Fox News' newest questions surrounding the 2012 attacks in Benghazi, Libya, were already addressed several months ago by the Senate and intelligence community's investigations into the attacks.
Ahead of former deputy CIA director Michael Morell's testimony this week before a Republican-led House committee on Benghazi, conservative media are reviving their accusation that the Obama administration changed talking points after the attack for political reasons. According to the right-wing conspiracy theory, the CIA station chief in Libya told Morell via email that the attacks were not an escalation of protests over an anti-Islam video, yet Morell didn't use that email to delete the talking points' references to demonstrations later used by then-UN Ambassador Susan Rice on the Sunday news shows.
On April 1, The Washington Times cited anonymous sources to claim that Morell told the White House and State Department that the station chief "had concluded that there was no protest but senior Obama administration and CIA officials in Washington ignored the assessment," an accusation Fox News quickly promoted.
America's Newsroom co-host Bill Hemmer speculated that "if you can prove that" Morell told the White House about the station chief's email, "that would be a strong indictment." Fox contributor John Bolton claimed that "Morell was trying to please his masters in the White House" by allowing references to protests to stay in the talking points.
The conspiracy theory has already been publicly addressed and debunked.
As the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence explained in its report on the attacks, the CIA would not have based intelligence for talking points on the station chief's email, because "as a standard practice" the agency does "not base analysis on emails and other informal communications from the field." The report went on note that the CIA's official assessment that the attacks may have grown out of protests could not be changed for more than a week after the attack leading which "affected the public statements of government officials" (emphasis added):
The IC also had information that there were no protests outside the Temporary Mission Facility prior to the attacks, but did not incorporate that information into its widely circulated assessments in a timely manner. Contrary to many press reports at the time, eyewitness statements by U.S. personnel indicate that there were no protests at the start of the attacks. For example, on September 15, 2012,. the CIA's Chief of Station in Tripoli sent to the then-Deputy Director of the ClA and others at the CIA an email that reported the attacks were "not/not an escalation of protests." Yet, the CIA's January 4, 2013, Analytic Line Review downplays the importance of this email, noting, "... as a standard practice, we do not base analysis on e-mails and other informal communications from the field because such accounts often change when formalized as disseminated intelligence reports."
As a result of evidence from closed circuit videos and other reports, the IC changed its assessment about a protest in classified intelligence reports on September 24, 2012, to state there were no demonstrations or protests at the Temporary Mission Facility prior to the attacks. This slow change in the official assessment affected the public statements of government officials, who continued to state in press interviews that there were protests outside the Mission compound. The IC continues to assess that although they do not think the first attack came out of protests, the lethality and efficacy of the attack "did not require significant amounts of preplanning."
When Rice appeared on the Sunday news shows to provide information about the attacks, her talking points, provided by the CIA, represented the best assessment of the intelligence community at the time. Indeed, as the Senate report determined, many initial reports indicated that protests over an inflammatory video - erupting across the Middle East at the time -- may have played a role in the attacks in Benghazi:
A dearth of clear and definitive HUMINT or eyewitness reporting led IC
analysts to rely on open press reports and limited SIGINT reporting that incorrectly attributed the origins of the Benghazi attacks to "protests," over first-hand accounts from U.S. officials on the ground. CIA's January 4, 2013, Analytic Line Review found that "[a ]pproximately a dozen reports that included press accounts, public statements by AAS members, HUMINT reporting, DOD reporting, and signals intelligence all stated or strongly suggested that a protest occurred outside of the Mission facility just prior to the attacks."
Of the 11 reports cited by the CIA's Analytic Line Review, six were pressarticles, two were the public statements of Ansar al-Sharia, and the three others were intelligence reports. Specific open source reports and intelligence on which analysts appear to have based their judgments include the public statements by Ansar al-Sharia that the attacks were a "spontaneous and popular uprising."121 Aiso, there was protest activity in Egypt and approximately 40 other cities around the world and violent attacks against U.S. diplomatic facilities in Tunisia, Yemen, and Egypt from September 11-20, 2012. In addition, there were intelligence reports in the days following the Benghazi attacks that al-Qa'ida-associated terrorists hoped to take advantage of global protests for further attacks.