Unlike 9/11/01 the clear story of what transpired in Benghazi has been slow to come out, with unclear, obfuscatory, contradictory and even false information "releases" from our government. With one incandescent exception, the mainstream media reaction to this event has been, to be kind, dilatory. Fox News, often derided by competitors and many of a liberal mindset, deserves enormous praise for their coverage. In particular Catherine Herridge, their Homeland Security correspondent and her National Security colleague Jennifer Griffin deserve outstanding credit for their ground-breaking, in-depth reporting on this story.
The story is of huge importance domestically for raising harsh questions over American security, leadership and policy; and abroad for illuminating how another successful attack on Americans both in the murder of the Ambassador and on American lives, soil and property at a consulate is a devastating blow to our standing and strength as perceived by foreign nations and nationals.
Although we have an overview of events, it is unclear and incomplete. The President has so far not fully answered the following key questions:
- Where were you and exactly when were you informed that our consulate in Benghazi was under attack?
- What immediate action did you take? Where did you go, how long did you stay there, who did you talk to and what orders did you issue, to whom? How long did you remain engaged in managing the crisis? At what time did you disengage from personal control of the ordeal and to who did you delegate authority to handle matters?
- Did you personally see the video and hear the audio from Benghazi in real time?
- Will you authorize the release to the public of the video and audio feed recordings? Please bear in mind that we all accept national security considerations, but also that we are not fools and have seen drone and aircraft feeds and security camera outputs from many other theaters and will not accept classification for pure censorship purposes. The event has been over for more than 7 weeks. The enemy has fled the area. Will you also release (redacted) transcripts of any written orders that went out as a result of decisions you made?
- It would appear that the threat to our diplomatic staff in Libya was grossly underestimated. Who is responsible and what steps are you taking to correct such matters so that it does not happen again?
Before, During and After
It is obvious from the result that security at the consulate and CIA annex were inadequate. We know that earlier this year the British and the Red Cross withdrew from Benghazi due to attacks and threats. We know that the consulate was attacked on at least two occasions. We know that there were multiple Al Qaeda and related extremist training camps close by (allegedly that is why an unmanned reconnaissance drone was available so quickly). We know that security specialists were concerned at the vulnerability of the diplomatic mission in Benghazi. We know that Ambassador Stevens was concerned with the security situation and the rising threat from extremists. We know that there were reports of apparent reconnaissance, possibly as late as on the morning of the attack. We know that additional security teams were withdrawn only weeks before the attack.
Hindsight provides many different perspectives, but the list above is, while not necessarily complete, pretty damning. Add in the anniversary of 9/11, and it is clear that a failure of policy, poor decision-making and insufficient common sense were rife among senior Administration personnel. A staggering failure of leadership resulted in the deaths of four fine Americans, and injury to several more, and to an unknown number of Libyan allies. A thorough analysis and After Action Review is required as a matter of utmost urgency to reduce the risk of repetition in other places, before more American lives are lost. This cannot be done without clear, honest answers – which have been patently not available from this Administration despite its claims of transparency.
So what do we know currently of what happened at the time and what should we make of the various contradictory stories and rumors we are currently hearing?
At about 9:40 pm local time (3:40 pm in Washington, DC), a group of up to 150 men, armed with AK-47s, rocket-propelled grenades and truck-mounted heavy machine guns begin an assault on the Benghazi Consulate. Prior to the attack, all is quiet in the locality. We then have the testimony of Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Charlene Lamb given to the House Committee on Oversight & Government Reform on Oct 10th in which she describes the events in considerable detail. Her written testimony is available on the Oversight Committee website. The entire hearing of the Oversight Committee is available as a video again on the Committee website. Unfortunately a transcript is not freely available, but in her spoken testimony, Ms. Lamb described how she followed almost the entire event live on video feed from the consulate while working in the Diplomatic Security Command Center in Washington, DC area and was in verbal contact with personnel in Libya. The relevant section is under Part 1 of the video at about 2:09:00 and lasts for several minutes.
Sept 11th, State and Executive Office of the President receive a Sensitive But Unclassified (SBU) email at 4:05 pm (DC time) reporting the attack, and another 49 minutes later reporting the firing stopped and a response team on-site.
Sept 11th, State and Executive Office of the President receive another email at 6.07 pm (DC time) pointing out that Ansar al-Sharia (AAS) (an Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) affiliate) claims responsibility in a posting on the internet, via Facebook and Twitter.
Sept 11th, before the day is done, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton issues a statement on the attack including the comment that: "some have sought to justify this vicious behavior as a response to inflammatory material posted on the Internet".
The misinformation, obfuscation, contradiction, misdirection and refusal to comment require a "willing suspension of disbelief" in order not to conclude that the Obama Administration is involved in a cover up. The mainstream media, except for Fox News, seem mostly to have stored their disbelief in the freezer. The final section is presented as a timeline without comment to enable you to decide for yourselves whether this is a cover up:
Sept 12th, President Obama, speaking from the Rose Garden, condemns the killers of the 4 Americans as "an outrageous and shocking attack" and then follows it closely by saying "We reject all efforts to denigrate the religious beliefs of others. But there is absolutely no justification to this type of senseless violence. None."
