CIA "Watered Down" Benghazi Talking Points

Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley
Dec. 4 2012 12:30 PM

Two Dozen CIA Officials Spent a Day Editing the Benghazi Talking Points

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U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice leaves following a General Assembly vote granting Palestinians nonmember observer status on Nov. 29, 2012 in New York

Photograph by Spencer Platt/Getty Images.

The Wall Street Journal's Siobhan Gorman and Adam Entous are the latest reporters to do some digging into the now infamous talking points that Susan Rice delivered on the Sunday talk shows in the wake of the attack on the American consulate in Benghazi.

The specific takeaway is that their sources have confirmed what acting CIA Director Michael Morell had also reportedly told senators late last month: That it was the the CIA and not the White House that scrubbed any mention of al-Qaida from the Benghazi talking points.

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But perhaps more interesting is the broader picture that the report provides of the extensive editing process that went on at the agency, one that doesn't make the nation's spy agency look exactly nimble:

The 94-word intelligence summary emerged from a daylong email debate between more than two dozen intelligence officials, in which they contested and whittled the available evidence into a bland summary with no reference to al Qaeda, an assessment the administration now acknowledges was wide of the mark. ...
A detailed examination of how U.S. assessments were turned into the talking points reveals a highly cautious, bureaucratic process that had the effect of watering down the U.S.'s own intelligence. The same process was slow to change conclusions when evidence shifted, in particular about links to al Qaeda and whether the attack grew out of a protest.

Josh Voorhees is a Slate senior writer. He lives in Iowa City.