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Former CIA official denies allegations on Benghazi

April 2, 2014

WASHINGTON (AP) — The former deputy director of the CIA insisted on Wednesday that he did not edit the widely debunked talking points on the 2012 Benghazi attack due to political pressure to protect President Barack Obama and onetime Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.

In a rare open session, Mike Morell offered a lengthy defense of his actions and the work of the spy agency in the politically-charged aftermath of the Sept. 11 assault on the diplomatic mission in Libya. Four Americans, including U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens, were killed in two separate terror attacks over a chaotic period of several hours.

A year and a half after the assault, multiple congressional committees and an independent review have investigated and reported on the attacks, largely faulting the State Department for a lack of security at the diplomatic mission. The hearing underscored that the attack remains highly politicized, with no signs of abating as Clinton is frequently mentioned as a possible presidential candidate in 2016.

Republicans have accused the Obama administration of trying to mislead the American people about an act of terrorism in the heat of the 2012 presidential campaign.

Responding to questions, Morell, who served six presidents, Republicans and Democrats, during a 33-year career with the CIA, was very emphatic.

“I never allowed politics to influence what I said or did. Never,” he said.

Morell deleted references to extremist threats linked to al-Qaida in versions of the talking points that were used by Susan Rice, then U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, in a series of Sunday talk show appearances.

The State Department and intelligence community were involved in drawing up the the talking points. Morell testified that the White House made only editorial changes to the talking points and no substantive revisions.

Four days after the attack, Morell edited the talking points to remove references to multiple CIA analyses about threats from extremists tied to al-Qaida in Benghazi and eastern Libya, and five other attacks since April. In its place, Morell added a sentence saying, “there are indications that extremists participated in the violent demonstrations.”

Morell testified he thought it was inappropriate for the CIA to call attention to its warnings in talking points that would be disseminated to the public.

He said it was a “way for CIA to pound its chest and say ‘we warned,’ laying all the blame on the State Department.” Morell said there would be plenty of time later on to figure out what went wrong.

In his prepared testimony, Morell said he was deeply troubled by allegations made by lawmakers and some in the media “that I inappropriately altered and influenced CIA’s classified analysis and its unclassified talking points about what happened in Benghazi, Libya in September 2012 and that I covered up those actions.”

“These allegations accuse me of taking these actions for the political benefit of President Obama and then Secretary of State Clinton. These allegations are false,” Morell said.

He said he and the agency could have done a better job, but he dismissed suggestions that the CIA “cooked the books” in the assessment of the attack.

The intelligence community’s talking points, compiled for members of Congress, suggested the Sept. 11 attack stemmed from protests in Cairo and elsewhere over an anti-Islamic video rather than an assault by extremists. Five days after the attack, Rice relied on the talking points.

Rice described the attack as a “horrific incident where some mob was hijacked, ultimately, by a handful of extremists.”

Morell said he had no idea that Rice would use the talking points on the Sunday shows.

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