BENGHAZI: THE TERRORIST ATTACK OF SEPTEMBER 11, 2012
This report examines the most significant events that occurred before, during, and after the September 11, 2012 Islamic terrorist attacks against an American special mission (and a nearby CIA annex) in Benghazi, Libya.
In March 2011, American diplomat Christopher Stevens was stationed in Benghazi as the American liaison to Libya's “opposition” rebels—among whom were many al Qaeda-affiliated jihadists—who were fighting to topple the longstanding regime of President Muammar Qaddafi. Ambassador Stevens' task was to help coordinate covert U.S. assistance to these rebels.
Following Qaddafi's fall from power in the summer of 2011, Ambassador Stevens was tasked with finding and securing the vast caches of powerful armaments which the Libyan dictator had amassed during his long reign. In turn, Stevens facilitated the transfer of these arms to the “opposition” rebels in Syria who were trying to topple yet another Arab dictator—Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. As in Libya, the rebels in Syria were likewise known to include al Qaeda and other Shariah-supremacist groups. In addition to facilitating arms transfers, Stevens' duties also included the recruitment of Islamic jihadists from Libya and elsewhere in North Africa who were willing to personally go into combat against the Assad regime in Syria. The U.S. mission in Benghazi served as a headquarters from which all the aforementioned activities could be coordinated with officials and diplomats from such countries as Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar.
Throughout 2012, violent jihadist activity became increasingly commonplace in Benghazi and elsewhere throughout Libya and North Africa. At or near the U.S. mission in Benghazi, for instance, there were many acts of terrorism featuring the use of guns, improvised explosive devices, hand grenades, rocket-propelled grenades, and car-bombs, along with explicit threats against Americans issued by known terrorists like al Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahiri. As a result of such developments, Ambassador Stevens and others at the U.S. mission in Benghazi repeatedly asked the Obama administration for increased security provisions during 2012, but these requests were denied or ignored.
Then, on the night of September 11, 2012, the U.S. mission in Benghazi was attacked by a large group of heavily armed terrorists. Over the ensuing 7 hours, Americans stationed at the mission and at the nearby CIA annex issued 3 urgent requests for military back-up, all of which were denied by the Obama administration. By the time the violence was over, 4 Americans were dead: Ambassador Christopher Stevens, Foreign Service Information Management Officer Sean Smith, and two former Navy SEALS, Glen Doherty and Tyrone Woods, who fought to drive away the attackers.
The Obama administration immediately and persistently characterized what had occurred in Benghazi not as an act of terrorism, but as a spontaneous, unplanned uprising that happened, coincidentally, to take place on the anniversary of 9/11. Moreover, the administration portrayed the attack as an event that had evolved from what began as a low-level protest against an obscure YouTube video that disparaged Muslims and their faith. In reality, however, within a few hours following the attack, U.S. intelligence agencies had already gained more than enough evidence to conclude unequivocally that the attack on the mission in Benghazi was a planned terrorist incident, not a spontaneous act carried out in reaction to a video. Indeed, the video had nothing whatsoever to do with the attack.
Given these realities, it is likely that the Obama administration's post-September 11 actions were aimed at drawing public attention away from a number of highly important facts:
the U.S. mission in Benghazi had never adopted adequate security measures;
the administration had ignored dozens of warning signs about growing Islamic extremism and jihadism in the region over a period of more than 6 months;
the administration, for political reasons, had ignored or denied repeated requests for extra security by American diplomats stationed in Benghazi;
the administration had failed to beef up security even for the anniversary of 9/11, a date of obvious significance to terrorists;
the administration, fully cognizant of what was happening on the ground during the September 11 attacks in Benghazi, nonetheless denied multiple calls for help by Americans who were stationed there;
the administration had been lying when, throughout the presidential election season, it relentlessly advanced the notion that "al Qaeda is on the run" and Islamic terrorism was in decline thanks to President Obama's policies;
the administration had hired members of the February 17th Martyrs' Brigade, a Libyan militia group with clear al Qaeda sympathies, to provide security at the U.S. mission in Benghazi; and
throughout 2011 and 2012 the administration had been lending its assistance to jihadists affiliated with al Qaeda, supposedly the organization that represented the prime focus of Obama's anti-terrorism efforts; moreover, some of those same jihadists had personally fought against U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.
This section of Discover The Networks explores the significance of the events in Benghazi and of the Obama administration's response to those events.
BENGHAZI: THE TERRORIST ATTACK OF SEPTEMBER 11, 2012
What Exactly Was the U.S. “Consulate” in Benghazi, Libya?
Though the media have often referred to the Benghazi-based U.S. facility which was attacked by terrorists on September 11, 2012 as a “consulate,” it should rightfully be called a “special mission.” For an explanation of this, click here.
Lack of Security at the U.S. Mission in Benghazi
The U.S. Department of State website emphasizes the great importance of implementing adequate security measures at all American missions around the world:
“With terrorist organizations and coalitions operating across international borders, the threat of terrorism against U.S. interests remains great. Therefore, any U.S. mission overseas can be a target even if identified as being in a low-threat environment. As a result, [Diplomatic Security] is more dedicated than ever to its mission of … implementing security programs that shield U.S. missions and residences overseas from physical and technical attack.”
But security at the American mission in Benghazi lacked the multiple layers of security that are typically present at such posts—i.e., it was not protected by a contingent of U.S. Marines, nor did it have bulletproof glass, reinforced ballistic doors, a “safe room,” three-meter-high barriers surrounding the facility, or a 100-foot setback from the building to those barriers. In order to operate a mission with such low levels of security in place, a waiver from Washington would have been required.
There was also an inadequate number of security personnel at the mission in Benghazi. According to Eric Nordstrom, former Regional Security Officer (RSO) at the U.S. Embassy in Libya, security at the Benghazi facility was “inappropriately low.” Nordstrom reports that there were never, at any time, more than three direct-hire U.S. security agents assigned to the compound, and he has testified that “in deference to sensitivity to Libyan practice, the guards at Benghazi were unarmed.”
Sometimes only a single guard was stationed at the U.S. mission in Benghazi. On such occasions, the lone agent depended upon support from members of the February 17 Martyrs Brigade (F17MB) who lived in the compound. F17MB is a Libyan militia led by Fawzi Bukatef, who has known ties to both the Muslim Brotherhood and al Qaeda, as well as other Islamist fighters. Notably, numerous entries on F17MB's Facebook pages openly professed sympathy for the Islamist extremist group Ansar al-Sharia. The banner, or “cover photo” of one such page showed an Islamic fighter, or mujahid, holding a portable rocket launcher on his shoulder. To the man's right, attached to the vehicle in which he was riding, was the distinctive black flag of al Qaeda. Moreover, the mujahid wore a headband based on the design of that flag.
U.S. personnel in Benghazi did not have confidence in the ability of F17MB to provide adequate security for them, as evidenced by the following exchange -- during a House Committee on Oversight & Government Reform hearing on May 8, 2013 -- between Rep. Patrick Meehan and Regional Security Officer Eric Nordstrom:
MEEHAN: Did you have confidence in the ability of the locals in the country who were purportedly designed to provide security for you? Did you have confidence in their ability to provide that? NORDSTROM: I think, to put it succinctly, it was the best bad plan. It was the only thing we had. MEEHAN: … Did you have confidence in that? NORDSTROM: No. MEEHAN: Did you report that, at any point in time, to officials in Washington, DC? NORDSTROM: We did. We did note the training deficiencies in particular. That was something that was always there. Certainly we had also raised the issue of doing some sort of counter-intelliogence vetting of the people that worked for us. Ultimately that was turned down, even though we wanted it ... (Source: May 8, 2013 testimony before the House Committee on Oversight & Government Reform)
At the same House Committee hearing, Rep. Blake Farenthold and Mr. Nordstrom had the following exchange regarding F17MB:
FARENTHOLD: Mr. Nordstrom, can you tell me what the role was of the February 17th Martyrs' Brigade in protecting the consulate in Benghazi? NORDSTROM: Certainly. That was the unit, for lack of a better term, that was provided to us by the Libyan government. FARENTHOLD: Were you aware of any ties of that militia to Islamic extremists? NORDSTROM: Absolutely. We had that discussion on a number of occasions, the last of which was when there was a Facebook posting of a threat that named Ambassador Stevens and Senator McCain, who was coming out for the elections. That was in the July time frame. I met with some of my agents and also with some annex personnel. We discussed that. (Source: May 8, 2013 testimony before the House Committee on Oversight & Government Reform
For additional security in Benghazi, the State Department hired the little-known British company Blue Mountain Group instead of one of the large firms it has traditionally used in overseas danger zones; Blue Mountain employed local Libyans to serve as guards who patrolled the compound with only flashlights and batons rather than firearms.
Congressman Darrell Issa (R-California), citing the testimony of witnesses and the content of key documents, explains one reason why the security at the Benghazi mission was so woefully inadequate:
“[T]he [Obama] administration made a policy decision to place Libya into a 'normalized' country status as quickly as possible. The normalization process, which began in November 2011, appeared to have been aimed at conveying the impression that the situation in Libya was getting better, not worse. The administration's decision to normalize was the basis for systematically withdrawing security personnel and equipment—including a much-needed DC aircraft—without taking into account the reality on the ground.”
