The two agencies had the most at stake in the Benghazi aftermath. The attacks targeted a State Department post and a CIA site where a U.S. effort to disarm Libyan militias in the area was centered. Virtually no Americans were in the diplomatic post — only the CIA facility, where the agency was responsible for security.
Senior administration officials said Wednesday that Morell, who took the lead in editing the talking points drafted initially by the Office of Legislative Affairs, agreed with State Department resistance to including the agency’s warnings about possible violence related to anti-American demonstrations.
Senior administration officials said Morell removed the references after hearing about the State Department concerns — though his concerns don’t appear in any of the e-mails.
Victoria Nuland, then the State Department spokeswoman, wrote on the evening of Sept. 14 that the warnings “could be abused by members [of Congress] to beat the State Department . . . so why do we want to feed that either?”
She also raised concern about naming the terrorist organization that CIA officials believed was involved in the attack. “Why do we want [the] Hill to be fingering Ansar al-Sharia, when we aren’t doing that ourselves until we have investigation results,” she wrote.
A senior administration official said Wednesday that the only indication the CIA had at that point that Ansar al-Sharia was involved was a single piece of intelligence, whose existence it did not want to reveal lest its sources and methods be compromised.
Petraeus, Morell’s boss at the time, was not included in the exchanges, which were among lower-ranking agency officials. Once he received the final version on the afternoon of Sept. 15, Petraeus complained that they did not include the warnings, which would have made the CIA look as if it had anticipated an attack.
“I spoke to the Director earlier about State’s deep concerns about mentioning the warnings and the other work done on this,” Morell wrote to an official in the CIA’s Office of Public Affairs and Office of Legislative Affairs in the early afternoon of Sept. 15, referring to Petraeus. “But you will want to reemphasize in your note to” Petraeus.
About two hours later, Petraeus responded to an e-mail from the Office of Legislative Affairs that outlined the final talking points.
“Frankly, I’d just as soon not use this,” Petraeus wrote. “NSS’s call, to be sure; however, this is certainly not what Vice Chairman Ruppersberger was hoping to get for [unclassified] use.”
In the e-mail, Petraeus is using the acronym for the National Security Council staff, which operates out of the White House, and is referring to Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger (D-Md.), the ranking member on the House intelligence committee.
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