Citing “an intelligence source,” CBS News reports that the “Office of the Director of National Intelligence (DNI)” cut references to “al Qaeda” and “terrorism” from the unclassified talking points given to Ambassador Susan Rice on the Benghazi consulate attack, and did so with the agreement of the CIA and FBI. Neither the State Department nor the White House made these changes, according to CBS.
But the DNI himself, James Clapper, has testified before Congress. Based on the comments of some of the legislators who were present at the hearing, it did not appear that Clapper changed the CIA’s report or knew who did. Moreover, Gen. Petraeus reportedly testified that he had no idea who changed his report. It seems unlikely that the CIA would sign off on changes without consulting Petraeus. So there may be a disconnect here. Congress needs to find out who within the Office of the DIA made the changes and who within the CIA approved them, if in fact anyone did.
Meanwhile, the reason offered up for changing the CIA’s report makes no sense. Supposedly, the links to al Qaeda were deemed too “tenuous” to make public, because there was not strong confidence in the person providing the intelligence. Such lack of confidence, if any there really was, might suffice as a basis for removing references to al Qaeda. Congress needs to find out whether there really was a jutified lack of confidence in those who linked the Benghazi attacks to al Qaeda.
In any event, removing the reference to terrorism and using the word “extremist” instead seems indefensible. “Extremist,” as CBS’s source admits, covers a wide range people that includes ordinary protesters and well-organized attackers. But it was clear to the intelligence community that this was a well-planned assault and that the organizers, whatever their precise affiliation, were engaged in terrorism.
Thus, there was nothing “tenuous” about the conclusion that this was terrorism. Removing that word was an obvious attempt to water down the CIA’s conclusion for no good reason, and quite possibly for a political one.