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‘Frankly, I’d just as soon not use this’: Emails show the then CIA-chief David Petraeus objected to Obama administration’s version of Benghazi terror attack events

Read Time:12 Minute, 33 Second

By  James Nye

PUBLISHED: 18:34 EST, 15 May  2013 |  UPDATED: 21:35  EST, 15 May 2013


Then CIA-Director David Petraeus strongly  objected to the Obama administrations version of events of the terror attack on  the U.S. diplomatic post in Benghazi, Libya, newly released emails  show.

Petraeus, who was forced resigned in disgrace  in November after an extra-marital affair became public wanted to see more  detail made public, including a warning issued from the CIA about plans for an  embassy attack.

The documents give a glimpse into the  administration’s message control as officials carefully debated via  email  which details U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice  should highlight  when she went on talk shows five days later to discuss  the September 11 assault  on the U.S. mission in Benghazi, Libya.

The White House on Wednesday released 99  pages of emails and a single page of hand-written notes made by Petraeus’  deputy, Mike Morell, made after a meeting at the White House the day before then  U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice began giving interviews to the media based on the  agreed ‘talking points.’


Cairo Cable: Then CIA director David Petraeus objected  strongly to some of the wording of the White House approved talking points  surrounding the terror attack on Benghazi

On that page, Morell scratched out from the  CIA’s early drafts of talking points mentions of al-Qaeda, the experience of  fighters in Libya, Islamic extremists and a warning to the U.S. Embassy in Cairo  on the eve of the attacks of calls for a demonstration.

‘No mention of the cable to Cairo, either?’  Petraeus wrote after receiving Morell’s edited version, developed after an  intense back-and-forth among Obama administration officials.

‘Frankly, I’d just as soon not use this,  then.’

Senior administration officials told  reporters Wednesday that Morell made the changes to the talking points because  of his own concerns that they could prejudge an FBI investigation into who was  responsible for the September 11th, 2012, attack that killed U.S. Ambassador  Chris Stevens and three other Americans.



The officials said Morell also didn’t think  it was fair to disclose the CIA’s advance warning without giving the State  Department a chance to explain how it responded.

The officials spoke on a condition of  anonymity because they were not authorized to speak about the emails on the  record.

Officials said that Morell acted on his own  judgement and not with any pressure coming down from the State  Department.

However, when Petraeus received the final  draft of the media talking points he was dismissive, saying that the reduced  list would not satisfy the House Democrat who had asked for it.

‘This is certainly not what Vice Chairman  Ruppersberger was hoping to get,’ Mr. Petraeus wrote, in reference to  Representative C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger of Maryland, the ranking Democrat on  the House Intelligence Committee.


Disagreement: U.S. Army Gen. David Petraeus talks next  to U.S. President Barack Obama at an event in the East Room of the White House  in this April 28, 2011 file photo


A protester reacts as the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi is  seen in flames during an attack on the U.S. Consulate in the city



A vehicle sits smoldering in flames after being set on  fire inside the US consulate compound in Benghazi late on September 11,  2012


Chris Stevens died during the terror attack at the U.S.  Consulate in Benghazi, Libya

The White House released the emails to the  media after some of them leaked on Friday and seemed to suggest that President  Obama’s national security team may have altered the talking points for political  gain.

How the White House made sense of  the Benghazi attack – a timeline of the controversial emails

