But its likely involvement was a classified matter, senior administration officials said, and the FBI had objected to including the information in the talking points on the grounds that doing so would undermine its investigation of the attack.
“I am copying the CIA front office,” Preston wrote, referring to Petraeus’s department, “who may be more familiar with those instructions and the tasking arising from the HPSCI coffee.”
Less than an hour later, the agency sent the talking points, which had been strengthened to include repeated CIA security warnings, to the White House and other agencies for review. The reference to Ansar remained in the draft, as did a line particularly beneficial to the CIA.
“The Agency has produced numerous pieces on the threat of extremists linked to al-Qaeda in Benghazi and eastern Libya,” the fifth talking point began.
At 6:21 p.m., then-National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor e-mailed the CIA Office of Public Affairs saying that Principal Deputy National Security Adviser Denis McDonough, who has since become the White House chief of staff, had asked that “highlighted portions” of the draft be “coordinated with the State Department in the event that they get inquiries.”
The highlights indicated that McDonough’s main concern was the information about the prior CIA warnings to U.S. diplomatic missions in North Africa — information that was included at Petraeus’s request.
State Department balks
At 7:39 p.m. Friday, Victoria Nuland, then the State Department’s chief spokesperson, e-mailed deputy national security adviser Benjamin J. Rhodes; Jake Sullivan, director of policy planning at State; Shawn Turner, a spokesman for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence; and others. She expressed “serious concerns” about including Ansar and mentioning “warnings” in the talking points.
Nuland said the mention of the warnings “could be abused by members to beat the State Department for not paying attention to Agency warnings.”
Rhodes responded, “We need to resolve this in a way that respects all of the relevant equities, particularly the investigation,” and suggested that the issue be resolved the next morning during a previously scheduled meeting of the national security deputies.
“We’ve tried to work the draft talking points for HPSCI through the coordination process but have run into major problems,” the CIA’s Office of Public Affairs wrote to Petraeus at 9:52 p.m. Sept. 14. “The White House cleared quickly, but State has major concerns.”