Sept 13th, FBI and CTC reportedly give briefings on Capitol Hill; apparently they stated the assault was a terror attack by Al Qaeda or an Al Qaeda affiliate.
Sep 14th, Rep. Ruppersberger, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee stated that following an hour-long brief by CIA Director David Petraeus "In the Benghazi area, in the beginning we feel that it was spontaneous – the protest – because it went on for two or three hours…." Rupersberger also said that Petraeus told the Committee that the attack began as a spontaneous protest against the film "The Innocence of Muslims," but Islamic militants who may have links to Al Qaeda used the opportunity to launch an attack. An alternate source, who was present for the briefings, claimed later that Petraeus was mischaracterized and explicitly briefed both House and Senate oversight committees that members of AQIM and AAS participated in the attack in Benghazi.
Sep 14th, Representative Mike Rogers, House Intelligence Committee Chairman and Senator John McCain state that the attack was, according to briefings they had received, a planned act of terror and not a protest spun out of control.
Sep 16th, Amb. Rice, a member of the Obama Cabinet, appears on 5 network TV shows to lay the blame for the death on a spontaneous mob reacting to an anti-islamic movie. On the same day, the President of Libya says it was a terror attack1.
Sep 17th, Fox News publishes a report from "an intelligence source on the ground in Libya" that there was no demonstration before the attack.
Sep 18th, White House Spokesman Jay Carney says, amidst other comments, "Our belief, based on the information we have, is it was the video that caused the unrest in Cairo, and the video and the unrest in Cairo that helped -- that precipitated some of the unrest in Benghazi and elsewhere" and "I would point you to what Ambassador Rice said and others have said about what we know thus far about the video and its influence on the protests that occurred in Cairo, in Benghazi and elsewhere."
Then the Administration story starts to unravel:
Sep 19th, Director of the National Counterterrorism Center Matthew Olsen answers a question by Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Joe Lieberman at a hearing by saying "They were killed in the course of a terrorist attack on our embassy. ... At this point, what I would say is that a number of different elements appear to have been involved in the attack, including individuals connected to militant groups that are prevalent in eastern Libya, particularly the Benghazi area, as well we are looking at indications that individuals involved in the attack may have had connections to al Qaeda or al Qaeda affiliates, in particular al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb."
Sep 20th, WH Spokesman Jay Carney says "It is, I think, self-evident that what happened in Benghazi was a terrorist attack." On the same day Fox News reveals a direct link between the attack, Al Qaeda and an ex-Gitmo detainee.
Sep 21st, Sec. State Hillary Clinton says "What happened in Benghazi was a terrorist attack,…"
Sep 23rd, CNN release the story of reporters finding Amb. Stevens' journal in the ruins of the Consulate four days after the attack.
Sep 25th POTUS addresses the United Nations General Assembly and comments on the Benghazi attack in the following terms (among others): "There is no video that justifies an attack on an embassy."
Sep 28th, ODNI issues a statement stating that the attack was "a deliberate and organized terrorist attack carried out by extremists ".
Oct 2nd, Fox News reports that diplomats in Libya repeatedly asked for more security before the attack.
Oct 3rd, Fox News reports that State Department did not get involved with security contractor problems.
Oct 4th, the FBI is finally reported to have visited the Consulate in Benghazi to examine the site.
Oct 10th, Fox New reports there was no protest before the attack.
Oct 18th, The Department of Defense announces the replacement for General Carter Ham, in charge of AfriCom, who was in charge of the military assets which could have supported operations during the attack on the Consulate. Despite denials by General Martin Dempsey, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, there has been speculation that the move is due to disagreements over the handling of support to those in need in Benghazi.2
Oct 19th, Fox News reveals State Department documents showing Ambassador Stevens's concern over security in Libya.
Oct 24th, Fox News reveals e-mails from the day of the attack, from Libya to the Executive Office of the President (White House), Pentagon, Director of National Intelligence, FBI and multiple recipients in the State Department. The three e-mails make an initial report of the attack, an update an hour later and a report that Ansar al-Sharia claimed responsibility for the attack on FaceBook and Twitter.
Also Oct 24th, CBS News releases an unused interview with President Obama, recorded on Sep 12th, in which the President tells the interviewer it was not like Cairo, and that he suspected there were "folks involved in this who were looking to target Americans" – a very different line from that so clearly taken by himself, his Spokesman and members of his Cabinet over the next few days and even weeks.
Oct 26th, in an interview on KUSA-TV, President Obama said "I can tell you, as I've said over the last couple of months since this happened, the minute I found out what was happening, I gave three very clear directives. Number one, make sure that we are securing our personnel and doing whatever we need to….."
