The Obama Administration and the Bengahzi Talking Points

Stephen F. Hayes, of the conservative Weekly Standard, just published a piece entitled The Benghazi Talking Points and how they were changed to obscure the truth. Hayes writes:

Even as the White House strove last week to move beyond questions about the Benghazi attacks of Tuesday, September 11, 2012, fresh evidence emerged that senior Obama administration officials knowingly misled the country about what had happened in the days following the assaults.

This is an exceedingly serious charge.  If it is factual, one would think that Obama supporters would reconsider their support for this president and this administration.   I wouldn’t count on that, however, because emotional attachments often override common sense or basic human decency, but let’s examine this a little.

Concerning a flurry of emails between the State Department, the National Security Council, the CIA, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, and the White House which took place directly after the Bengahzi attack “over a 24-hour period just one day before Susan Rice, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, made her now-famous appearances on the Sunday television talk shows,” Hayes writes:

If the House report provides an accurate and complete depiction of the emails, it is clear that senior administration officials engaged in a wholesale rewriting of intelligence assessments about Benghazi in order to mislead the public.

The basic charges are that American president Barack Obama, and his administration, failed to protect Ambassador Stevens and his staff when they had the opportunity to do so and then sought to cover it up.  Furthermore, Obama and his administration apparently lied to the American public about the source of the attack, blaming it on an excessive and spontaneous reaction to some third-rate internet video concerning the life of Muhammed.

According to Hayes the House report indicates that:

Within hours of the initial attack on the U.S. facility, the State Department Operations Center sent out two alerts. The first, at 4:05 p.m. (all times are Eastern Daylight Time), indicated that the compound was under attack; the second, at 6:08 p.m., indicated that Ansar al Sharia, an al Qaeda-linked terrorist group operating in Libya, had claimed credit for the attack. According to the House report, these alerts were circulated widely inside the government, including at the highest levels. The fighting in Benghazi continued for another several hours, so top Obama administration officials were told even as the fighting was taking place that U.S. diplomats and intelligence operatives were likely being attacked by al Qaeda-affiliated terrorists. A cable sent the following day, September 12, by the CIA station chief in Libya, reported that eyewitnesses confirmed the participation of Islamic militants and made clear that U.S. facilities in Benghazi had come under terrorist attack. It was this fact, along with several others, that top Obama officials would work so hard to obscure.

If this is true it exceedingly damning.  The charge by Obama critics is that the administration could have saved Ambassador Stevens and his staff, yet chose not to.  Hayes demonstrates that the White House prevailed upon the CIA to alter its assessment that the attack was a Jihadi attack in favor of some vague notion that it was “demonstrations” taking place in Benghazi.

There is little information about what happened at that meeting of the Deputies Committee. But according to two officials with knowledge of the process, Mike Morrell, deputy director of the CIA, made broad changes to the draft afterwards. Morrell cut all or parts of four paragraphs of the six-paragraph talking points—148 of its 248 words (see Version 2 above). Gone were the reference to “Islamic extremists,” the reminders of agency warnings about al Qaeda in Libya, the reference to “jihadists” in Cairo, the mention of possible surveillance of the facility in Benghazi, and the report of five previous attacks on foreign interests.


What remained—and would be included in the final version of the talking points—was mostly boilerplate about ongoing investigations and working with the Libyan government, together with bland language suggesting that the “violent demonstrations”—no longer “attacks”—were spontaneous responses to protests in Egypt and may have included generic “extremists” (see Version 3 above).


If the story of what happened in Benghazi was dramatically stripped down from the first draft of the CIA’s talking points to the version that emerged after the Deputies Committee meeting, the narrative would soon be built up again. In ensuing days, administration officials emphasized a “demonstration” in front of the U.S. facility in Benghazi and claimed that the demonstrators were provoked by a YouTube video. The CIA had softened “attack” to “demonstration.” But as soon became clear, there had been no demonstration in Benghazi.


More troubling was the YouTube video. Rice would spend much time on the Sunday talk shows pointing to this video as the trigger of the chaos in Benghazi. “What sparked the violence was a very hateful video on the Internet. It was a reaction to a video that had nothing to do with the United States.” There is no mention of any “video” in any of the many drafts of the talking points.

I honestly do not want to leap to conclusions on this story, but it certainly looks fishy to me.  We now have strong evidence that the Obama administration knew what was happening in Bengahzi in real time and chose not to act, thus resulting in the murder of Ambassador Stevens and three of his staff.  We have further strong evidence that the administration sought to downplay the role of political Islam in the attack in favor of some made up story about an internet video.

They did all this, furthermore, directly before the last election after claiming that Qaeda was, if not defeated, very much on the run.

The main thing that United States citizens can reasonably do is insist upon an independent investigation.  If Bill and Hillary Clinton’s real estate dealings were worthy of an independent investigation, surely this does so by a factor of many, many times more significance.


Mike Lumish is the editor of Israel Thrives.

About the Author
Mike Lumish is a PhD in American history from the Pennsylvania State University and has taught at PSU, San Francisco State University, and the City College of San Francisco. He regularly publishes on the Arab-Israel conflict at the Times of Israel and at his own blog, Israel Thrives ( He has in recent years given conference papers on American cultural and intellectual history at The International Society for the History of Behavioral and Social Sciences in Dublin, Ireland, as well as at the Western Historical Association in Phoenix, Arizona and the American Cultural Association in New Orleans, Louisiana. Lumish is also the founding editor of the scholarly on-line discussion forum H-1960s. He can be contacted at