At a later time (May 8, 2013), Eric Nordstrom (Regional Security Officer at the U.S. Embassy in Libya) and Gregory Hicks (Deputy Chief of Mission/Chargé d’Affairs in Libya) both offered their assessments of what was meant by“normalization,” and why the U.S. was pursuing it:
NORDSTROM: "… I'm not sure. I mean, sarcastically we saw it [normalization] as, 'Do more with less.' ... It struck me as being part of some sort of script. Just like the reason we didn't close the facility in Benghazi despite the risks. There was already a political decision that said, 'We're gonna keep that open.' That's fine, but no one's ever come out and said that … we made that decision and then take responsibility for it." (Source: May 8, 2013 testimony before the House Committee on Oversight & Government Reform)
HICKS: "'Normalization' to us was moving towards being like a normal embassy instead of being, in a sense, under seige or in a hostile environment, or surrounded by potential threats. And we wanted to move toward normal life, and that also meant a withdrawal of extra DS [Diplomatic Security] personnel, and then a movement towards our diplomatic security managing more of a program that included the recruitment of Libyans to provide the security that we needed. (Source: May 8, 2013 testimony before the House Committee on Oversight & Government Reform)
Some Democrats have claimed that security at the mission in Benghazi was inadequate because of budgetary contraints, but that claim is false. Indeed, the State Department was in possession of some $2.2 billion that could have been spent on upgrading security at U.S. embassies, consulates, and missions around the world, but the Obama administration elected not to do so. State Department official Charlene Lamb would eventually confirm, in her testimony before the House Oversight And Government Reform Committee on October 10, 2012, that budgetary considerations had nothing whatsoever to do with the inadequate security in Benghazi.
At a subsequent House Oversight And Government Reform Committee hearing (in May 2013), Representatives Doug Collins and Rob Woodall asked RSO Eric Nordstrom to testify regarding how the State Department had repeatedly denied Nordstrom's requests for funding to pay for additional security at the mission in Benghazi. Below are key portions of the exchanges they had:
1) COLLINS & NORDSTROM: COLLINS: [Regarding a March 28, 2012 cable from Nordstrom, requesting more security for the Benghazi mission]: Did you expect Secretary Clinton to either have read or be briefed about that cable? NORDSTROM: Absolutely. I certainly expected, given that she had an involvement in the security process. If I could take a step back: By virtue of having the SST teams [Site Security Teams] there, because they were a Department of Defense asset, the process required for that is something called an exec sec. That exec sec is literally a request from one Cabinet head to another, in this case, State to DOD [Department of Defense]. That request must be signed by the Cabinet head, Secretary Clinton. She would have done the initial deployment request, plus an extension in the fall, and a second extension in February. She also came out to post, toured our facilities … and saw the lack of security there.... She was briefed by the country team as she visited the site. We also saw, later, there was the attacks against the facility. Certainly there's a reasonable expectation that her staff would have briefed her on those points.
2) WOODALL & NORDSTROM: WOODALL: Thinking back to early July 2012. Do you recall your back-and-forth with [Deputy Assistant Secretary of State] Charlene Lamb particularly? NORDSTROM: Vividly. WOODALL: What did you think of that decision-making process? Were those decisions that Ms. Lamb was making, or were those decisions that were being kicked up to a higher level? NORDSTROM: It was unclear. I think largely DASS [Deputy Assistant Secretary of State] Lamb. But one thing that struck me throughout the entire that I was in Libya was a strange decision-making process.... Certainly I felt that anything that DASS Lamb was deciding certainly had been run by Undersecretary Kennedy [Patrick F. Kennedy, the U.S. State Department's Under Secretary of State for Management]. WOODALL: … Did you receive an explanation for why that request [for additional scurity] was denied, that satisfied you? NORDSTROM: I didn't.... I perceived that it was some sort of – explained to me that it would be somehow embarrassing or politically difficult for State Department to continue to rely on DOD, and there was an element of that. That was never fully verbalized. But that was certainly the feeling that I got, going away from those conversations. WOODALL: … What was the nature of your conversation with the ambassador [Christopher Stevens], that this was such a serious issue, that rather than leaving it with a “No” on back channels, he wanted to elevate that? NORDSTROM: That's exactly what it is. In fact, I recall all the way back to our first meeting with Congressman Chaffetz and the chairman, that was the question that I think they posed to me: “If you knew she was gonna keep saying no, why did you keep asking?” Well, because it was the right thing to do, and it was the resources that were needed. And if people, also, on the other side, felt that that was the right thing to do, to say no to that, they could at least have the courtesy to put that in the official record. WOODALL: And did you receive any feedback back from Washington, whether a direct response to that cable, or a back-channel response to the fact that you elevated it to this front-channel process? NORDSTROM: By the time that we sent the one in July , no, we did not receive a response. In fact, that cable, as I understand, was never responded to, which is something that is relatively unheard of in the State Department. When you send a request cable for anything, whether it's copiers or manpower, they get back to you. Prior discussions – back-channel ones – yes, I had a number of conversations with my regional director and also DASS Lamb, where it was discouraging, to put it mildly, that, “Why do you keep raising these issues? Why do you keep putting this forward?” WOODALL: And if you can characterize it, then, between a non-response or a disagreement, when it comes to issues of security for American personnel on the ground in Libya, were you rceiving a non-response from Washington, or was there disagreement in Washington with your assessment of levels of need on the ground? NORDSTROM: I'd largely get a non-response. The responses that I did get were: “You don't have specific targeting. You don't have specific threats against you. The long and short of it is, you're not dealing with suicide bombers, incoming artillery, and vehicle bombs like they are in Iraq and Afghanistan, so basically stop complaining.”
Investor's Business Dailyreports that: "The decision to place U.S. personnel in Benghazi with substandard security was made at the highest levels of the State Department"
March 2011: Ambassador Christopher Stevens' Role in the Obama Administration's Support of Libyan Jihadists Tied to Al Qaeda
In March 2011 President Obama signs a secret order, or presidential “finding,” that authorizes covert operations to aid the “opposition” rebels in Libya who are fighting to topple the 42-year dictatorial rule of President Muammar Qaddafi. As The New York Timesreports, “The Obama administration secretly gave its blessing to arms shipments [originating in Qatar and the United Arab Emirates] to Libyan rebels.” Moreover, President Obama says the U.S. has not ruled out providing military hardware directly to those rebels: “It's fair to say that if we wanted to get weapons into Libya, we probably could. We're looking at all our options at this point.”
Among the Libyan rebels are many al Qaeda-affiliated jihadists. Indeed, the rebels' top military commander, Abdelhakim Belhadj, is the leader of an al Qaeda franchise known as the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group. Another opposition leader, Abdel-Hakim al-Hasidi, confirms that a substantial number of the Libyan rebels are al Qaeda fighters who previously battled U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. And former CIA officer Bruce Riedel tells the Hindustan Times: “There is no question that al-Qaeda’s Libyan franchise, [the] Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, is a part of the opposition. It has always been [Qaddafi's] biggest enemy, and its stronghold is Benghazi.”
Also in March 2011, 52-year-old American diplomat John Christopher Stevens (a.k.a. Christopher Stevens)—formerly the number two official at the U.S. embassy in Tripoli—is designated as the American liaison to the Libyan rebels. Stevens' task is to help coordinate U.S. assistance to these rebels, who are now engaged against Qaddafi. Abdelhakim Belhadj is almost certainly one of Stevens' most important contacts for this initiative. According to investigative journalist Aaron Klein, “During the Libyan revolution against [Muammar Qaddafi’s] regime, the U.S. admitted to directly arming the rebel groups.” Journalist Clare Lopez puts these facts in perspective:
“During the 2011 Libyan revolt against Muammar Qaddafi, reckless U.S. policy flung American forces and money into the conflict on the side of the rebels, who were known at the time to include Al-Qaeda elements.… That means that Stevens was authorized by the U.S. Department of State and the Obama administration to aid and abet individuals and groups that were, at a minimum, allied ideologically with Al-Qaeda, the jihadist terrorist organization that attacked the homeland on the first 9/11, the one that’s not supposed to exist anymore after the killing of its leader, Osama bin Laden, on May 2, 2011.”
Summer 2011 to Early 2012: Christopher Stevens' Role in Post-Qaddafi Libya: Funneling Libyan Weapons and Jihadists to Syria, to Help Al Qaeda-Affiliated Rebels Fight the Assad Regime
Frank Gaffney, founder and president of the Center for Security Policy, writes that after Muammar Qaddafi's fall from power in the summer of 2011, “[Christopher] Stevens [is] appointed ambassador to the new Libya run by [Abdelhakim] Belhadj [leader of the al Qaeda-linked Libyan Islamic Fighting Group] and his friends.” At this point, Stevens is tasked with finding and securing “the immense amount of armaments that had been cached by the dictator around the country and systematically looted during and after the revolution.” Stevens' mission is to help transfer “arms recovered from the former regime’s stocks to the 'opposition' in Syria,” where, “as in Libya, the insurgents are known to include al Qaeda and other Shariah-supremacist groups, including none other than Abdelhakim Belhadj.” These Syrian insurgents, organized under the banner of the “Free Syrian Army,” are fighting to topple the rule of their nation's president, Bashar al-Assad. Benghazi is a logical place in which to station Stevens for this task, since, as Gaffney notes, it is “one of the places in Libya most awash with such weapons in the most dangerous of hands.”
Stevens' duties include not only the transfer of arms, but also the recruitment of fighters willing to personally go into combat against the Assad regime in Syria. Aaron Klein writes that according to Middle Eastern security officials: “The U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi ... actually serve[s] as a meeting place to coordinate aid for the rebel-led insurgencies in the Middle East.” Specifically, the building serves as a forum for U.S. collaboration with Arab countries—particularly the Turkish, Saudi and Qatari governments—on how to best support the Mideast's various insurgencies, especially the rebels opposing Assad in Syria. Many of the fighters who are recruited are jihadists hailing from Libya and elsewhere in North Africa, and they are dispatched to Syria via Turkey (the lead coordinator of aid to the Free Syrian Army) with the help of CIA operatives stationed along the border shared by those two countries. One of the most noteworthy jihadists making his way to Syria is Abdelhakim Belhadj, former leader of the al Qaeda-linked Libyan Islamic Fighting Group that brought down Qaddafi in Libya before subsequently disbanding.
This type of covert activity “may help explain why there was no major public security presence at what has been described as a 'consulate,'” says Aaron Klein. “Such a presence would draw attention to the shabby, nondescript building that was allegedly used for such sensitive purposes.”
