WASHINGTON — Former Deputy CIA Director Michael Morell testified before Congress this morning that the CIA ignored a key piece of information that was the exact opposite of what then-U.S. ambassador to the U.N Susan Rice told the American public about Benghazi, Libya shortly after the attack on the U.S. embassy compound.
The CIA’s station in chief in Libya wrote an email on Sept. 15, 2012 to Morell that the attack was “not an escalation of protests” and there was no anti-American demonstration that sparked the attack.
That was one day before the White House dispatched Rice to tell several Sunday talk shows that the attack on Benghazi began as an anti-American protest against an anti-Islam video.
The talking points used by Rice were written by the CIA, but the email to Morell indicates the agency ignored the assessment of its own station chief inside Libya that what happened was an intentional assault and not an escalation of a protest.
Morell told the on House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence that once he received the station chief’s email he immediately recognized the discrepancy.
But, instead of immediately informing CIA analysts, Morell said he first asked for more information from the station chief, because the information so starkly differed with what the CIA had concluded.
Morell said once he received that more detailed email on Sept. 16, he forwarded it to CIA analysts, who got back to him in just one hour to inform him that they were rejecting that information and were sticking to their initial judgment.
The Deputy Director said the analysts told him they had seen press reports that there were, in fact, anti-American protests, and therefore they would stick with that version of events, even though it directly contradicted the information from their own man on the ground in Libya.
Morell said he also sent the information to then-CIA Director David Petraeus who responded that he did not know what to make of it.
Committee chairman Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Mich., asked Morrell, knowing about all the previous attacks on the Benghazi compound, “How could you conclude it was anything other than a terror attack?”
Morrell said CIA analysts initially concluded on Sept. 13 that the attack began as a spontaneous protest. When he received the contradictory email on the 15th, he felt there were two reasons not to believe the email from the CIA’s own man on the ground.
One, he did not believe there had been no protests because there were press reports describing protests.
And, two, he did not find the information from CIA officers on the ground credible, because when they arrived at the compound to find no protests, the attack had already been underway for an hour.
Morrell also testified he was responsible for the changes to the final version of talking points used by Rice.
Rogers mentioned that when the committee asked Director of Defense Intelligence James Clapper why any reference to al Qaida was removed from the talking points he replied he did not know.
When Rogers asked Morrell if he knew why the references were removed, he also said he did not know.
In fact, a comprehensive report by the Senate Intelligence Committee concluded that groups affiliated with al Qaida did participate in the attack.
Follow Garth Kant on Twitter @DCgarth