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An early draft of “talking points” created among the CIA, the State Department, the DNI and the White House said:

“We believe based on currently available information that the attacks in Benghazi were spontaneously inspired by the protests at the U.S. embassy in Cairo and evolved into a direct assault against the US consulate and subsequently its annex. The crowd almost certainly was a mix of individuals from across many sectors of Libyan society. That being said, we do know that Islamic extremists with ties to al Qaeda participated in the attack.”

The final “talking points” approved by the White House said:

“The currently available information suggests that the demonstrations in Benghazi were spontaneously inspired by the protests at the US embassy in Cairo and evolved into a direct assault against the US diplomatic post in Benghazi and subsequently its annex. There are indications that extremists participated in the violent demonstrations.”

Mrs. Rice would go on five Sunday shows that Sept. 16, and strayed beyond the talking points.

“The information, the best information and the best assessment we have today, is that in fact this was not a preplanned, premeditated attack,” she told Fox News.

“What happened initially was that it was a spontaneous reaction to what had just transpired in Cairo as a consequence of the video. People gathered outside the embassy, and then it grew very violent, and those with extremist ties joined the fray and came with heavy weapons, which unfortunately are quite common in post-revolutionary Libya, and that then spun out of control. But we don’t see at this point signs this was a coordinated plan, premeditated attack.”

Two days later at the White House briefing, press secretary Jay Carney continued the talking points.

“I’m saying that based on information that we — our initial information, and that includes all information — we saw no evidence to back up claims by others that this was a preplanned or premeditated attack; that we saw evidence that it was sparked by the reaction to this video. And that is what we know thus far based on the evidence, concrete evidence — not supposition — concrete evidence that we have thus far.”

More than a week later, on Sept. 25, Mr. Obama went before the United Nations. He dedicated his speech to the fallen ambassador, and he clung to the video narrative when discussing the attack carried out by people he identified as “killers.”

“There are no words that excuse the killing of innocents,” the president said. “There is no video that justifies an attack on an embassy.”

Video story unwinds

Even before Mr. Obama’s U.N. speech, the video argument was fading.

On Sept. 19, Matthew Olsen, who heads the National Counterterrorism Center, went before Congress and labeled Benghazi a “terrorist attack,” a designation that implies a premeditated plan to kill.

On Sept. 27, Mr. Panetta appeared before the press and declared, “As we determined the details of what took place there and how that attack took place, it became clear that there were terrorists who planned that attack.”

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