On May 18, 2015, Fox News confirmed that according to a Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) memo, "U.S. Intelligence agencies were fully aware that weapons were moving from the terrorist stronghold in Libya to Syria before the [9/11/12] attack." As Fox reporter Catherine Herridge stated: "[A] DIA memo dated October 5th, 2012, leaves no doubt that U.S. Intelligence agencies were clearly aware lethal weapons were being shipped to Syria by the port of Benghazi.... The DIA memo reported that military stockpiles moving to Benghazi to Syrian ports. The shipments included rifles, RPGs and missiles."
*October 18, 2011: Hillary Clinton visits Benghazi, and she has the Defense Department pre-position assets off the coast of Libya, in case she encounters danger and needs rescue.
* November 2011: Abdelhakim Belhadj—former leader of the al Qaeda-linked Libyan Islamic Fighting Group—meets with Free Syrian Army leaders in Istanbul and on the Turkish-Syrian border. This is part of an effort by the new, post-Qaddafi Libyan government to provide money and weapons to the growing Islamist insurgency in Syria.
* Early 2012: President Obama signs an intelligence finding that formally authorizes U.S. support for the Syrian rebels, among whom are many heavily-armed, al Qaeda-affiliated jihadists. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, Gen. Martin Dempsey (chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff), Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and then-CIA director David Petraeus uniformly support a plan to arm the Syrian rebels. (Nonetheless, the Obama administration would later claim to have decided against arming the rebels.)
* Early 2012: The CIA begins working with Arab governments and Turkey to sharply increase the supply of arms shipments to Syrian rebels. (Source: The New York Times (March 25, 2013)
February 2012 to September 2012: Growing Danger at the U.S. Mission in Benghazi and Elsewhere in Libya
* February 2012: Eric Nordstrom, the Regional Security Officer (RSO) at the U.S. embassy in Tripoli, urges that American security measures in Libya be expanded, citing dozens of security incidents by “Al-Qaeda-affiliated groups, including Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb …”
* March 28, 2012: Then-U.S. Ambassador to Libya, Gene Cretz, formally requests that Hillary Clinton's State Department authorize additional security resources for the facility in Benghazi. In a response cable dated April 19 -- and bearing Mrs. Clinton's signature -- the State Department acknowledges Cretz's formal request but orders the withdrawal of security elements to proceed as had already been planned.
* April 6, 2012: An IED [improvised explosive device] is thrown over the fence of the U.S. mission compound fence in Benghazi by two Libyans employed at the mission as contract guards. The suspects are arrested but not prosecuted.
* April 10, 2012: An IED is thrown at a convoy carrying the United Nations Special Envoy to Libya. No one is arrested.
* April 11, 2012: A gun battle breaks out 4 kilometers from the U.S. mission in Benghazi.
* April 19, 2012: Secretary of State Hillary Clinton signs a cable proposing a plan to decrease security assets for the U.S. missions in Libya, including Benghazi. This cable: (a) acknowledges the March 28 formal request by then-U.S. Ambassador to Libya, Gene Cretz, for the authorization of additional security resources for the mission in Benghazi; and (b) nevertheless orders the withdrawal of security elements to proceed as had already been planned. (NOTE: But when Mrs. Clinton herself visited Benghazi six months earlier, on October 18, 2011, she had the Defense Department pre-position assets off the coast of Libya, in case she encountered danger and needed rescue.)
* April 25, 2012: A U.S. embassy guard in Tripoli is detained at a militia checkpoint.
* April 26, 2012: A fistfight escalates into a gunfight at a Benghazi medical university, and a U.S. Foreign Service Officer in attendance is evacuated.
* April 27, 2012: Two South African contractors in Benghazi are kidnapped, questioned and released. After this incident, Eric Nordstrom, former Regional Security Officer at the U.S. Embassy in Libya, states: “It is increasingly likely that our direct-hire employees will face the same challenges in the future.”
* May 1, 2012: The deputy commander of the local guard force in Tripoli is carjacked and beaten.
* May 3, 2012: The State Department declines a request from personnel concerned about security at the U.S. embassy in Libya for a DC-3 plane to transport them around the country.
* May 15, 2012: An unknown attacker throws a hand grenade at the Military Police headquarters in Benghazi.
* May 22, 2012: Two RPG [rocket-propelled grenade] rounds are fired at the Red Cross outpost in Benghazi, which is located 1 kilometer from the U.S. mission. A pro-al Qaeda group claims credit for the attack. In a Facebook posting that same day, the group says, “now we are preparing a message for the Americans for disturbing the skies over Derma” (a port city in eastern Libya).
* June 2012: A pro-Qaddafi Facebook page posts photos of U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens making his morning run in Tripoli and issues a threat against him.
* June 6, 2012: An IED is left at the gate of the U.S. mission in Benghazi. Six minutes later, it explodes, blowing a large hole in the gate. An al Qaeda-affiliated group claims credit for the incident. After this bombing, U.S. officials observe that local (unarmed) guard forces working for the Benghazi compound are now “afraid to work.” Assistant Regional Security Officer David Oliveira, who is stationed in Benghazi at the time, says that these guard forces view the U.S. as “a target” and “[don't] want to work overnight.”
* June 10, 2012: On or about this date, al Qaeda holds a rally in Benghazi. The event features fighters from Libya, Egypt, Tunisia, and Mali parading through the streets bearing weapons and black Salafist flags.
* June 11, 2012: An RPG is fired at a convoy carrying the British Ambassador in broad daylight as he nears the British consulate in Benghazi, which is located 2 kilometers from the U.S. mission in that city. No one is killed, but the British close their consulate soon thereafter. No suspects are identified.
* June 13, 2012: An aide to a former internal security officer is killed in a car-bomb assassination in Benghazi.
* June 15, 2012: State Department official Charlene Lamb, the deputy assistant secretary responsible for embassy security, tells the U.S. staff in Libya that the existing secirity contract there will not be renewed.
* June 21, 2012: A former Libyan military prosecutor is assassinated by gunfire in Benghazi.
* June 22, 2012: Ambassador Christopher Stevens sends a cable to the State Department, noting the continued presence in Libya of Islamist extremist groups “which warrant ongoing monitoring.”
* Late June, 2012: Another attack targets the Red Cross outpost in Benghazi, this one in daylight. The Red Cross promptly pulls out, making the U.S. mission the last Western outpost in the city.
* Soon After the June 2012 Al Qaeda Attacks on the British Ambassador and the Red Cross: Green Beret Commander, Lieutenant Colonel Andy Wood -- one of the top American security officials in Libya -- is based in Tripol and has been meeting with Ambassador Stevens every day. Noting that al Qaeda has already announced, in an online posting, its intent to attack the the British, the Red Cross, and the Americans in Benghazi, Woods tells a U.S. country team meeting, “You are gonna get attacked. You are gonna get attacked in Benghazi. It’s gonna happen.... Shut down operations. Move out temporarily, or change locations within the city. Do something to break up the profile because you are being targeted. They are -- they are -- they are watching you. The attack cycle is such that they’re in the final planning stages.” (In an interview conducted at a later date, Wood recalls: "It was apparent to me that that was the case. Reading, reading all these other, ah, attacks that were occurring, I could see what they were staging up to, it was, it was obvious.") (Source: Lara Logan's October 27, 2013 interview with Andy Wood, for CBS's "60 Minutes")
* June 25, 2012: Ambassador Stevens issues a cable entitled, “Libya's Fragile Security Deteriorates as Tribal Rivalries, Power Plays and Extremism Intensify.” In this cable, he indicates that the leaders of an al Qaeda-affiliated group have explicitly stated that they are “target[ing] the Christians supervising the management of the [U.S.] consulate.” Stevens adds that a “[Government of Libya] national security official shared his private opinion that the [recent] attacks were the work of extremists who are opposed to western influence in Libya.” Moreover, writes Stevens, “[A] number of local contacts [note] that Islamic extremism appears to be on the rise in eastern Liya and that the Al-Qaeda flag has been spotted several times flying over government buildings and training facilities in Derna.” According to Stevens, “the proliferation of militias and the absence of effective security and intelligence services” has diminished the Libyan government's ability to respond to the escalating violence.
* July 1, 2012: Between 100 and 200 demonstrators storm and ransack the office of the High National Electoral Commission in Benghazi.
* July 4, 2012: A border-control department officer is assassinated in a drive-by shooting in Benghazi. No suspects are arrested.
* July 6, 2012: A Libyan Air Force helicopter is struck by gunfire from an anti-aircraft weapon and is forced to land at Benghazi’s Benina Airport. One staff member of Libya's High National Election Commission is killed in the attack, and one is wounded. No suspects are arrested.
* July 9, 2012: Ambassador Stevens, citing the increasingly dangerous situation on the ground in Benghazi, requests 13 additional security personnel for the U.S. mission.
* July 21, 2012: In a memorandum to the State Department, Eric Nordstrom, former Regional Security Officer at the U.S. Embassy in Libya, warns: “[T]he risk of U.S. mission personnel, private U.S. citizens, and businesspersons encountering an isolating event as a result of militia or political violence is HIGH. The Government of Libya does not yet have the ability to effectively respond to and manage the rising criminal and militia related violence, which could result in an isolating event.”
* July 31, 2012: Gregory Hicks arrives in Tripoli to begin serving there as deputy chief of mission.
* August 2, 2012: Ambassador Stevens sends an urgent cable to Hillary Clinton, requesting a protective detail bodyguard. Stevens reports that the security situation in Benghazi is deteriorating. He informs the State Department of a “security vacuum” that is being exploited by independent extremists.
* August 5, 2012: The State Department orders the removal of the 16-man Site Security Team (SST) of Special Forces assigned to Libya. The SST is ordered out of the country, contrary to the stated wishes of Stevens.
* August 6, 2012: An attempted carjacking of a vehicle with U.S. diplomatic plates is carried out in Tripoli.
* August 8, 2012: Ambassador Stevens' Site Security Team leaves Libya.
* August 15, 2012: An emergency meeting is convened at the U.S. mission in Benghazi to discuss the threat posed by the area's 10 active Islamist militias, including al Qaeda and Ansar al-Sharia.
