BY KIMBERLY DOZIER AND NEDRA PICKLER
The Associated Press
WASHINGTON -- Testifying out of sight, ex-CIA Director David Petraeus told Congress Friday that classified intelligence showed the deadly raid on the U.S. Consulate in Libya was a terrorist attack, but the administration withheld the suspected role of al-Qaida affiliates to avoid tipping them off.
Petraeus explained that references to terrorist groups suspected of carrying out the violence were removed from the public explanation of what caused the attack so as not to alert them that U.S. intelligence was on their trail, according to lawmakers who attended the private briefings.
Most popular Nation stories
He also said it initially was unclear whether the militants had infiltrated a demonstration to cover their attack.
Petraeus was giving his first Capitol Hill testimony since resigning last week in disgrace over an extramarital affair with his biographer, Paula Broadwell. Lawmakers said he did not discuss that scandal except to express regret about the circumstances of his departure.
The retired four-star general addressed the House and Senate intelligence committees in back-to-back, closed-door hearings as questions persist over what the Obama administration knew in the immediate aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks in Benghazi and why its public description did not match intelligence agencies' assessments.
After the hearings, lawmakers who questioned Petraeus said he testified that the CIA's draft talking points in response to the assault on the diplomatic post in Benghazi that killed four Americans referred to it as a terrorist attack. Petraeus said that reference was removed from the final version after it was circulated among other agencies, although he wasn't sure who deleted it.
Democrats said Petraeus made it clear the change was not done for political reasons during President Barack Obama's re-election campaign. "The general was adamant there was no politicization of the process, no White House interference or political agenda," said Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.)
Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford) said it remained unclear how the final talking points developed: "The fact is, the reference to al-Qaida was taken out somewhere along the line by someone outside the intelligence community. We need to find out who did it and why."