‘‘The assessment that was publicly shared in unclassified talking points went through a process of editing,’’ Udall said. ‘‘The extremist description was put in because in an unclassified document you want to be careful who you identify as being involved.’’
Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., said it remained unclear how the final talking points developed. The edited version was used by U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice five days after the attack when the White House sent her out for a series of television interviews. Republicans have criticized Rice for saying it appeared the attack was sparked by a spontaneous protest over an anti-Muslim video.
‘‘The fact is, the reference to al-Qaida was taken out somewhere along the line by someone outside the intelligence community,’’ King said. ‘‘We need to find out who did it and why.’’
King said Petraeus had briefed the House committee on Sept. 14, and he did not recall Petraeus being so positive at that time that it was a terrorist attack. ‘‘He thought all along that he made it clear there was terrorist involvement,’’ King said. ‘‘That was not my recollection.’’
After two hours with Petraeus, the Democratic chairman of the Senate’s intelligence committee and the panel’s top Republican sparred over Rice’s televised comments.
Chairman Dianne Feinstein of California said Rice relied on ‘‘unclassified talking points at a very early stage. ... I don’t think she should have been pilloried for this.’’
Feinstein recalled the faulty intelligence of the George W. Bush administration, used to justify the invasion of Iraq in concluding that country had weapons of mass destruction.
‘‘A lot of people were killed based on bad intelligence,’’ she said. Feinstein added that mistakes were made in the initial intelligence on Benghazi, but she said, ‘‘I don’t think that’s fair game’’ to blame Rice — who has been mentioned as a possible nominee for secretary of state. ‘‘To say she is unqualified to be secretary of state I think is a mistake.’’
Top committee Republican Sen. Saxby Chambliss of Georgia said Rice had gone beyond the talking points.
‘‘She even mentioned that under the leadership of Barack Obama we had decimated al-Qaida. She knew at that point in time that al-Qaida was responsible in part or in whole for the death of Ambassador Stevens,’’ Chambliss said.
Schiff, the California congressman, said Petraeus had said Rice’s comments in the television interviews ‘‘reflected the best intelligence at the time that could be released publicly.’’
‘‘There was an interagency process to draft it, not a political process,’’ Schiff said. ‘‘They came up with the best assessment without compromising classified information or source or methods. So changes were made to protect classified information.’’
Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D., said it’s clear that Rice ‘‘used the unclassified talking points that the entire intelligence community signed off on, so she did completely the appropriate thing.’’ He said the changes made to the draft account for the discrepancies with some of the reports that were made public showing that the intelligence community knew it was a terrorist attack all along.
Lawmakers spent hours Thursday interviewing top intelligence and national security officials, trying to determine what intelligence agencies knew before, during and after the attack. They were shown a video to illustrate the chronology of the attack, which edited together security video from the consulate and surveillance footage taken by an unarmed CIA Predator drone, and even local Libyan cellphone footage taken from YouTube showing Stevens being carried out by people who looked like they were trying to rescue him.
A U.S. official who viewed it said the video shows clearly there was no demonstration prior to the attack, and then, suddenly armed men started streaming into the mission. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because the official was not authorized to discuss the investigation publicly.
Associated Press writers Adam Goldman, Larry Margasak, Donna Cassata, Henry C. Jackson and Andrew Miga contributed to this report.
Dozier can be followed on Twitter (at)kimberlydozier