The intelligence community -- not the White House, State Department or Justice Department -- was responsible for the substantive changes made to the talking points distributed for government officials who spoke publicly about the attack on the U.S. mission in Benghazi, the spokesman for the director of national intelligence said Monday.
The unclassified talking points on Libya, developed several days after the the deadly attack on the U.S. mission in Benghazi, were not substantively changed by any agency outside of the intelligence community, according to the spokesman, Shawn Turner.
Republican criticism of the talking points intensified last Friday following a closed door hearing with former CIA Director David Petraeus.
Rep. Peter King, R-New York, told reporters after the hearing that the original talking parts drafted by the CIA had been changed and it was unclear who was responsible.
"The original talking points were much more specific about al Qaeda involvement and yet final ones just said indications of extremists," King said.
The September 11 attack resulted in the death of U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans.
The unclassified talking points were first developed by the CIA at the request of the House Intelligence Committee, whose members wanted to know what they could say publicly about the Benghazi attack.
The initial version included information linking individuals involved in the attack to al Qaeda, according to a senior U.S. official familiar with the drafting of the talking points. But when the document was sent to the rest of the intelligence community for review, there was a decision to change "al Qaeda" to "extremists." The official said the change was made for legitimate intelligence and legal reasons, not for political purposes.
"First, the information about individuals linked to al Qaeda was derived from classified sources," the official said. "Second, when links were so tenuous -- as they still are -- it makes sense to be cautious before pointing fingers so you don't set off a chain of circular and self-reinforcing assumptions. Third, it is important to be careful not to prejudice a criminal investigation in its early stages."
Some Republican members of Congress suggested the change came from within the Obama administration -- from the White House, the Justice Department, or another government agency.
Turner, the spokesman for National Intelligence Director James Clapper, said that was not the case.
"The intelligence community made substantive, analytical changes before the talking points were sent to government agency partners for their feedback," Turner said, referring to the White House, Justice Department, State Department, Pentagon and FBI. "There were no substantive changes made to the talking points after they left the intelligence community," he said.
The House Intelligence Committee was not satisfied with Turner's statement.
"The statement released this evening by the DNI's spokesman regarding how the Intelligence Community's talking points were changed gives a new explanation that differs significantly from information provided in testimony to the Committee last week," said committee spokeswoman Susan Phalen. "Chairman Rogers looks forward to discussing this new explanation with Director Clapper as soon as possible to understand how the DNI reached this conclusion and why leaders of the Intelligence Community testified late last week that they were unaware of who changed the talking points."
The White House on Friday said it made only one change, substituting the word "mission" for "consulate."
The FBI requested a change in language which originally stated the U.S. "knew" Islamic extremists participated in the attack. According to a U.S. intelligence official the wording was changed to "there are indications" Islamic extremists participated.
The drumbeat of criticism began early on with Republicans criticizing the Obama administration for publicly saying the attack grew out of a spontaneous protest against an anti Muslim video on the web even though the Republicans claim the administration knew it was a planned terrorist attack.
The harshest criticism has focused on Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, who used the talking points as the basis for comments she made on Sunday talk shows five days after the attack. During her appearances, Rice said a small number of people came to the mission in reaction to demonstrations occurring in Cairo over the anti-Muslim film, but the Benghazi protest was hijacked by armed extremists. She never mentioned terrorists.
House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers, R-Michigan, said this isn't about parsing words. "There was some policy decisions made based on the narrative that was not consistent with the intelligence that we had. That's my concern," Rogers said last Sunday on NBC's "Meet the Press."
Former CIA Director Petraeus told lawmakers last Friday there were multiple streams of intelligence, some that indicated Ansar al Sharia was behind the attack, according to an official with knowledge of the situation. But other intelligence indicated the violence at the Benghazi mission was inspired by protests in Egypt over the anti Muslim video.
Rep. Adam Schiff, D-California, told CNN on Monday that Petraeus explained why the talking points were changed.
"Gen. Petraeus made it clear that that change was made to protect classified sources of information, not to spin it, not to politicize it and it wasn't done at the direction of the white house. That really ought to be the end of it, but it isn't. So we have to continue to go around this merry go round, but at a certain point when all the facts point in a certain direction, we're going to have to accept them as they are and move on," Schiff said.