Security at this annex was the responsibility of the CIA, not the State Department. But because the annex operated under diplomatic cover, its existence as an intelligence facility was classified.
The State Department and the White House became the primary focus of the public criticism.
The debate within the CIA
After Petraeus’s morning coffee on Sept. 14, the CIA’s Office of Terrorism Analysis sent an internal agency e-mail with the subject line: “FLASH coordination — white paper for HPSCI,” referring to the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence.
The committee “has asked for unclassified points immediately that they can use in talking to the media,” the e-mail said.
Then, shifting into the first person, the office’s director, who had accompanied Petraeus to the coffee, wrote, “I have been asked to provide a bit on responsibility,” including “warnings we gave to Cairo prior to the demonstration, as well as material on warnings we issued prior to 9/11 anniversary.”
Included was a six-point draft that began, “We believe based on currently available information that the attacks in Benghazi were spontaneously inspired” by anti-American demonstrations elsewhere “and evolved” into assaults against “the U.S. consulate and subsequently its annex.”
It followed with a reference to previous attacks against foreign interests in Benghazi and a mention of Ansar al-Sharia, a terrorist organization with links to al-Qaeda. That information, put in at Petraeus’s request, would become the chief source of tension between the agency, the State Department and the FBI.
Fifteen minutes after that e-mail, the CIA’s Office of Congressional Affairs sent its own internal message, with the subject line: “Due-Outs from HPSCI coffee.”
The first item for the committee was a “white paper” on media guidance — the talking points that would emerge a few hours later.
In addition, the e-mail listed two items “For DCIA,” a reference to Petraeus. That request included “Cable(s) to [redacted] warning of protests linked to the film and response” and “cable(s) to stations on 9/11 security.”
Republicans would later contend that the CIA had wanted to tell the truth about what unfolded that day but that the State Department, with White House support, removed the information for political reasons amid a heated presidential campaign.
But the e-mails reveal that the initial talking points also generated tension and confusion within the CIA, as officials sought to understand how Petraeus’s requests squared with what the committee had asked for.
Stephen W. Preston, the CIA’s general counsel, was among those most concerned with the first draft.