and cynicism.

  15. Anonymous says:

    @12 : Names are important, agreed. But there’s an ‘Uncertainty Principle’ in intelligence – the faster you need information, the less accurate it will be. What name we used to identify our enemy at zero-hour is ultimately unimportant provided we can identify them quickly enough to respond.

    We apparently knew AQ was involved fairly quickly, even if that wasn’t reported in the unclassified memos immediately. If Rice put forth ideas that were in the unclassified memos that cited ‘extremists’ and ‘videos’, I’m OK with that provided someone else was narrowing down the scope to who, why and how – which evidently they did.

  16. Nik says:


    I hear you. But, turn it around. Presuming what Petraeus said is true, that he knew it was AQ, why would the name be stripped from the narrative? Who gains by obfuscating their identities?

    My inner conspiracy theorist would ask a further question…who made a campaign out of “Al-Quaeda is on the run”, only to remove that phrase from speeches after 9/11/12?

  17. OWB says:

    While who knew what when is certainly important in the greater scheme of things, the reason why all this is important remains the same – four Americans died as a result of something our elected and appointed representatives either did or did not do. It is important that we discover which it was.

    No, it is not important that each of us knew as it happened. Even I was willing to give them a bit of a pass initially in case the stupid video story was part of a brief dysinformation story to cover for an operation which might have been ongoing. That covered (in my mind) the first 24 hours, perhaps stretched into an additional 24 hours depending upon what they had going on on the ground.

    But the dysinformation as the only story? Unacceptable. And no reason for it has yet been offered. If they will not tell us why they lied, then we will manufacture our own reasons. The truth is better.

    Best guess from here is that something marginally legal if not flat illegal, which we may never know about precisely, was going on there which locked the panty waists into an immediate cover-up mode. They simply could not conceive of proper defensive manuevers for our personnel or facility. They prefer to just pretend that no one will question their wisdom in any situation.

    Still, the truth is better.

  18. The Dead Man says:

    #5 You realize that stirring up trouble to obfuscate an attack isn’t that hard when your people are volatile? I’m willing to bet money that the attackers stirred things up with a demagogue, then used it to cover their attack. It could have been anything for a trigger, that just happened to be a convenient one. That however, does not mean that the attack happened BECAUSE of the video. They’ve got someone with half a brain on their side is what it comes down to.

  19. Hondo says:

    Anonymous: the “Embassy Annex” in Benghazi was reportedly cover for a CIA safe house and major operation. The CIA apparently had more folks in Benghazi than did State – by quite a few.

    Not buying the “it was an Embassy, therefore State clearly had better info” in this particular case. Here, they did not. CIA would have had much better local info, if for no other reason than self-preservation.

    And, for what it’s worth: while King is the source of Clapper’s and Morrell’s comments, I regard it as telling that neither has disputed his characterization of their testimony.

  20. Anonymous says:

    @ Nik (16): I agree with you in principle – and, personally, I trust CIA’s estimate of such things more than I do the other players. I’m just saying it’s not *unreasonable* for someone else to say, “Hmm… CIA thinks it’s AQ, but State says Ansar Al-Sharia has claimed responsibility, and NSA has no intercepts one way or another,.. so let me just say ‘extremist elements’ since it seems less than certain at this early hour.”

    In that situation, Petreaus and CIA can be certain of THEIR assessment, but whoever was synthesizing the intel from the various agencies might have been less certain, leading to a more generic term until it could be determined which was

    As for AQ being on the run, I agree it was a stupid political point being made – much like how we’ve ‘turned corners’, are putting ‘country first’ or seeking ‘hope and change’. This is what happens when we get messages from politicians, on either side of the fence. I have ZERO doubt that the WH would *spin* things a certain way to help how they’re perceived, but spin is expected (sadly!) and not a scandal. Changing a report can be a different story. Change it because the intel is stil murky, no problem. Change it purely for politics, that’s bad, sure.

    Maybe some here think there is sufficient evidence that that is what happened here, and that’s fine – everyone is entitled to their opinion. I just think it’s still insufficient to point fingers, so I’m awaiting a bit more information.

  21. Anonymous says:

    @ Hondo: Look, I agree – and have said and will say again that I personally would trust CIA’s assessment over State’s any day of the week. I’m just saying it’s not unreasonable that some suit at the NSC just went with the ‘fair’ thing, rather than the smart thing, and gave CIA’s and State’s reports equal weight, and hedged their bets by using a blanket term for enemies due to the possibly conflicting information they were seeing.

    And King may be telling the truth, certainly. If that’s the case, I’m sure there will be additional confirmation from other sources soon. But how often does someone in Clapper’s or Morrell’s position come out and publicly disagree with sentiments expressed by people in Congress? Or anyone for that matter? Almost never.

    I’m quite sure we’ll know more soon and ultimately you may be right. I just don’t feel comfortable leaping to the same conclusions you’re at just yet.

  22. Devtun says:

    Small nugget from GEN Petraeus’s wife Holly is head of recently formed Consumer Financial Protection Bureau…she was appointed by President BO. Additionally, this Dept has no congressional oversight…her salary? $187,500. Something else to ponder…

  23. Ex-PH2 says:

    @22 – Throwing a bone….

  24. Alex says:

    Just thinking out loud but it always makes me wonder when a spontaneous demo breaks out in countries that have a low literacy rate of their own language but they all have signs printed in English?

  25. NHSparky says:

    Shhhh…stop it. You’re making sense. We just can’t have that now.