* August 15, 2012: The U.S. Mission in Benghazi sends a cable (marked “SECRET” and signed by Ambassador Stevens) to “The Office of the Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.” The cable says that the State Department’s senior security officer, also known as the RSO, does not believe the mission can be protected against a “coordinated attack.”
* August 16, 2012: The Regional Security Officer sends an email to Hillary Clinton, warning that security conditions in Libya are deteriorating rapidly.
* Early September 2012: Unarmed Libyan guards (employed by British contractor Blue Mountain Group) at the U.S. mission in Benghazi are warned by their family members to quit their jobs because of rumors of an “impending attack.”
* September 6, 2012: Al-Entisar, a Libyan-flagged ship, docks in the Turkish port of Iskenderun. Its 400 tons of cargo includes Russian-designed, shoulder-launched missiles known as MANPADS, rocket-propelled grenades, and surface-to-air missiles—precisely the types of weapons that had previously made their way into Libya when Qaddafi acquired many thousands of them from the former Eastern Bloc countries, and precisely the types of weapons the Syrian rebels have been using in their military campaign against Syrian President Assad. Al-Entisar's cargo ultimately ends up in the possession of those same Syrian rebels. The main organizer of this shipment of weapons is the al Qaeda-linked Abdelhakim Belhadj, who previously worked directly with Ambassador Stevens during the Libyan revolution against Qaddafi. As journalist Clare Lopez explains, these facts confirm “the multilateral U.S.-Libya-Turkey agreement to get weapons into the hands of Syrian rebels—which were known to be dominated by Al-Qaeda and Muslim Brotherhood elements—by working with and through Al-Qaeda-linked jihadist figures like [Abdelhakim] Belhadj.”
*September 6, 2012: President Obama, campaigning heavily for re-election, chooses not to attend his daily intelligence briefing, but gives a speech to the Democratic National Convention, where he derides Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney for his inexperience in foreign affairs.
*September 7, 2012: President Obama, campaigning heavily for re-election, chooses not to attend his daily intelligence briefing, and spends the day on the campaign trail.
* September 8, 2012: A local security officer in Benghazi warns American officials that security in the area is rapidly deteriorating, and that violent unrest is a distinct possibility.
*September 8, 2012: President Obama, campaigning heavily for re-election, chooses not to attend his daily intelligence briefing.
*September 8, 2012: A member of the February 17th Martyrs Brigade (F17MB) warns Alec Henderson, the Regional Security Officer (RSO) at the State Department compound in Benghazi, that the militia will no longer protect the movements of Americans diplomats in the city. Specifically, F17MB cites its dissatisfaction with working hours and pay (from the State Department). The RSO asks specifically if the militia would be willing to provide additional support for Ambassador Stevens' pending visit, slated for September 10, and is told no.
*September 9, 2012: Alec Henderson relays the F17MB warning to John Martinec, the RSO in Tripoli.
* September 9, 2012: The U.S. State Department now has credible information that American missions in the Middle East may be targeted by terrorists, but diplomats are not instructed to go on high alert or “lockdown.”
*September 9, 2012: President Obama, campaigning heavily for re-election, chooses not to attend his daily intelligence briefing.
*September 10, 2012: President Obama, campaigning heavily for re-election, chooses not to attend his daily intelligence briefing.
* September 10, 2012: Al Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahiri—vowing to avenge the death of Abu Yahya al-Libi, a high-ranking al Qaeda official killed by an American drone attack three months earlier—issues direct threats against Americans in Libya. Notwithstanding these threats, the Obama administration deploys no U.S. Marines to guard the mission in Benghazi.
* Summation: As a result of the foregoing incidents, the U.S. mission in Benghazi made repeated requests for increased security prior to September 11, 2012, but these requests were denied by the Obama administration. One U.S. security officer, Eric Nordstrom, twice asked his State Department superiors for more security at the Benghazi mission but received no response. In making his requests, Nordstrom cited a chronology of more than 200 security incidents that had occurred in Libya between June 2011 and July 2012. Forty-eight of those incidents were in Benghazi.
Timeline of the September 11, 2012 Terrorist Attack on the U.S. Mission in Benghazi
* 9:43 a.m. Benghazi time: Ambassador Stevens sends cables to Washington, including a Benghazi weekly report of security incidents that reflect Libyans' “growing frustration with police and security forces who were too weak to keep the country secure.”
* Morning of September 11: News outlets begin to report that there is growing anger in Egypt over a YouTube video, titled Innocence of Muslims, which was produced in the United States and is critical of the Prophet Muhammad. The video in question is just 14 minutes long and was first posted on the Internet fully two months earlier—i.e., it is not anything new. Moreover, the video is extremely obscure and, from an artistic standpoint, of very low quality.
“The Embassy of the United States in Cairo condemns the continuing efforts by misguided individuals to hurt the religious feelings of Muslims—as we condemn efforts to offend believers of all religions. Today, the 11th anniversary of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States, Americans are honoring our patriots and those who serve our nation as the fitting response to the enemies of democracy. Respect for religious beliefs is a cornerstone of American democracy. We firmly reject the actions by those who abuse the universal right of free speech to hurt the religious beliefs of others.”
*September 11, 2012: President Obama, campaigning heavily for re-election, chooses not to attend his daily intelligence briefing.
* Approximately 4:15 p.m. Cairo time: Crowds begin to form near the U.S. embassy compound in Cairo. Then, over a three-hour period, hundreds of Muslim protesters storm that facility, where they destroy the American flag and replace it with a black Salafist flag that reads, “There is one God, Allah, and Mohammad is his prophet.”
* Approximately 8:30 to 9:00 p.m. Benghazi time(2:30 to 3:00 pm Washington time; i.e., a 6-hour time difference): Ambassador Stevens concludes his meeting with Turkish Ambassador Ali Kemal Aydin, his final meeting of the day, and retires to his room in Building C of the U.S. mission compound in Benghazi. At this time, there are no signs of any unrest in the vicinity of the compound. Five State Department Diplomatic Security agents (DS) are on site—three of whom are based in Benghazi, and two of whom are travelng with Stevens.
* Approximately 9:42 p.m. Benghazi time: American personnel at the Benghazi mission suddenly hear gunfire and an explosion. Via an electronic security monitor in the compound's Tactical Operations Center, an agent sees dozens of armed people flooding through a pedestrian gate at the main entrance of the compound. From this point onward, State Department Diplomatic Security agents follow events in real time on a listen-only, audio-only feed.
* Shortly after 9:42 p.m. Benghazi time: The attackers are inside the compound and begin firing into the main building, setting it ablaze. At this time, there are three people inside the building: Ambassador Stevens, Foreign Service Information Management Officer Sean Smith, and Scott Wickland (Ambassador Stevens’ personal escort for that night).
* Shortly After 9:42 p.m.: State Department employees at the Benghazi compound know that they under attack and in danger of losing their lives. They issue a series of frantic radio distress calls to the CIA annex approximately a mile away, "pleading" for their lives.
* After 9:42 p.m. Benghazi time: The mission in Benghazi radios 3 urgent requests for military back-up -- saying “if you guys do not get here, we are going to die!” -- to CIA security operators stationed at an annex approximately a mile away. But those operators are told, three times, to “stand down” (i.e., not respond) rather than to try to defend the mission. The Base Chief at the CIA annex is the individual who issues the "stand down" order to five U.S. commandos. He is hopeful of being able to enlist local Libyan militiamen to defend the mission instead of the commandos, so as to avoid exposing the CIA base to potential danger.
It is possible that as many as 35 Americans are on the ground in the U.S. annex (which is run by the CIA) in Benghazi at the time of the initial attack. It is unknown how many of these are CIA agents. (Source: CNN, August 1, 2013)
"[A]t 9:45 p.m. ... the RSO John Martinec ran into my villa yelling, 'Greg! Greg! The consulate's under attack.' And I stood up and reached for my phone because I had an inkling or thought that perhaps the ambassador [Stevens] had tried to call me to relay the same message. And I found two missed calls on the phone, one from the ambassador's phone and one from a phone number I didn't recognize. And I punched the phone number I didn't recognize, and I got the ambassador on the other end. And he said, 'Greg, we're under attack.' And I was walking out of the villa, on my way to the Tactical Operations Center, because I knew we would all have to gather there to mobilize or try to mobilize a response.
"When I got to the Tactical Operations Center ... John Martinec was on the phone with Alec Henderson in Benghazi, the RSO there.... I asked -- when John Martinec got off the telephone, I asked him what was going on. And he said that the consulate had been breached, and there were at least 20 hostile individuals armed in the -- in the compound at the time. So I next called the annex chief to ask him if he was in touch with the Benghazi annex to activate our emergency response plan.... And he said that he had been in touch with the annex in Benghazi, and they said they were mobilizing a response team there to go to the -- to our facility and provide reinforcements and to repel the attack." (Source: May 8, 2013 testimony of Gregory Hicks before the House Committee on Oversight & Government Reform)
* 9:57 p.m. Benghazi time and shortly thereafter: High-ranking members of the Obama administration are already aware that the assault on the American mission in Benghazi is a “terrorist attack.” General Carter Ham, head of the United States Africa Command (AFRICOM), breaks the news to Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Martin Dempsey. Thus Ham, Dempsey, and Panetta are all well aware that this is not a "demonstration" gone awry, but rather a terrorist attack.
Key officers, along with several channels of command throughout the Pentagon and its combatants commands, are equally quick to label the assault a terrorist attack.
* 9:59 p.m. Benghazi time: In response to word of the attack, the U.S. Defense Department orders an unmanned surveillance drone vector to the mission in Benghazi.
"I called the operations center at the State Department, approximately 10 p.m. to report the attack and what we were doing to respond to it. The next thing I did was to begin calling the senior officials in the government of Libya that I knew at the time. And so, I dialed first the [Libyan] President Magariaf's chief of staff and reported the attack and asked for immediate assistance from the government of Libya to assist our folks in Benghazi.
