After Petraeus testimony, the White House falls back to a new dubious line of defense

In light of the testimony of General Petraeus that the talking points used by Susan Rice differed from his talking points and that he doesn’t know who changed them, the administration is offering a new defense of the highly misleading talking points. It now claims that the talking points were changed by “multiple agencies” to protect intelligence sources. Previously, the administration contended that the talking points Rice used were the product of the CIA and that, to the extent they proved erroneous, it was because the intelligence was in flux.

To fully assess the White House’s latest line would require a comparison of Petraeus’ talking points and the ones used by Rice. However, even without such an analysis, it’s safe to say that the White House’s excuse almost surely doesn’t wash.

The problem with what Rice said on the talk shows isn’t that she didn’t provide enough detailed intelligence. The problem is that she erred on the basic question of the nature of the attack.

Fundamentally, the attack was an act of terrorism by armed extremists with connections to al Qaeda, as the CIA knew almost immediately, and President Obama was told within 72 hours of the event. The attack was not the action of a mob acting spontaneously.

Accordingly, any talking points used on the Sunday talk shows needed to state that the attack was al Qaeda-related terrorism, not just spontaneous mob violence. Otherwise, the administration, through Rice, would mislead the American public, as, in fact, it did.

And the talking points easily could have reflected that the attack was al Qaeda-related terrorism without including the kind of detail that might jeopardize intelligence sources. After all, the administration eventually conceded the point with no apparent setback to U.S. intelligence.

Thus, the administration’s latest line, like its prior statements, seems to be a crock.

But having advanced this line, the administration needs to identify the “multiple agencies” that doctored the CIA’s talking points and the individuals within these agencies who did the doctoring.

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