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CBS: DNI Changed Talking Points

CBS reports that the Office of the Director of National Intelligence removed references to terrorism from the CIA talking points before distribution:

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. …

However, 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 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.

First, the CIA answers to the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, so the whole notion that the CIA “agreed” to the changes is moot. They “agreed” to the changes because they were told to by the ODNI. Second, Clapper is clearly sprinting from this — the responsibility for the changes is pinned vaguely on the “Office of the Director of National Intelligence,” without much mention of him. The article actually leaves open the possibility that somebody else within the ODNI changed the talking points without running the changes by Clapper first, as if that’s believable.

It’s not the first time Clapper has tried to distance himself from his own office, either; back in September, DNI spokesperson Shawn Turner issued a statement in September about the “changing assessment” on Benghazi, and it was noted at the time that this statement did not come from Clapper himself.

This quote in the CBS article, from Turner, also raises more questions:

“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.

So President Obama, Rice, Clapper and others were aware this was a terrorist attack “from the very beginning.” Why wouldn’t they acknowledge this publicly for nearly two weeks? What’s more, Turner’s comment contradicts that same DNI statement he issued on Sept. 28:

In the immediate aftermath, there was information that led us to assess that the attack began spontaneously following protests earlier that day at our embassy in Cairo. We provided that initial assessment to Executive Branch officials and members of Congress, who used that information to discuss the attack publicly and provide updates as they became available. …

As we learned more about the attack, we revised our initial assessment to reflect new information indicating that it was a deliberate and organized terrorist attack carried out by extremists. It remains unclear if any group or person exercised overall command and control of the attack, and if extremist group leaders directed their members to participate. However, we do assess that some of those involved were linked to groups affiliated with, or sympathetic to al-Qa’ida.

CBS reports the White House wasn’t aware of the talking point changes, but is that believable? There were signs in the past that the DNI position was being politicized and micro-managed by the Obama White House, an atmosphere that eventually led to Dennis Blair’s resignation. Shortly after the failed Christmas Day bombing, Blair seemed to hint at the political pressure publicly during a House Intelligence Committee hearing. “I just can’t control all of the politics,” he told the committee. “The political dimension of what can be [and what] ought to be a national security issue has been quite high…I don’t think it’s been very particularly good, I will tell you, from the inside in terms of us trying to get the right job done to protect the United States.”



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