"I followed that up with a call to the prime minister's chief of staff to make the same request and then to the MFA, America's director. MFA is Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The defense attache was, at the same time, calling the leadership of Libya's military with the same purpose, to ask them for assistance.
"Once that was done, I called again to Washington to report that these actions had been commenced. Over the night we -- over that night, that is basically how our team operated. I was talking to the government of -- of Libya, reporting to the State -- State Department through the operations center, and also staying in touch with the annex chief about what was going on.
"... I also discussed with the annex chief about mobilizing a Tripoli response team, and we agreed that we would move forward with ... chartering a plane from Tripoli to fly a response team to Benghazi to provide additional reinforcements. The defense attache was also reporting through his chain of command, back to AFRICOM and to the joint staff ... in Washington about what was going on in the country. David McFarland, our political section chief, had just returned from Benghazi, where he had been our principal officer for the previous 10 days. And so, he jumped into this picture by reaching out to his contacts in -- in Benghazi and trying to get them, at the local level there, to respond to the attack. And he also was in touch with our local employee there, as well ..." (Source: May 8, 2013 testimony of Gregory Hicks before the House Committee on Oversight & Government Reform)
* Night of September 11, 2012 (Information from an exchange between Gregory Hicks and Rep. Blake Farenthold, regarding the role which the February 17th Martyrs' Brigades may have played in facilitating the attacks):
FARENTHOLD: Mr. Hicks,... do you believe the February 17th militia played a role in those [September 11, 2012] attacks, was complacent [sic] in those attacks? HICKS: Certainly elements of that militia were complicit in the attacks. The attackers had to make a long approach march through multiple checkpoints that were manned by February 17 militia. (Source: May 8, 2013 testimony of Mark Thompson before the House Committee on Oversight & Government Reform)
* Night of September 11, 2012 (Information from a September 22, 2012 statement by Fawzi Bukatef, leader of the February 17 Martyrs Brigades): Bukatef says that the Obama administration took no action during the attacks on the mission in Benghazi, and that “We [the Brigade] had to coordinate everything.” Bukatef's account is entirely consistent with Libyan Interior Minister Wanis al-Sharif's earlier assertion that Libyan security forces had essentially handed the U.S. mission personnel over to the attackers.
* Night of September 11, 2012: It would later be reported that the Muslim Brotherhood and Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi played a role in setting the 9/11/12 attacks in motion. This possibility first came to light on June 26, 2013 (nine-and-a-half months after the attacks), when news outlets across the Arab world began reporting about an internal Libyan government memo that documented the confessions given by six Egyptians in Libyan custody (all were affiliated with the Islamic terror group Ansar al-Sharia). Specifically, the confessors stated that Morsi and the Brotherhood had been involved in the funding, support, planning, and execution of the attacks. Moreover, in a video which was made on the night of the attacks, a number of jihadists declared that they had been sent personally by "Dr. Morsi."
* 10 p.m. Benghazi time: The U.S. military redeploys two unmanned surveillance drones that are already airborne in the region, positioning them above Benghazi in order to provide real-time intelligence to the CIA team on the ground. The drones will take approximately an hour to arrive at their destination.
* 10:05 p.m. Benghazi time: The State Department Operations Center issues an alert to several government and intelligence agencies, including the White House Situation Room, the office of the Director of National Intelligence, the FBI, and the Pentagon. The alert reads: “US Diplomatic Mission in Benghazi Under Attack—approximately 20 armed people fired shots; explosions have been heard as well. Ambassador Stevens, who is currently in Benghazi, and four COM (Chief of Mission/embassy) personnel are in the compound safe haven.” This alert is circulated widely inside the U.S. government, including at the highest levels.
* 10:25 p.m. Benghazi time: A six-man team of Americans (including Tyrone Woods and Glen Doherty) from the CIA annex in Benghazi arrives at the U.S. mission in Benghazi. Team members begin to work on evacuating those who remain at the mission; they also remove the body of Foreign Service Information Management Officer Sean Smith, who was killed early in initial attack. And they search, without success, for Ambassador Stevens.
"[T]he consulate was invaded, the -- Villa C where the ambassador [Stevens] and Sean Smith and Scott Wickland [Ambassador Stevens’ personal escort for that night] were hiding in the safe area was set on fire. The attackers also went into another building. They were unable to enter the tactical operations center in Benghazi, because of improvements to that facility that had been made.
"They -- Scott [Wickland] attempted to lead the ambassador and Sean Smith out of the burning building. He managed to make it out. He tried repeatedly to go back in to try to rescue Sean and the ambassador but had to stop due to exposure to smoke.
"The response team from from the annex in Benghazi, six individuals, drove the attackers out of our compound, and secured it temporarily. There have been estimates as high as 60 attackers were in the compound at one particular time. There were repeated attempts by all of the RSOs and by the response team from the annex to go into the burning building and recover -- try to save Sean and the ambassador. They found Sean's body and pulled it out but he was no longer responsive. They did not find the ambassador.... (Source: May 8, 2013 testimony of Gregory Hicks before the House Committee on Oversight & Government Reform)
"At about 10:45 or 11:00 we confer, and I asked the defense attache who had been talking about AFRICOM and with the joint staff, 'Is anything coming? Will they be sending us any help? Is there something out there?' And he answered that the nearest help was in Aviano [Italy], the nearest -- where there were fighter planes. He said that it would take two to three hours for them to get onsite, but that there also were no tankers available for them to refuel. And I said, 'Thank you very much,' and we went on with our work." (Source: May 8, 2013 testimony of Gregory Hicks before the House Committee on Oversight & Government Reform)
* All told, at the time of the attacks, the U.S. Navy had 2 aircraft carriers, 4 amphibious ships, 13 destroyers, 3 cruisers, 12 small Navy boats, and a command ship stationed in various places in the Middle East, Africa, and Europe. Retired Air Force Lieutenant Colonel Randall Schmidt would later (in February 2014) say that “destroyers could have responded to the attack,” as well as “rapid reaction forces,” “armed predators,” and aircraft. “The point is there were enough forces to respond,” said Schmidt.
* 11:10 p.m. Benghazi time: The U.S. surveillance drone arrives overhead above the American mission in Benghazi, providing real-time imagery of the events below.
* Between 11 p.m. and midnight Benghazi time: Members of the February 17 Martyrs Brigade realize that they cannot possibly defend the compound, and they withdraw.
* Between 11 p.m. and midnight Benghazi time: DS agents are unable to find Ambassador Stevens anywhere in the mission compound. Under heavy assault (as a second wave of attackers came upon the facility), the DS agents are forced to leave the compound with the CIA team (which includes Tyrone Woods and Glen Doherty) in an armored vehicle that takes them to the annex about a mile away.
* 11:40 p.m. Benghazi time: A request for the Foreign Emergency Support Team [FEST] -- a counterterrorism unit specially trained for rapide response to situations like the one in Benghazi, is officially turned down by the State Department. (NOTE: The deployment of FEST had been ruled out, from the start, by the White House.)
"The night that I was involved in this incident, I was at my desk at the end of the day when the first reports came in that indicated that we had an attack going on at our diplomatic facility in Benghazi. In that facility, we knew we had our ambassador and we had his security personnel. Later, when I heard that the situation had evolved to them going to a safe haven, and then the fact that we could not find the ambassador, I alerted my leadership, indicating that we needed to go forward and consider the deployment of the Foreign Emergency Support Team [FEST].... I notified the White House of my idea. They indicated that meetings had already taken place that evening, that had taken FEST out of the menu of options. I called the office within the State Department, that had been represented there [at the White House meeting], asking them why it had been taken off the table and was told that it was not the right time [because it might be too unsafe], and it was not the team that needed to go right then....
"The other thing that I pointed out is that with the tyranny of distance – at least 8 or 9 hours to get to the middle of the Mediterranean – we needed to act now and not wait. There is sometimes the hesitancy to not deploy [sic] because we don't know what's going on. One definition of a crisis is, you don't know what's going to happen in two hours, so you need to help develop that situation early....
"We live by a code. That code says you go after people when they're in peril, when they're in the service of their country. We did not have the benefit of hindsight in the early hours, and those people who are in peril in the future need to know that we will go get 'em, and we will do everything we can to get them out of harm's way. That night unfolded in ways that no one culd have predited when it first started. And it is my strong belief, then as it is now, that we needed to demonstrate that resolve even if we'd still had the same outcome." (Source: May 8, 2013 testimony of Mark Thompson before the House Committee on Oversight & Government Reform)
MEADOWS: Mr. Thompson, you had talked earlier about the deployment of the FEST team, and you said that you thought it was important to do that. Were there any other agencies, other than you, that thought that was important? THOMPSON: Yes, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and DOD specifically … People who are a normal part of that team that deploy with us were shocked and amazed that they were not being called on their cell phones, beepers, etc. to go.... (Source: May 8, 2013 testimony of Mark Thompson before the House Committee on Oversight & Government Reform)
* Between 11 p.m. and midnight Benghazi time: As evidenced by State Department emails, within two hours after the attack on the U.S. mission in Benghazi, the State Department is fully aware that the Libyan militant group Ansar al-Sharia has already taken credit for the attack and has called for additional terrorist acts. As former United Nations Ambassador John Bolton would later explain, “What the emails show beyond any doubt is that the State Department was fully possessed of the information in real time.”
* Approximately midnight Benghazi time, September 12, 2012: Tyrone Woods and Glen Doherty arrive back at the CIA annex, which then comes under heavy attack from Islamic terrorists for the next several hours. The security team returns fire and tries to defend the annex.
* Approximately 12:00 or 12:30 a.m. Benghazi time: The six-man American Quick Reaction Force (i.e., response team) from the U.S. embassy in Tripoli departs via airplane for Benghazi, where it will arrive sometime between 1:30 and 2:00 a.m.
