(CBS News) WASHINGTON - CBS News has learned that the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) cut specific references to “al Qaeda” and “terrorism” from the unclassified talking points given to Ambassador Susan Rice on the Benghazi consulate attack – with the agreement of the CIA and FBI. The White House or State Department did not make those changes.
There has been considerable discussion about who made the changes to the talking points that Rice stuck to in her television appearances on Sept. 16 (video), five days after the attack that killed American Ambassador to Libya Chris Stevens, and three other U.S. nationals.
Republicans have accused her of making misleading statements by referring to the assault as a “spontaneous” demonstration by extremists. Some have suggested she used the terminology she did for political reasons.
However, an intelligence source tells CBS News correspondent Margaret Brennan the links to al Qaeda were deemed too “tenuous” to make public, because there was not strong confidence in the person providing the intelligence. CIA Director David Petraeus, however, told Congress he agreed to release the information — the reference to al Qaeda — in an early draft of the talking points, which were also distributed to select lawmakers.
“The intelligence community assessed from the very beginning that what happened in Benghazi was a terrorist attack.” DNI spokesman Shawn Turner tells CBS News. That information was shared at a classified level — which Rice, as a member of President Obama’s cabinet, would have been privy to.
An intelligence source says the talking points were passed from the CIA to the DNI, where the substantive edits were made, and then to FBI, which made more edits as part of “standard procedure.”