Former CIA Director David Petraeus testified Friday morning that the CIA knew that the deadly attack on the U.S. Embassy in Benghazi Libya was an act of terrorism, not a response to an inflammatory video, as the Obama administration initially said.
Just more than a week since resigning from his post as the nation’s top spy after an FBI investigation brought his extramarital affair with his biographer to light, Petraeus was only asked about the affair once and insisted it didn’t impact his testimony before Congress.
Petraeus had travelled to Benghazi immediately after the Sept. 11 attack that killed four Americans, including U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens.
He was asked Friday why the administration’s public statements on the attack differed from the original CIA talking points about it, according to members of the House and Senate Intelligence Committees that heard from Petraeus.
“The original talking points were much more specific about Al Qaeda involvement,” said Rep. Peter King, R-New York, who also told reporters that Petraeus didn’t know why the references to Al Qaeda were removed from the final version.
Rep. Jim Langevin, R-Rhode Island, said the confusion about what happened might be chalked up to the difference between classified and unclassified talking points.
“There may have been confusion with the unclassified talking points,” Langevin told reporters. “Perhaps there’s greater clarity in the classified talking points. There were perhaps some subtleties that were used that may have been understood by some to mean one thing, where others may have had a different understanding of words — for example, ‘extremist’ versus ‘terrorist.’”
Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger, D-Maryland, had a slightly different take, telling reporters that Petraeus’s testimony “reinforced” the CIA’s belief in the first 24 hours immediately after the attack, intelligence officials felt it was the result of the demonstration.
“He clarified that after more information came in, that it was not a protest,” Ruppersberger told reporters.
During the hearings, lawmakers also watched video of the attacks on Benghazi.
Democrats in the Senate also rushed to the defense of United Nations Ambassador Susan Rice, who, they say, was only drawing on official talking points when she initially asserted that the attacks were not terrorism.
Rice is thought to be a top candidate to replace Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who is expected to step down early in Obama’s second term; and some Republicans have vowed to fight her confirmation because of her errant statement on Benghazi.
“Criticisms of her are completely unwarranted,” said Sen. Kent Conrad, D-North Dakota. “That is very clear.”
Colorado Sen. Mark Udall, who is a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee and attended Friday’s hearing, flew immediately to Halifax, Canada for an international security summit, but later released a statement to FOX31 Denver.
“Today Gen. Petraeus confirmed and added more detail to the account we heard yesterday from the CIA, State Department and other agencies,” Udall said. “Gen. Petraeus informed us that he felt an obligation to testify to ensure the role of the CIA in Benghazi was understood.
“What we heard over the last two days of hearings is vastly different from what is being reported and alleged by the press and some in Congress. The intelligence hasn’t changed much since unclassified talking points were put out a few days after the attacks. U.N. Amb. Susan Rice repeated what she was told. The assessment was always that this was a terrorist attack, whether opportunistic, spontaneous or more deliberate. The only real difference in the intelligence assessment is that we know now there were not protests outside the consulate, despite many earlier reports to the contrary.
“There is no need to scape-goat, play gotcha politics or cherry-pick information. The election is over.
“That doesn’t mean we should forget about Benghazi. Far from it. Instead, we must continue the Senate Intelligence Committee’s investigation, and we should pay close attention to the State Department’s Accountability Board review. Once we have a more accurate picture of what occurred, we must understand what lessons can be learned from this tragedy and the loss of four brave Americans.”