Ex-deputy CIA director Michael Morrell defiantly rejected claims that the false Obama administration narrative on the 2012 Benghazi attacks was politically motivated, instead blaming the fake talking points on CIA analysts’ over-reliance on media reports and communication intercepts instead of eyewitness accounts from Libya.
Morrell was hauled before the House Intelligence Committee on Wednesday, after reports earlier this week indicated that the CIA station chief in Libya unequivocally told him that the death of four Americans was caused by a terrorist attack, not a spontaneous demonstration.
That eyewitness information was received by Morrell — then the acting head of the CIA — a full day before then-U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice told the nation the attack resulted from a protest against an anti-Islamic YouTube video.
Republican lawmakers demanded that Morrell explain why this information and other on-the-ground accounts were not reflected in the talking points, and why Morrell removed references to al-Qaida.
The ex-CIA chief blamed his intelligence analysts again and again for the mix-up, arguing that the CIA researchers tasked with discovering the truth relied largely on communication intercepts and media reports. Eyewitness accounts, such as the ones given by the CIA station chief and security personnel on the ground in Benghazi, were either unavailable or discounted by the analysts.
Morrell seemed comfortable with his agency’s disregard for eyewitness reports from their own personnel. “If you believe that we should’ve accepted [the CIA station chief's] explanation of what happened, then you also need to accept his view that it could’ve been the video that motivated the individuals to attack the diplomatic facility that night,” he told Minnesota Republican Rep. Michele Bachmann during a testy exchange.
“We spoke with him yesterday behind closed doors,” Bachmann responded. “He was adamant from the very beginning that this was not a spontaneous protest. We heard from him directly yesterday that at no time did he believe it was based upon the video.”
“It isn’t just him,” she continued. “It’s the RSO. It’s the chief of base. It’s those who came from the annex. It’s the political officers. All of them agreed. You take that versus some press reports and one signal — the weight and balance aren’t even equal. It isn’t even equal. The evidence overwhelmingly pointed to an attack, an attack that was al-Qaida or jihadist related.”
Bachmann also challenged Morrell on his interpretation of the White House’s talking points. Many Republicans remain concerned that the Obama administration deliberately deleted references to terrorism to further their election-year message that al-Qaida was on the run. But the ex-CIA official disputed that characterization.
“The narrative that the attack evolved spontaneously from a protest was a narrative that intelligence community analysts believed,” he noted. “There is no politics there whatsoever.”
“Let me actually give you the facts of what the State Department changed in those talking points and what the White House changed,” he continued angrily, explaining that the administration made just five minor stylistic changes to the narrative.
“Mr. Morrell, they didn’t have to change because you made the changes for them,” Bachmann responded. “That’s the point. That’s why you’re in front of this committee today. You made significant, substantive changes for the White House. Whether it was on behalf, we don’t know. But we know you are the one who made those changes.”
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