The House intelligence committee cleared the CIA of wrongdoing in the run-up to the 2012 Benghazi terrorist attack and its actions during the assault, but said in a newly declassified report Friday that the way the agency wrote the controversial talking points afterwards was “flawed.”
The bipartisan report says the CIA’s initial talking points saying the attack was a protest against a video, while eventually proved to be incorrect, were based on intelligence the agency had at the time. The CIA only came to the correct conclusion two weeks later, which was days after then-U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice used the erroneous talking points.
But the agency should have moved more quickly to change its conclusions as on-the-ground evidence mounted, the investigators said.
Investigators also said no CIA employees were prevented from speaking with Congress, as some lawmakers had claimed — though the agency was slow to respond to some inquiries.
The report dents many of the claims some Republicans have advanced, including rejecting the claim that CIA security officers were told to “stand down” and not try to rescue State Department personnel at the diplomatic compound under assault, and that the White House forced the CIA to alter talking points to delete references to a terrorist attack.
Investigators said the CIA had received 21 reports that the attack involved a protest. It wasn’t until a few days after the attack that the first CIA analysis began to challenge that version — even though President Obama, in a White House Rose Garden statement on Sept. 12, had referred to “acts of terror.”
It wasn’t until FBI reports from the ground on Sept. 22 that the CIA began to rethink, changing its judgement on Sept. 24.
“In fact, intelligence assessments continue to evolve to this day, and the investigations into the motivations of the individual attackers are still ongoing,” the investigators said.
They said part of the problem is there were two attacks — the initial one against the State Department compound and a follow-up attack against a nearby CIA annex.
But the investigators concluded that the CIA did make numerous edits to the talking points which ended up obscuring or changing what turned out to be correct conclusions.
The 2012 attacks and the political aftermath have been a major sticking point between the Obama administration and congressional Republicans. Earlier this year, the House GOP won creation of a special investigative committee to look into the events.
But the top Democrat on that committee, Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland, said Friday’s report should close the books on the CIA talking-points part of their inquiry.
“After an exhaustive bipartisan investigation that spanned nearly two years, the House intelligence committee now unanimously agrees that the CIA talking points reflected conflicting intelligence assessments in the days immediately following the attacks and that there is no evidence that the intelligence community shipped arms to Syria,” Mr. Cummings said in a statement.
“Based on these unanimous, bipartisan findings, there is no reason for the Benghazi Select Committee to reinvestigate these facts, repeat the work already done by our Republican and Democratic colleagues, and squander millions of additional taxpayer dollars in the process,” he said.
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