Benghazi Talking Points: "A Bureaucratic Knife Fight Pitting State vs. CIA"

| Fri May 10, 2013 10:14 PM EDT

Earlier today, my basic take on the Benghazi talking points was that they exposed some "unseemly bureaucratic squabbling combined with the usual mushiness that you get when an interagency process produces a series of drafts of sensitive information for public consumption." Glenn Kessler has more on this:

This basically was a bureaucratic knife fight, pitting the State Department against the CIA.

....First, some important context: Although the ambassador was killed, the Benghazi “consulate” was not a consulate at all but basically a secret CIA operation which included an effort to round up shoulder-launched missiles. In fact, only seven of the 30 Americans evacuated from Benghazi had any connection to the State Department; the rest were affiliated with the CIA....So, from the State Department perspective, this was an attack on a CIA operation.

....The talking points were originally developed by the CIA....[and clearly imply] that State screwed up, even though internally, it was known that this was a CIA operation. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland especially objects to the reference to previous warnings, saying it “could be abused by members [of Congress] to beat up the State Department for not paying attention to warnings.”

....The final version of the talking points shows what happened: Just about everything was cut, leaving virtually nothing. The reference to “consulate” was also deleted, replaced by “diplomatic post.” From a bureaucratic perspective, it may have seemed like the best possible solution at the time. From a political perspective, it turned out to be a disaster.

I think this sounds almost certainly right: in a set of talking points that was supposed to be about what happened, CIA tried to add a paragraph that deflected blame for the debacle elsewhere. State objected since they considered this a CIA operation in the first place. Read the whole thing for Kessler's full explanation. And see David Corn here for his take on why today's news is bad for the White House even though the substance is thin: "This is not much of cover-up. There is no evidence the White House is hiding the truth about what occurred in Benghazi....But the White House has indeed been caught not telling the full story."

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