"The second phase commences after the teams have returned to the annex, and they suffer for about an hour and a half probing attacks from terrorists. They are able to repulse them and then they [the terrorists] desist at about 1:30 in the morning." (Source: May 8, 2013 testimony of Gregory Hicks before the House Committee on Oversight & Government Reform)
* 12:07 a.m. Benghazi time, September 12, 2012: The State Department Operations Center issues an alert relaying information that the U.S. embassy in Tripoli has reported: “Ansar al-Sharia Claims Responsibilty for Benghazi Attack ... on Facebook and Twitter and has called for an attack on Embassy Tripoli.”
"About 12:30 -- at the same time that we see the Twitter feeds that are asserting that Ansar Sharia is responsible for the attack -- we also see a call for an attack on the embassy in Tripoli. And so we begin to - we -- we had always thought that we were in -- under threat, that we now have to take care of ourselves and we began planning to evacuate our facility. When I say our facility, I mean the State Department residential compound in Tripoli, and to consolidate all of our personnel in -- at the annex in Tripoli. We have about 55 diplomatic personnel in the two annexes." (Source: May 8, 2013 testimony of Gregory Hicks before the House Committee on Oversight & Government Reform)
* Midnight to 2 a.m. Benghazi time: Defense Secretary Panetta holds a series of meetings and issues three orders: (a) He orders two Fleet Antiterrorism Security Team platoons stationed in Rota, Spain, to prepare to deploy to the U.S. mission in Benghazi and the U.S. embassy in Tripoli; (b) he orders a special operations team in Europe to move to Sigonella, Sicily—less than one hour's flight (480 miles) from Benghazi; and (c) he orders a U.S.-based special operations team to deploy to Sigonella as well.
* 1:30 a.m. to 2 a.m. Benghazi time, September 12, 2012: The Quick Reaction Force from Tripoli lands in Benghazi airport and learns that Ambassador Stevens is missing. The team is delayed for 45 minutes at the airport because its members cannot at first get ground transportation to the American CIA annex, allegedly due to confusion among Libyan militias who were supposed to escort them to the annex.
"During the night, I am in touch with Washington, keeping them posted of what's happening in Tripoli and to the best of my knowledge what I am being told in Benghazi. I think at about ... 2 a.m.... the Secretary of State Clinton called me along with her senior staff were all on the phone, and she asked me what was going on. And I briefed her on developments.
"Most of the conversation was about the search for Ambassador Stevens. It was also about what we were going to do with our personnel in Benghazi, and I told her that we would need to evacuate, and that was -- she said that was the right thing to do." (Source: May 8, 2013 testimony of Gregory Hicks before the House Committee on Oversight & Government Reform)
DESANTOS: When you spoke with Secretary Clinton at 2 a.m., did she express support for giving military assistance to those folks in Benghazi; i.e., did she say that she would request such support from either the Secretary of Defense or the President of the United States? HICKS: We actually didn't discuss that issue. At the time, we were focused on trying to find and hopefully rescue Ambassador Stevens. That was the primary purpose of our discussion. [The] secondary purpose was to talk about what we were going to do in Tripoli, in order to enhance our security there.... The first two attacks [in Benghazi] had been completed, and there was a lull in Benghazi at the time.... We knew the situation was in flux. (Source: May 8, 2013 testimony of Gregory Hicks before the House Committee on Oversight & Government Reform)
ISSA: Mr. Hicks, 2 in the morning, the Secretary of State calls you personally.... Did she ask you about the cause of the attack? Did she ask about videos? Did she ask about anything at all that would have allowed you to answer the question of how Benghazi came to be attacked, as far as you knew. HICKS: I don't recall that being part of the conversation. ISSA: So she wasn't interested in the cause of the attack, and this was the only time where you talked directly to the Secretary, where you could have told her or not told her about the cause of the attack. HICKS: Yes, that was the only time when I could have. But, again, I had already reported that the attack had commenced and that Twitter feeds were asserting that Ansar Sharia was responsible for the attacks. ISSA: You didn't have that discussion with her only because it was assumed that since you'd already reported that the cause of the attack was essentially Islamic extremists, some of them linked to al Qaeda. HICKS: Yes. (Source: May 8, 2013 testimony of Gregory Hicks before the House Committee on Oversight & Government Reform)
"At about 3 a.m., I received a call from the prime minister of Libya. I think it is the saddest phone call I have ever had in my life. He told me that Ambassador Stevens had passed away. I immediately telephoned Washington that news afterwards, and began accelerating our effort to withdraw from the Villas compound and move to the annex...." (Source: May 8, 2013 testimony of Gregory Hicks before the House Committee on Oversight & Government Reform)
* Approximately 4 a.m. to 5:15 a.m. Benghazi time: Former U.S. Navy SEALS Glen Doherty and Tyrone Woods are killed by direct mortar fire as they try to engage the attackers at the CIA annex in Benghazi. Their deaths come about 7 hours after the start of the violence. Soon thereafter, the attacks wind down. All told, 4 Americans are dead: Doherty, Woods, Ambassador Stevens, and Foreign Service Information Management Officer Sean Smith.
"We [seven rescue-team members, including two U.S. military personnel] arrived [via a C-130 airplane] at the [Benghazi] annex, at least my group, I think at about 4:45 perhaps, maybe 5 a.m.... Shortly after we arrived at the annex the mortars came in. The first was long. It landed actually among the Libyans that escorted our people. They took casualties for us that night. The next was short, the next three landed on the roof killing Glen and Tyrone, and severely wounded David.... The accuracy was terribly precise.... Two of the guys from team Tripoli climbed up on the roof and carried Glen's body and Tyrone's body down. One guy, Mark Si, full combat gear, climbed up there, strapped David, a large man, to his back, carried him down a ladder and saved him. (Source: May 8, 2013 testimony of Gregory Hicks before the House Committee on Oversight & Government Reform)
* Shortly after 4:45 or 5:00 a.m. Benghazi time: The C-130 returns to Tripoli.
* 5:38 a.m. Benghazi time (11:38 p.m. Washington time): Hillary Clinton sends a message to three senior State Department officials: Jake Sullivan (Deputy Chief of Staff to Clinton), Cheryl Mills (Counselor and Chief of Staff to Clinton), and Victoria Jane Nuland (Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs). She writes: “Cheryl told me the Libyans confirmed his death. Should we announce tonight or wait until morning?” The subject line of the email reads: “Chris Smith.” But the murdered ambassador was named Chris Stevens. Another of the dead Americans was named Sean Smith, an information management officer with the United States Foreign Service. In short, Mrs. Clinton got the names of both of the dead, wrong.
* 6 a.m. Benghazi time, September 12, 2012: A team of U.S. Special Forces in Tripoli, preparing to board a C-130 to Benghazi in order to respond to the attack, is ordered to "stand down" by U.S. Special Forces Command Africa. That is, the commander of the Special Forces in Tripoli, Lt. Col. Gibson, was told he did not have the authority to send his team to Benghazi. Gibson later tells Gregory Hicks, deputy chief of mission for the U.S. in Libya: “I have never been so embarrassed in my life that a State Department officer has bigger balls than somebody in the military.”
"In Tripoli, we had -- the defense attache had persuaded the Libyans to fly their C-130 to Benghazi and wanted to airlift -- we had -- since we had consolidated at the annex, and the Libyan government had now provided us with external security around our facilities, we wanted to send further reinforcements to Benghazi.
"We determined that Lieutenant Gibson and his team of special forces troops should go. The people in Benghazi had been fighting all night. They were tired. They were exhausted.
We wanted to make sure the airport was secure for their withdrawal. As Colonel Gibson and his three personnel were -- were getting in the cars, he stopped. And he called them off and said -- told me that he had not been authorized to go. The vehicles had to go because the flight needed to go to Tripoli -- I mean, to Benghazi. Lieutenant Colonel Gibson was furious." (Source: May 8, 2013 testimony of Gregory Hicks before the House Committee on Oversight & Government Reform)
* 6 a.m. Benghazi time (Information from an exchange between Gregory Hicks and Rep. Jason Chaffetz, regarding the "stand-down" order):
CHAFFETZ: Mr. Hicks, I want to go back to that first plane from Tripoli [which] included 7 rescue-team members, including two U.S. military personnel. That plane then returns to Tripoli. And the first rescue team that is there is now really engaged in the attack. You have no idea, is my understanding, as to when the attack is going to end. So the second rescue team [which included 4 U.S. military special-forces personnel] is preparing to go.... And yet these military personnel do not operate under your authority, and your permission is not enough for them to go. Explain to me again exactly what happened. HICKS: Again, we determined that we needed to send a second team from Tripoli to secure the airport for the withdrawal of our personnel from Benghazi. CHAFFETZ: But were any of these U.S. military personnel not permitted to travel on a rescue mission from Tripoli to Benghazi? HICKS: They were not authorized to travel. CHAFFETZ: What happened with those personnel? HICKS: They remained in Tripoli with us. The medic went with the nurse to the hospital to lend his skills to the treatment of our wounded. CHAFFETZ: How did the personnel react to being told to stand down? HICKS: They were furious.... I will quote Lt. Col. Gibson. He said, “This is the first time in my career that a diplomat has more balls than somebody in the military.” CHAFFETZ: … Where did the stand-down order come from? HICKS: I believe it came from either AFRICOM [United States Africa Command] or SOCAFRICA [Special Operations Command Africa]....
6 a.m. Benghazi time: According to Admiral Mike Mullen (who would later serve on the Benghazi Accountability Review Board), technically no “stand down” order was sent to Lt. Col. Gibson and the special forces team on the morning of September 12. But the unit was nonetheless ordered to “hold in place,” says Mullen, which amounts to exactly the same degree of inaction. (Source: September 20, 2013 testimony of Mike Mullen before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee)
* Morning of September 12, 2012: The Obama administration immediately characterizes the murderous violence in Benghazi as a spontaneous, unplanned uprising that not only evolved from a low-level protest against Innocence of Muslims -- an obscure, anti-Muslim video that had been posted on YouTube two months earlier -- but also took place, coincidentally, on the anniversary of 9/11. In reality, however, by this time U.S. intelligence agencies have already gained enough evidence to conclude unequivocally that the attack on the mission in Benghazi was a terrorist incident, not a spontaneous event growing out of a low-level protest over the obscure YouTube video. In fact, there was never any low-level protest against that video in Benghazi.
