Since the assault that killed four Americans, including Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens, Republicans have accused President Obama and his senior advisers of mischaracterizing the attack, largely to prevent political repercussions during what was then a close reelection campaign.
Much of the Republican concern has focused on whether administration officials acknowledged early enough that an Islamist terrorist organization was behind the attack, rather than groups of protesters participating in anti-American demonstrations that were taking place outside many U.S. diplomatic missions in the Middle East and North Africa.
According to the e-mails and initial CIA-drafted talking points, the agency believed the attack included a mix of Islamist extremists from Ansar al-Sharia, a group affiliated with al-Qaeda, and angry demonstrators.
White House officials did not challenge that analysis, the e-mails show, nor did they object to its inclusion in the public talking points.
But CIA deputy director Michael Morell later removed the reference to Ansar al-Sharia because the assessment was still classified and because FBI officials believed that making the information public could compromise their investigation, said senior administration officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe the internal debate.
Those officials said Wednesday that the e-mails capture a fairly routine conversation between agencies over how to talk about a major event.
What was most challenging in this case, senior administration officials said, was doing so within days of the attack as intelligence agencies working in a volatile environment were trying to piece together what happened.
The House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence requested the talking points during a Sept. 14 briefing with David H. Petraeus, who was then director of the CIA. The request set off the e-mail discussion over how much information could be revealed by members of Congress in the days ahead — and by administration officials.
Susan E. Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, who did not directly participate in the e-mail exchanges, appeared on a series of Sunday shows two days after the Petraeus briefing.
The talking points she delivered emerged from the e-mail discussion, and they eventually helped cost her the nomination for secretary of state amid Republican criticism that she intentionally misrepresented the attack.
White House officials have argued that Rice was using talking points that reflected the administration consensus at that time, and the e-mails appear to support that contention.