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By Jake Tapper, CNN Chief Washington Correspondent
WASHINGTON (CNN) - The White House released more than 100 pages of e-mails on Wednesday in a bid to quell critics who say President Barack Obama and his aides played politics with national security following the deadly terror attack on the U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya.
The e-mails detail the complex back and forth between the CIA, State Department, and the White House in developing unclassified talking points that were used to underpin a controversial and slow-to-evolve explanation of events last September 11.
The talking points have become a political flashpoint in a long-running battle between the Obama administration and Republicans, who accuse it of not bolstering security prior to the attack, of botching the response to it, and of misleading the public for political gain less than two months before the November election.
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"A big budget TV spot can be a few million bucks, or way more than that, and shooting a Vine is free, posting a video on YouTube is free, it's inherently a lot cheaper than the traditional model," said Mike Shields, digital editor at AdWeek.
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"The process usually is just, you know, go through brainstorming, sketch the rough idea, I try to plan the frames out, and then I put it all together," said Phan, who said it usually takes a few hours to create his stop-animation videos.
To really understand the push-pull over the bungled talking points in the wake of the Benghazi attack, you have to understand the nature of the U.S. presence in that city.
Officially, the U.S. presence was a diplomatic compound under the State Department's purview.
"The diplomatic facility in Benghazi would be closed until further notice," then-State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland announced last October.
But in practice - and this is what so few people have focused on - the larger U.S. presence was in a secret outpost operated by the CIA.
About 30 people were evacuated from Benghazi the morning after the deadly attack last September 11; more than 20 of them were CIA employees.
Clearly the larger mission in Benghazi was covert.
The Egyptian prosecutor's office says evidence shows three suspects linked to al Qaeda targeted the U.S. and French embassies in Cairo, as well as an Egyptian army facility in the Sinai Peninsula, according to state news.
CNN has not been able to independently confirm the reported targets.
Over the weekend, Egypt's interior minister announced the arrests of three militants who allegedly were plotting to attack a Western embassy and other targets. Both the U.S. embassy and a spokesman for Egypt's interior ministry have refused to comment on specific targets.
"Al Qaeda and groups like it haven't traditionally been operating in Cairo very much," said CNN national security analyst Peter Bergen.
The latest news of sexual assault out of the military packs an extra dose of outrage: the unnamed soldier the Army says stands accused of "pandering, abusive sexual contact, assault and maltreatment of subordinates" was supposed to be dealing with the problem.
It was the second such report this month, following an Air Force lieutenant colonel’s arrest for an assault in a Virginia parking lot located near the Pentagon.
“This is nothing new and that’s what makes it even that much more urgent that we have to do something now,” Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand said Wednesday on “The Lead,” calling for accountability and transparency in the way the military handles these cases.