Susan Rice did her job – and repeated what intelligence community told her

When UN Ambassador Susan Rice appeared on TV morning talk shows on Sunday, November 16, 2012, she did so because the White House asked her to — to discuss not only the tragic events of September 11 in Benghazi, Libya, leading to the loss of 4 American lives, but also, the topic of Israel’s concerns about Iran’s closeness to nuclear capability, and the spread of violent protests in the Muslim world triggered by the anti-Muslim video.

She has been accused of intentionally misleading the American people on these programs.  The facts prove otherwise:  the Ambassador faithfully repeated the “talking points” drafted by the intelligence community and given to her prior to her TV appearances. These same talking points on which she relied had been approved by CIA Director, General David Petraeus and Director of National Intelligence James Clapper.

Here is the text of the talking points made public last Friday by Senator Dianne Feinstein.

“The currently available information suggests that the demonstrations in Benghazi were spontaneously inspired by the protests at the U.S. Embassy in Cairo and devolved into a direct assault against the US diplomatic post in Benghazi and subsequently its annex.  There are indications that extremists participated in the violent demonstrations.” (My emphasis).

Despite all the speculative and somewhat over-heated chatter over the weekend about the White House “changing” the CIA-written talking points, in fact the only change was technical and non-substantive — the word “Consulate” was replaced by the words “US diplomatic post” since there was no formal “Consulate” (an official State Department office) established in Benghazi at that time.

Now let’s compare the key words highlighted here to what Ambassador Rice said on the Sunday shows on September 16.

Ambassador Rice used the same caveats regarding uncertainty of information at that time:  “…our current best assessment, based on the information that we have at present” (ABC This Week); “the best information we have at present…our current assessment … there’s an FBI investigation which is ongoing” (NBC’s Meet the Press);

The same reference to Cairo-linked “spontaneous” protests:  “a spontaneous…response to what had transpired in Cairo… (ABC’s This Week);

The “evolution” into a violent assault by “extremists”: “that [protest]… seems to have been hijacked, let us say, by some individual clusters of extremists who came with heavier weapons…and it evolved from there.” (This Week); “what we think then transpired…is that opportunistic extremist elements came to the consulate as this was unfolding…..And that spun from there into something much more violent. (Meet).

The possibility of al Qaeda’s involvement:  “Well, we’ll have to find out…it’s clear that there were extremist elements that joined in and escalated the violence. Whether they were al Qaeda affiliates, whether they were Libyan-based extremists or al Qaeda itself I think is one of the things we’ll have to determine.”

Whether the incident leading to the loss of four American lives was “preplanned:” Ambassador Rice never denied that the incident was planned. All she said was that “we do not have information at present that leads us to conclude that this was premeditated or preplanned.” This was entirely consistent with a memo from the National Counterterrorist Center on November 14, two days before her TV appearances: “… [W]e are not aware of any actionable intelligence that this attack was planned or imminent.”

Was the incident an act of terror? Ambassador Rice never denied that what had occurred in Benghazi was an act of terror. The suggestion that the ambassador during her TV appearances had made a distinction between “violence using heavy weapons,” which she specifically said might have involved al Qaeda, and “act of terror.” is false.