GOWDY: [Just hours after the attack] the president of Libya … labeled it an attack by Islamic extremists, possibly with terror links. Correct? HICKS: Yes sir.... GOWDY: Did the president of Libya ever mention a spontaneous protest related to a video? HICKS: No sir. GOWDY: When Ambassador Stevens talked to you perhaps minutes before he died, as a dying declaration, what precisely did he say to you? HICKS: He said, “Greg, we're under attack.” GOWDY: Would a highly decorated career diplomat have told you or Washington, had there been a demonstration outside his facility that day? HICKS: Yes sir, he would have. GOWDY: Did he mention one word about a protest or a demonstration? HICKS: No sir, he did not. (Source: May 8, 2013 testimony of Gregory Hicks before the House Committee on Oversight & Government Reform)
* Morning of September 12, 2012: In a morning speech delivered in the White House Rose Garden, President Obama says, “Make no mistake, we will work with the Libyan government to bring to justice the killers who attacked our people.” In his remarks, the president makes reference to the role that the anti-Muslim YouTube video allegedly played in triggering the violence: “Since our founding, the United States has been a nation that respects all faiths. We reject all efforts to denigrate the religious beliefs of others. But there is absolutely no justification to this type of senseless violence. None.” He also makes a passing reference to “acts of terror” generally, right after he has referred to “troops who made the ultimate sacrifice in Iraq and Afghanistan,” and to “our wounded warriors at Walter Reed [Hospital].” But he never actually characterizes the Benghazi attack as a terrorist act.
*Morning of September 12, 2012: After his Rose Garden speech, Obama tapes an interview for 60 Minutes, where he explains that he refrains from using the word “terrorism” in the speech because “it’s too early to know exactly how this came about.” (For unknown reasons, CBS does not release this clip until just two days before Election Day, and it attracts little notice at the time because Superstorm Sandy is dominating the pre-Election Day news.)
* Afternoon of September 12, 2012: Just a few hours after having delivered his remarks in the Rose Garden, President Obama flies to Las Vegas for a campaign fundraiser where he likens the heroism of the dead Americans in Libya to that of his own campaign volunteers: “The sacrifices that our troops and our diplomats make are obviously very different from the challenges that we face here domestically, but like them, you guys are Americans who sense that we can do better than we’re doing…. I’m just really proud of you.”
*Afternoon of September 12, 2012: Senior administration officials hold a briefing with reporters to answer questions about the attack. Twice the officials characterize the perpetrators of the attack as “extremists.”
* September 12, 2012: The State Department's Elizabeth (Beth) Jones prepares a summary of discussions that had been held with a Libyan ambassador, and which concluded that the attack had been a terrorist incident.
* September 12, 2012 (Information from an exchange between Gregory Hicks and Rep. Trey Gowdy, regarding the State Department's initial account of the events in Benghazi):
GOWDY: Mr. Hicks, who is Beth Jones? HICKS: Beth Jones is the acting assistant secretary for Near Eastern Affairs at the State Department. GOWDY: I want to read an excerpt from an email she sent [on September 12], and you were copied on it.... This is from Miss Jones to you [Hicks], to counsel for Hillary Clinton, to [State Department spokeswoman] Victoria Nuland, to Mr. Kennedy [U.S. State Department's Under Secretary of State for Management, Patrick F. Kennedy]. Near as I can tell, to almost everyone in the State Department. And I'm going to read from it: "I spoke to the Libyan ambassador and emphasized the importance of Libyan leaders continuing to make strong statements. When he said his government suspected that former Qadhafi regime elements carried out the attacks, I told him that the group that conducted the attacks, Ansar al-Sharia, is affiliated with Islamic terrorists." (Source: May 8, 2013 hearing before the House Committee on Oversight & Government Reform)
* September 12, 2012: The CIA station chief in Libya sends a cable reporting that eyewitnesses have confirmed the participation of Islamic militants in what was clearly a terrorist attack in Benghazi.
* September 12, 2012: Within 24 hours after the attack, the U.S. government intercepts communications between two al Qaeda-linked jihadists discussing the attacks in Benghazi. In one of those communications, one of the two jihadists, a member of Ansar al Sharia, boasts that he participated in the violence against the U.S. diplomatic post. Later that same day, the CIA station chief in Libya sends a memo to Washington, reporting that eyewitnesses to the attack identified the participants as known jihadists with ties to al Qaeda.
*Afternoon of September 12, 2012: NBC’s Andrea Mitchell asks an administration official to comment on news reports indicating that the events in Benghazi have been “linked to a terror attack, an organized terror attack,” possibly al Qaeda. The official refers to it as a “complex attack” and says it is “too early to say who they were” and with whom they were affiliated.
* September 12, 2012: In a September 12, 2012 email, Payton Knopf, the former deputy spokesman at the U.S. Mission to the United Nations, informs President Obama's Ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice, that senior officials have already concluded that the Benghazi attack was “complex” and planned in advance.
* September 12, 2012 (Information from an exchange between Gregory Hicks and Rep. Patrick McHenry, regarding whether Hicks initially believed that the violence of the previous day was a terrorist attack or a spontaneous outgrowth of a protest against the YouTube video):
McHENRY: Was there any evidence when you were there, in Libya, on that day [September 12], that this was a protest? HICKS: No, there was none, and I'm confident that Ambassador Stevens would have reported a protest immediately if one appeared on his door.... MCHENRY: Was there anything in connection to a YouTube video? Was there any awareness that the events occurred because of a YouTube video? HICKS: The YouTube video was a non-event in Libya. MCHENRY: And did you know about that within a couple of days, or the day of? HICKS: Yes. MCHENRY: And so, did you report to anyone in Washington, within the first couple of days, that there was a protest in connection to a YouTube video? HICKS: No, the only report that our mission made through every channel was that there had been an attack on our consulate. MCHENRY: Not a protest. HICKS: No protest. (Source: May 8, 2013 hearing before the House Committee on Oversight & Government Reform)
*4:09 p.m., September 12, 2012: At a press briefing en route to Las Vegas, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney is asked, “Does the White House believe that the attack in Benghazi was planned and premeditated?” He replies, “It’s too early for us to make that judgment. I think—I know that this is being investigated, and we’re working with the Libyan government to investigate the incident. So I would not want to speculate on that at this time.”
* September 12, 2012: Hillary Clinton advisor and confidante Sidney Blumenthal sends Mrs. Clinton a memo suggesting that the attacks were carried out by “demonstrators” who “were inspired by what many devout Libyans viewed as a sacrilegious internet video on the prophet Mohammed originating in America.” Mrs. Clinton forwards the memo to her foreign policy advisor Jake Sullivan.
* 10:08 p.m., September 12, 2012: Secretary of State Hillary Clinton releases a public statement linking the attack against the U.S. mission in Benghazi to the YouTube video, which she describes as “inflammatory material posted on the Internet.” “I condemn in the strongest terms the attack on our mission in Benghazi today,” says Mrs. Clinton, adding: “The United States deplores any intentional effort to denigrate the religious beliefs of others. Our commitment to religious tolerance goes back to the very beginning of our nation. But let me be clear — there is no justification for this, none.”
* September 12, 2012: When the CIA personnel hear the Obama administration's initial explanation that an anti-Islam video and a demonstration gone awry are to blame for the attacks, they seethe with anger because all the evidence on the ground shows clearly that it was a premeditated attack.
* September 13, 2012: Hillary Clinton advisor and confidante Sidney Blumenthal, citing “sensitive sources” in Libya, sends Mrs. Clinton a more thorough account of what occurred two days earlier. occurred. According to The New York Times: “[T]he memo provided extensive detail about the episode, saying that the siege had been set off by members of Ansar al-Shariah, the Libyan terrorist group. Those militants had ties to Al Qaeda, had planned the attacks for a month and had used a nearby protest as cover for the siege, the memo said. “We should get this around asap” Mrs. Clinton said in an email to [her foreign policy advisor Jake] Sullivan.... That information contradicted the Obama administration’s narrative at the time about what had spawned the attacks.”
* Approximately September 12-15, 2012: Gregory Hicks receives high praise from both Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. Hicks gave details about this praise on May 8, 2013, when he testified before the House Committee on Oversight & Government Reform:
"In the days immediately after the Benghazi attack, the President and Secretary of State praised my performance over the telephone. President Obama wrote Libyan President Magariaf expressing confidence in my abilities. Deputy Secretary Burns and General Ham told me how much they appreciated how I handled the night of the assault and its aftermath. I received written notes of commendation from Undersecretary Wendy Sherman and from Executive Secretary Stephen Mull. Incoming charge Larry Pope told me personally that my performance was near heroic."
* September 13, 2012: The Obama administration sends Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to deliver a televised statement denouncing not only the violence in Benghazi but also the “disgusting and reprehensible” video allegedly responsible for it, and stating “very clearly” that “the United States government had absolutely nothing to do with this video.” “We absolutely reject its content and message,” says Mrs. Clinton, emphasizing America’s great “respect for people of faith.”
* September 13, 2012: Hillary Clinton meets with Ali Suleiman Aujali—the Libyan ambassador to the U.S.—at a State Department event to mark the end of Ramadan. Ambassador Aujali apologizes to Mrs. Clinton for what he describes as “this terrorist attack which took place against the American consulate in Libya.” Mrs. Clinton, in her remarks, does not characterize it as terrorism. Rather, she says there is “never any justification for violent acts of this kind.” She also condemns the anti-Muslim video,.
* September 13, 2012: White House press secretary Jay Carney condemns the YouTube video at a news conference, blaming it for the attack in Benghazi.
* September 13, 2012: At a daily press briefing, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland is asked whether the Benghazi attack was “purely spontaneous or was premeditated by militants.” Declining to answer, she says that the administration does not want to “jump to conclusions.”
* September 13, 2012: In a meeting with Moroccan Foreign Minister Saad-Eddine Al-Othmani, Hillary Clinton denounces the “disgusting and reprehensible” anti-Muslim video and the violence that it purportedly sparked.
