WH releases e-mails showing changes to Benghazi talking points

(CBS News) WASHINGTON -- Late Wednesday, the White House released internal emails that deal with the administration's public description of the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya.

Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans were killed there last Sept. 11. Republicans say the White House covered up details of the attack while President Obama was running for re-election.

The emails reveal how the first draft of CIA talking points prepared for U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice and select members of Congress watered down direct references to al Qaeda links to the Benghazi attacks and warnings about potential attacks.

The first version of the Benghazi talking points was produced by the CIA at 2:27 p.m. on Sept. 14, 2012. It says that the Benghazi assault may have been "spontaneously inspired by the protests at the U.S. embassy in Cairo and evolved into a direct assault against the U.S. consulate."

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It also said, "We know that Islamic extremists with ties to al Qaeda participated in the attack." It cites at least five other attacks against foreign interests in Benghazi and that "we cannot rule out that individuals had previously surveiled the U.S. facilities."

The final version, after numerous revisions, produced at 12:13 p.m. on Sept. 15, kept the concept of a spontaneous demonstration, but removed references to al Qaeda or affiliated groups, previous attacks on diplomatic facilities or the possibility of premeditated surveillance.

One page shows how much of it happened in handwritten changes ordered by CIA Director Michael Morrell after a White House meeting Sept. 15. Top CIA officials told us Morrell's changes coincidentally reflected those reflected by top State Department officials.

U.S. intelligence officials told us that the CIA did not want to compromise the FBI investigation by suggesting, even by implication, who might have been involved. Senior U.S. intelligence officials also tell us that they wanted to protect classified information already developed on possible culprits.