  • Friday 14th  September: 4.20 p.m. Stephen W. Preston, the CIA general counsel sent an  email to other agency officials advising them not to disclose information that  could jeopradize the FBI’s own investigation.
  • 6.20 p.m:  Tommy Vietor, the National Security Council spokesman emails to remind  officials that Denis mcDonough, the then deputy national security adviser and  now White House chief of staff wants all talking points edited and coordinated  within the State Department.
  • 6.41  p.m: Shwan Turner, spokesman for the director of national intelligence  offers up the suggestion that on September 10th, the CIA ‘notified’ the American  embassy in Cairo, not ‘warned it’ about social media chatter calling for  jihadists to break into the embassy. Morell removed this.
  • 7.16  p.m: Victoria Nuland, State Department spokeswoman said that all talking  points should match what the Obama administration was telling  reporters.
  • 7.39  p.m: She sends White House and intelligence officials an email warning  that the talking points could be ‘abused’ by opposition politicians ‘to beat the  State Department for not paying attention to agency warnings so why do we want  to feed that either?’
  • 7.51 p.m:  The FBI makes minor changes to the talking point draft.
  • 9.24 p.m:  Nuland replies that the latest draft of talking points fails as ‘These  don’t resolve all my issues or those of my building leadership.’
  • 9.52 p.m:  A CIA spokesman emails other agency staff members a note intended for  David Petraeus that warns him that the White House cleared the talking points  too quickly and that the State Department had ‘major concerns’.
  • Saturday  15th September: 11.25 a.m: Benjamin Rhodes, a deputy national security  adviser changes the United States ‘consulate’ to ‘diplomatic post’.
  • 2.27  p.m: David Petraeus emails Mike Morell to express his concerns that the  final draft does not go far enough
  • 3.00 p.m:  The final draft is approved and Susan Rice uses it to inform her  appearances on Sunday morning news shows.


And while the White House claims these are  all the correspondence that occurred in the aftermath of the terror attack on  Benghazi, they suggest more of battle between the State Department and the CIA –  rather than the president’s own team.

‘In recent days, these e-mails have been  selectively and inaccurately  read out to the media,’ said a White House  spokesman, Eric Schultz.

Critics have highlighted an email by  then-State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland that expressed concern that  any mention of prior warnings or the involvement of al-Qaeda would give  congressional Republicans ammunition to attack the administration in the weeks  before the presidential election. Fighting terror was one of President Barack  Obama’s re-election strong points.

That email was among those released by the  White House, sent by Nuland on September 14th at 7:39 p.m. to officials in the  White House, State Department and CIA.

‘I have serious concerns about all the parts  highlighted below, and arming members of Congress to start making assertions to  the media that we ourselves are not making because we don’t want to prejudice  the investigation,’ she wrote.

The emails were shared with Congress earlier  this year as a condition for allowing the nomination of John Brennan for CIA  director to move forward.

The general counsel for the national  intelligence director’s office briefed members and staff from the Senate  Intelligence Committee and leadership on the emails on February 15th at a  session in which staff could take notes.

A similar briefing took place March 19 for  the House Intelligence Committee and leadership staff

An interim report last month from the  Republicans on five House committees criticized the Obama administration and  mentioned the emails, but the issue exploded last Friday when new details  emerged.

Republicans on the House Oversight  and  Government Reform Committee read some of the emails aloud last  Wednesday at a  hearing with State Department officials.

The next day, House Speaker John Boehner,  R-Ohio, called on the White House to release the emails.

Congressional officials selectively shared  parts of the emails, and new revelations  emerged Friday that showed State  Department and other administration  officials pressing for references to terror  groups and prior warnings be deleted, expressing concerns about the political  implications.

The White House released the full set of  emails sent to Congress under the  pressure in hopes of putting an end to the  controversy that has dogged  the administration for months.


Scandal: Petraeus and Paula Broadwell, pictured,  conducted an affair from November 2011 until July 2012 – forcing his resignation  when details were made public


David Petraeus sent an email at 2:27 p.m. saying he¿d  prefer not to even use the agreed talking points in that form and made reference  to the lack of mention of the infamous Cairo cable too


The White House on Wednesday released 99 pages of emails  and a single page of hand-written notes made by Petraeus’ deputy, Mike Morell –  Morell scratched out from the CIA’s early drafts of talking points mentions of  al-Qaeda

The White House says congressional  Republicans have misrepresented some of them.

The emails released by the White House were  partially blacked out, including to remove names of senders and recipients who  are career employees at the CIA and elsewhere.

