- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 18, 2012

Top Republicans on the House and Senate intelligence committees said Sunday that Obama administration political appointees removed references to al Qaeda-linked groups from intelligence agencies’ accounts of the Sept. 11 attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya.

Rep. Mike Rogers, chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, said the White House’s National Security Council Deputies Committee had altered an unclassified summary of what U.S. intelligence knew about the attack, which U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Susan E. Rice relied on during her now-infamous round of TV interviews Sept. 16.

“There was not an intelligence failure. The intelligence community had it right, and they had it right early,” Mr. Rogers, Michigan Republican, said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” after his committee received a classified briefing last week from senior intelligence officials.

Intelligence agencies’ accounts of the attack, in which U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other Americans were killed, went to the “Deputies Committee, that’s populated by appointees from the administration. That’s where the narrative changed,” Mr. Rogers said. “The narrative was wrong, and the intelligence was right.”

Sen. Saxby Chambliss, vice chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, which received the same briefing, said lawmakers concluded that the National Security Council must have made the changes by a process of elimination.

“We had every leader of the intelligence community there,” Mr. Chambliss, Georgia Republican, told “Fox News Sunday.” “Everybody there was asked, ‘Do you know who made these changes?’ And nobody knew. The only entity that reviewed the talking points that was not there was the White House.”

Several congressional committees are probing the administration’s response to the attack, as well as why officials persisted for days in saying that the military-style assault on the diplomatic compound and a CIA annex resulted from spontaneous protests against an anti-Islamic video produced in the U.S.

Partisan differences

Criticism has centered on Mrs. Rice, but Democratic lawmakers and Sen. Joe Lieberman, Connecticut independent, defended her Sunday, saying she merely repeated the initial but inaccurate conclusions of the intelligence community, as reflected in the unclassified narrative.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, chairwoman of the Senate intelligence committee, disputed Mr. Rogers‘ account, saying it is still unclear who changed the narrative, prepared in a format known as “talking points.”

“The allegation that the White House changed those talking points, that is false,” said Mrs. Feinstein, California Democrat.

She added that intelligence officials told her committee that the talking points were changed because it was not clear which groups had been involved in the consulate attack.

“The answer given to us is [U.S. intelligence agencies] didn’t want to name a group until [they] had some certainty,” the senator said.

According to intelligence officials, the talking-points changes removed the names of two extremist groups suspected in the attack — the Libyan Ansar al-Shariah militia and al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, the terrorist network’s affiliate in North Africa.

An intelligence official told The Washington Times that the changes also were intended to protect intelligence sources, because evidence of the groups’ involvement came from highly classified electronic surveillance methods.

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