Also on Oct 26th, Fox News breaks the story, refuted by the CIA, that a source in the Benghazi CIA annex says the rescue team was repeatedly told to "stand down" before disobeying orders and heroically rescuing the survivors at the consulate (and recovering the body of Sean Smith).
Further on Oct 26th, Secretary of Defense, Leon Panetta, accompanied by General Martin Dempsey, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff hold a press conference during which they stated that "our forces were alert and responsive." There was then questioning over the response which went as follows:
GEN. DEMPSEY: So on the events in Libya, clearly the American people deserve to understand what happened in Benghazi. As you know, there are reviews under way both here and in the Department of State so we'll better understand what happened.
It's not helpful, in my view, to provide partial answers. I can tell you, however, sitting here today, that I feel confident that our forces were alert and responsive to what was a very fluid situation.
Q: Can I follow up on that? One of the reasons we've heard that there wasn't a more robust response right away is that there wasn't a clear intelligence picture over Benghazi, to give you the idea of where to put what forces.
But when there was, in fact, a drone over the CIA annex and there were intelligence officials fighting inside the annex, I guess the big question is, with those two combined assets, why there wasn't a clear intelligence picture that would have given you what you needed to make some moves, for instance, flying, you know, F-16s over the area to disperse fighters or -- or dropping more special forces in.
SEC. PANETTA: You know, let me -- let me speak to that, because I'm sure there's going to be -- there's a lot of Monday morning quarterbacking going on here.
We -- we quickly responded, as General Dempsey said, in terms of deploying forces to the region. We had FAST platoons in the region. We had ships that we had deployed off of Libya. And we were prepared to respond to any contingency and certainly had forces in place to do that.
But -- but the basic principle here -- basic principle is that you don't deploy forces into harm's way without knowing what's going on; without having some real-time information about what's taking place. And as a result of not having that kind of information, the commander who was on the ground in that area, General Ham, General Dempsey and I felt very strongly that we could not put forces at risk in that situation.
Q: So the drone, then, and the forces inside the annex weren't giving enough of a clear picture is what you're saying.
SEC. PANETTA: This -- this happened within a few hours and it was really over before, you know, we had the opportunity to really know what was happening.3
Oct 31st, Fox News report that they had reviewed a classified cable of August 16th summarizing an emergency meeting in Libya at which the Regional Security Officer gave an opinion that the consulate in Benghazi could not defend against a coordinated attack. The cable also gave details "on the location of approximately ten militia and AQ training camps within Benghazi".
Nov 2nd, Reporting additional details from the classified cable of Aug 16th, Fox News reports there were plans to suspend operations at the Benghazi Consulate and move operations to the CIA Annex due to security concerns.
Vital and Reasonable Questions for the President to Answer
- To whom and when did you issue your directive to secure our personnel? Was that directive not followed? Who messed up?
- Did anyone issue an order which prohibited anyone from going to the aid of those in peril of their lives? If so, who and why?
- Were air assets such as armed aircraft dispatched? If not, why not?
- Were reinforcements tasked? If not, why not?
- Was protective fire available and denied? If so by who?
It would not be unreasonable that military units were sent but did not arrive in time, although we should question why. If true that as the President stated -- "I can tell you, as I've said over the last couple of months since this happened, the minute I found out what was happening, I gave three very clear directives. Number one, make sure that we are securing our personnel and doing whatever we need to…. And I guarantee you that everyone in the State Department, our military, the CIA, you name it, had number one priority making sure that [our] people were safe." -- then, if spoken to anyone in the Department of Defense, this statement would constitute an order which would have been relayed immediately by voice to relevant command(er)s, and followed by written confirmation within minutes. If that order was misrouted or, far worse, disobeyed, then heads should roll. If the president did not give such an order, or gave it to someone to pass on to the military and he did not pass it on, the president should admit that to us and tell us who failed those American government personnel in Benghazi. The American people deserve an immediate answer to the questions above. This is not a matter for some delayed investigation but for the President to clarify -- before the election.
1. According to el-Megarif: "The idea that this criminal and cowardly act was a spontaneous protest that just spun out of control is completely unfounded and preposterous. We firmly believe that this was a pre-calculated, preplanned attack that was carried out specifically to attack the U.S. Consulate."
2. The selection of a replacement was probably done before the attack in Libya (according to an unnamed but knowledgeable source, General Rodriguez knew of his selection for the post back in August). However General Ham will only have served the minimum tour length and will be taking early retirement (he could have served for another three years, and it would not have been unusual for him to have served for another year in his current post, indeed it is unusual for such a successful commander to leave such a position at the earliest point).
3. Libya was not unknown to the military; US Forces under the command of General Carter Ham bombed many targets across the country during Operation Odyssey Dawn last year (2011) while Khadafy was in power.
Timothy Wilson is a retired British Army Lt Col (a 32 year veteran), a consultant and a recent and proud immigrant citizen of these United States of America.