Report: Intelligence chief’s office removed mention of al-Qaida from talking points

Neil Munro White House Correspondent
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Republican legislators are openly incredulous about the latest twist in the Obama administration’s evolving explanation of its response to the Sept. 11 Benghazi terror attack.
CBS News reported Nov. 20 that the office of James Clapper, the politically appointed Director of National Intelligence, edited the talking points before they were passed to political appointees.

The talking points, prepared by David Petraeus, then the CIA director, identified al-Qaida and its affiliates as the jihadi group that likely killed four Americans and sacked the Benghazi facilities on Sept. 11.

But Petraeus’ report was quickly edited to remove any mention of al-Qaida before its contents were announced by administration officials, including U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice.

The edits allowed President Barack Obama and his deputies to blame a little-known YouTube video for the assault, and nudged the established media to downplay GOP criticisms of Obama’s Islamic-outreach policy during the last few weeks before the 2012 election.

Late last week, GOP leaders said the edit was likely made by a White House panel, dubbed the “deputies’ committee.”

But CBS wrote that “the White House or State Department did not make those changes.”

The report from CBS contradicts evidence from hearings last week, in which several senior intelligence officials — including Clapper — declared they did not know who made the edits.

“I participated in hours of hearings in the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence last week regarding the events in Benghazi, where senior intelligence officials were asked this very question, and all of them — including the Director of National Intelligence himself — told us that they did not know who made the changes,” said an afternoon statement from Sen. John McCain.

“The statement released Monday … differs significantly from information provided in testimony to the Committee last week,” Susan Phalen, spokeswoman for the House Intelligence Committee told CBS News.

“Chairman [Mike] Rogers looks forward to discussing this new explanation with Director Clapper as soon as possible to understand how the DNI reached this conclusion and why leaders of the Intelligence Community testified late last week that they were unaware of who changed the talking points,” said Phalen.

Clapper has come under fire for declaring last year that the Muslim Brotherhood is “largely secular.”

“The term Muslim Brotherhood is an umbrella term for a variety of movements,” Clapper said Feb. 2011 at a congressional hearing. It is “a very heterogeneous group, largely secular, which has eschewed violence and has decried al-Qaida as a perversion of Islam.”

However, the group’s symbol shows a Koran and two crossed swords. Its motto declares that “Allah is our objective. The Prophet is our leader. Qur’an is our law. Jihad is our way. Dying in the way of Allah is our highest hope.”

Clapper’s new claim also shields Rice from charges that she deceived Americans when she blamed the video for the attack.

Five days after the attack, on Sept. 16, Rice went on five Sunday talk shows to insist that the attack by heavily-armed jihadis was really caused by a berserk mob angry at a California video critical of Islam’s founder.

Obama may nominate Rice to replace Hillary Clinton, the outgoing secretary of state.

Many GOP legislators believe Rice helped cover up al-Qaida’s role in the Sept. 11 Benghazi attacks.

“Ambassador Rice is widely viewed to have either willfully or incompetently misled the American public on the Benghazi matter. … We believe that making her the face of the U.S. foreign policy … would greatly undermine your desire to improve U.S. relations with the world,” said a Nov. 19 letter signed by 97 GOP legislators.

However, other GOP legislators and analysts say the underlying problem is Obama’s effort to cultivate support among Arab Islamist groups, such as the Egypt-based Muslim Brotherhood.

Obama’s policy is based on the claim that a U.S. outreach to popular Islamic parties would undermine the Arab jihadi groups, and accomplish more than President George W. Bush’s two-handed policy of killing jihadis and promoting democracy-building in Arab countries.

However, the region’s Islamist parties have deep ideological, religious and personal ties to the jihadi groups, and both continue to aid each other.

For example, Gaza’s Hamas terror group is an affiliate of the Muslim Brotherhood movement, whose members now control Egypt’s elected parliament and presidency. On Nov. 16, leaders of both groups met in Gaza to denounce Israel’s effort to defend itself from Hamas’ rocket attacks on Israeli civilians.

In Libya, the jihad attack left Libya’s Islamist parties with more room in Benghazi to organize and supplant the weak Libya government.

In Egypt, the brother of al-Qaida’s current leader, Ayman Al-Zawahiri, is a prominent Islamist leader in Cairo, and he helped organize the riot outside the U.S. Embassy in Egypt on Sept. 11. That riot, which called for the release of a terror leader now in U.S. jails, was boosted when the organizers began complaining about the anti-Islamic YouTube video.

Egypt’s Islamist government did not send police to guard the U.S. Embassy until its flag had been torn down and burned. The country’s Islamist president did not even mention the downtown riot for more than a day.

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Neil Munro