Meet James Clapper — the latest fall guy for the White House on Benghazi. After last week’s hearings in Congress showed that the talking points from the CIA had been changed to eliminate the mention of terrorism, Washington erupted into a whodunit. CBS reports today that the culprit has been found … sort of:
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 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. …
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.
Note that this report doesn’t pin the blame on Clapper himself. It instead locates the change in Clapper’s “office,” allowing for a rather non-specific assignment that makes almost no sense at all. Are we to believe that a Clapper aide overruled David Petraeus’ assessment of Benghazi? If so, on what basis?
The report also states that the reason for the redaction was because the link to AQ was “too tenuous.” However, the presence of mortars and RPGs, as well as coordinated fire and attack strategies in play, made it clear “almost immediately” to Petraeus and others in the CIA that this was much more than a spontaneous demonstration run amok. That made the YouTube video explanation rather “tenuous” too, no? And yet that stayed in the talking points while terrorism got excised.
This explanation seems even more tenuous than the previous stories coming from the White House. If Petraeus knew “almost immediately” that this was an act of deliberate terrorism and included that in his talking points, then we need an explanation of who in the “office of the DNI” removed that explanation, and why — more than just the “too tenuous” excuse here that turned out to be totally wrong — and whether they got pressured to do so.