Critics have highlighted an email by then-State  Department spokeswoman  Victoria Nuland that expressed concern that any mention  of prior  warnings or the involvement of al-Qaida would give congressional  Republicans ammunition to attack the administration



The controversial talking points were used by Susan Rice  in her appearance on five news shows on Sunday, Sept. 16, and also sent to  Congress

The names were replaced with references to  the office where they worked.

The talking points were used by Rice in her  appearance on five news shows on Sunday, Sept. 16, and also sent to Congress.

An official with the CIA’s office of  congressional affairs whose name was blacked out sent the final version to  Petraeus on Saturday, Sept. 15, at 12:51 p.m.

‘As mentioned last night, State had voiced  strong concerns with the original text due to the criminal investigation,’ the  official wrote.

Petraeus responded at 2:27 saying he’d prefer  not to even use them in that form.

But he said the decision was up to the White  House’s national security staff.

‘NSS’s call, to be sure; however, this is  certainly not what Vice Chairman (Dutch) Ruppersberger was hoping to get for  unclas use. Regardless, thanks for the great work.’


Ranking Intelligence Committee member US Rep. Dutch  Ruppersberger(D-MD) briefs the media after leaving the the House Intelligence  Committee hearing on Benghazi with testimony by former US General David Patreaus  last November


Ruppersberger is the top Democrat on the  House Intelligence Committee.

At a Capitol Hill hearing Wednesday, Attorney  General Eric Holder said  there has been ‘very, very substantial progress’ in  the investigation  into who was responsible for the twin nighttime attacks in  Benghazi.

Earlier this month, the FBI said it was  seeking information on three people who were on the grounds of the diplomatic  mission when it was attacked.

The FBI posted photographs of the three  people and said they may be able to provide information to help in the  investigation.

Rep. Adam Smith of Washington state, the top  Democrat on the House Armed  Services Committee, said Wednesday’s release of the  emails was a ‘wise  choice’


There was little in the roughly 100 pages of  emails about Rice’s ‘talking points’ that had not been leaked  previously.

While awkward for the White House, releasing  the  emails was an effort to counter complaints from Republicans and the  media  that President Barack Obama’s administration is secretive.

They included an email confirming perhaps the  most damaging charge that  administration officials removed mention from Rice’s  talking points that the CIA had warned of an al Qaeda threat in the area of the  eastern  Libyan city before the attacks.

In the Benghazi emails, then-State Department  spokeswoman  Victoria Nuland raised concerns about references to intelligence  about  the threat from militants in eastern Libya.

Nuland wrote that she had ‘serious concerns’  that the talking  points would provide members of Congress with material to  ‘beat the  State Department for not paying attention to (Central Intelligence)  Agency warnings’ about threats in the region.


At a Capitol Hill hearing Wednesday, Attorney General  Eric Holder said there has been “very, very substantial progress” in the  investigation into who was responsible for the twin nighttime attacks in  Benghazi


It was not clear who she was referring to but  Republicans have tried to link former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, a  possible Democratic candidate for president in 2016, to the controversy over  Benghazi.

‘The seemingly political nature of the State  Department’s concerns raises questions about the motivations behind these  changes and who at the State Department was seeking them,’ said Brendan Buck, a  spokesman for Republican Speaker of the House of Representatives John  Boehner.

Republicans say the talking points were an  attempt to portray the attacks as arising from a spontaneous protest, and not an  organized militant assault, so as to protect Obama in last year’s presidential  campaign from any charges that he was weak on fighting terrorism.

The White House vehemently denies any  cover-up and emphasizes that the controversy over the talking points focuses on  intelligence that eventually evolved. The emails, officials said, showed a  normal back and forth between government agencies on a fluid national security  event.

‘Collectively these emails make clear that  the interagency process, including the White House’s interactions, were focused  on providing the facts as we knew them based on the best information available  at the time and protecting an ongoing investigation,’ White House spokesman Eric  Schultz said.

Officials also suggested that Nuland was not  the only one with concerns about the original talking points.
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