* Morning of September 14, 2012: After CIA director David Petraeus briefs members of Congress on Capitol Hill, Democratic Rep. Dutch Ruppersburger, the ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, asks the intelligence community to provide guidance on what members of Congress could say in their public comments regarding the September 11 attacks.
* 11:15 a.m. EDT on September 14, 2012: The CIA’s Office of Terrorism Analysis distributes internally (for comment) the first draft of a response to Ruppersburger. This initial CIA draft states that the U.S. government “know[s] that Islamic extremists with ties to al Qaeda participated in the attack”; that press reports have “linked the attack to Ansar al Sharia," which seeks to spread sharia law in Libya and “emphasizes the need for jihad”; that Ansar al Sharia "has since released a statement that its leadership did not order the attacks, but did not deny that some of its members were involved”; and that the mission compound in Benghazi has been the subject of jihadist surveillance during the past six months, during which there have been “at least five other attacks against foreign interests in Benghazi by unidentified assailants, including the June attack against the British Ambassador’s convoy.”
* Afternoon of September 14, 2012: After the internal distribution, CIA officials amend that initial draft to include additional discussion about jihadism in both Egypt and Libya. For example: (a) “On 10 September we warned of social media reports calling for a demonstration in front of the [Cairo] Embassy and that jihadists were threatening to break into the Embassy.” And (b): “The Agency has produced numerous pieces on the threat of extremists linked to al Qaeda in Benghazi and Libya.” The reference to “Islamic extremists” remains in the revised draft, but it no longer specifies “Islamic extremists with ties to al Qaeda.” Moreover, the initial reference to “attacks” in Benghazi is changed to “demonstrations.”
* 6:52 p.m. on September 14, 2012: The revised CIA talking points are first distributed to top Obama administration officials via the interagency vetting process. All told, the revised talking points include more than a half-dozen references to such enemies of America as al Qaeda, Ansar al Sharia, jihadists, and Islamic extremists.
* 7:39 p.m. on September 14, 2012: In an email to officials at the White House, State Department spokesman Victoria Nuland raises “serious concerns” about the talking-points draft as it is currently constituted. Specifically, she objects to the following paragraph which was part of the CIA's talking points:
“The Agency has produced numerous pieces on the threat of extremists linked to al-Qa’ida in Benghazi and eastern Libya. These noted that, since April, there have been at least five other attacks against foreign interests in Benghazi by unidentified assailants, including the June attack against the British Ambassador’s convoy. We cannot rule out the individuals has previously surveilled the U.S. facilities, also contributing to the efficacy of the attacks.”
Describing herself as "concerned," Nuland suggests that the foregoing information should be removed from the talking points because it “could be abused by members [of Congress] to beat up the State Department for not paying attention to warnings, so why would we want to feed that either?”
* 9:24 p.m. on September 14, 2012: In a follow-up email, Nuland writes that the edited draft remains problematic and that her superiors—whom she does not name—are unhappy with it. Noting that “[t]hese changes don't resolve all my issues or those of my building leadership,” Nuland indicates that State Department leadership will be contacting National Security Council officials directly.
* 9:34 p.m. on September 14, 2012: White House official Ben Rhodes sends an email advising the group of White House officials that the issues raised by Nuland will be resolved the following morning in a meeting of the National Security Council’s Deputies Committee, consisting of high-ranking officials at the State Department, the Defense Department, and the CIA — as well as senior White House national security staffers. Says Rhodes: “We must make sure that the talking points reflect all agency equities, including those of the State Department, and we don’t want to undermine the FBI investigation. We thus will work through the talking points tomorrow morning at the Deputies Committee meeting.”
* September 14, 2012: Press secretary Carney says: “We were not aware of any actionable intelligence indicating that an attack on the U.S. mission in Benghazi was planned or imminent.”
* September 14, 2012: President Obama again blames the YouTube video for having sparked the violence.
* September 14, 2012: CNN journalists find Ambassador Christopher Stevens’ diary amid the rubble of the mission in Benghazi where he was killed three days earlier. The diary reveals that Stevens had been worried for some time about constant security threats, the rise in Islamic extremism, and the fact that his name was on an al Qaeda hit list.
* September 14, 2012: At the receiving ceremony where the bodies of the 4 Americans who were killed in Benghazi are returned to the United States, Hillary Clinton addresses grieving family members. In the course of her remarks, she says: "We’ve seen rage and violence directed at American embassies over an awful internet video that we had nothing to do with." According to the father of the slain Navy SEAL Tyrone Woods, Mrs. Clinton “came over … she talked with me. I gave her a hug and shook her hand and she did not appear to be one bit sincere at all and she mentioned about, ‘We’re going to have that person arrested and prosecuted that did the video.’ That was the first time I even heard about anything like that.”
* September 14, 2012: Also at the receiving ceremony, President Obama, Hillary Clinton, and Susan Rice each tell Pat Smith -- the mother of slain Foreign Service Information Management Officer Sean Smith -- that the cause of the violence that killed her son was the YouTube video. (Source: The O'Reilly Factor: Interview with Pat Smith on May 9, 2013).
* September 14, 2012: At a press briefing, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland says that her department will no longer answer any questions about the attack in Benghazi: “It is now something that you need to talk to the FBI about, not to us about, because it’s their investigation.”
* September 15, 2012: The Deputies Committee convenes in the morning to discuss the Benghazi talking points. Some participants meet in person, while others join via a Secure Video Teleconference System (SVTS). Soon after the meeting, a U.S. official sends an email to Ambassador Susan Rice indicating that several people who attended the meeting were -- like Victoria Nuland, who did not participate in the deliberations -- concerned that the CIA’s talking points might lead members of Congress to criticize the State Department for having ignored the CIA’s warning about a possible attack. Further, the email says that CIA deputy director Mike Morell and a small group of individuals from the intelligence community will work with Jake Sullivan -- deputy chief of staff to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and the State Department’s director of policy planning -- to edit and finalize the talking points before sending them on to the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, which had originated the request for talking points.
* September 15, 2012: Jake Sullivan, deputy chief of staff to Hillary Clinton, sends an email to State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland indicating that he has spoken with President Obama’s top spokesman at the National Security Council, Tommy Vietor: “I spoke with Tommy. We’ll work through this in the morning and get comments back.” In a separate email, Sullivan writes: “Talked to Tommy. We can make edits.”
* September 15, 2012: After the Deputies Committee meeting, deputy CIA director Mike Morell makes extensive changes to the six-paragraph draft of the talking points, cutting all or parts of four paragraphs of—148 of its 248 words. Most notably, he removes the references to: “Islamic extremists”; CIA warnings about al Qaeda in Libya; “jihadists” in Cairo; terrorists' possible surveillance of the mission compound in Benghazi; and “at least five other attacks against foreign interests in Benghazi.” What remains is mostly boilerplate about ongoing investigations conducted in cooperation with the Libyan government. The reference to “attacks” has been changed to “violent demonstrations” that supposedly arose spontaneously in reaction to protests in Egypt and may have included generic “extremists.”
* September 15, 2012: CIA director David Petraeus receives an email of the revised talking points from which all references to al Qaeda, Ansar al Sharia, jihadists, and Islamic extremists have been scrubbed. The only remaining allusion to such forces indicates that “extremists” might have participated in “violent demonstrations.” “Frankly, I’d just as soon not use this,” Petraeus writes to a legislative affairs staffer, but he does not try to persuade the Obama administration to revert to the original CIA assessment of the September 11 attacks. * 2:44 p.m. on September 15, 2012: In an email to Chip Walter, head of the CIA’s legislative affairs office, CIA director David Petraeus expresses frustration that the talking points have been stripped of much of the information which the CIA had initially provided. Resigned to the fact that the administration is seeking to promote an alternative narrative, Petraeus acknowledges to Walter that the national security staff, and not the CIA, will make the final decisions about what to tell the American people.
* September 14-15, 2012: All told, there have been 12 different versions of the talking points about Benghazi; these evolved from the drafts first written entirely by the CIA, to the final version distributed to Congress and to Susan Rice prior to her September 16th appearances on five television talk shows. The edits were made with extensive input from the State Department.
* September 15, 2012: In his weekly address, President Obama discusses the Benghazi attack but makes no mention of terrorism or terrorists. He does mention, however, the anti-Muslim video and “every angry mob” that it inspired in the Middle East.
* September 15, 2012: Senior White House adviser Ben Rhodes sends emails to top White House officials such as David Plouffe and Jay Carney just a day before Ambassador Susan Rice would make her infamous appearances on five Sunday news programs discussing the attacks. In other words, Rice’s instructions are coming from top Obama administration communications officials.
According to Rhodes's emails, Rice's “goal,” would be “to underscore that these protests are rooted in an Internet video, and not a broader failure or policy.” Rhodes's email also advises Rice to articulate that:
“[W]e’ve made our views on this video crystal clear. The United States government had nothing to do with it. We reject its message and its contents. We find it disgusting and reprehensible. But there is absolutely no justification at all for responding to this movie with violence. And we are working to make sure that people around the globe hear that message.”
Rhodes further instructs Rice to say something to the effect of: “I think that people have come to trust that President Obama provides leadership that is steady and statesmanlike. There are always going to be challenges that emerge around the world, and time and again, he has shown that we can meet them."
*September 15, 2012: In an email to Deputy CIA Director Michael J. Morell, the CIA’s station chief in Libya says that the attack in Benghazi was “not an escalation of protests.” This email is written after a teleconference during which senior CIA officials in Washington — Mr. Morell among them — told the Tripoli station chief that they were examining information which suggested that a protest had preceded the attack.
*September 15, 2012: In an email to Susan Rice, an Obama administration official boasts about Mr. Morell’s personal role in editing and rewriting the talking points. “Morell noted that these points were not good and he had taken a heavy editing hand to them,” says the email. It is unclear whether the email is referring to talking points about the notion that a protest preceded the violence in Benghazi.
* September 16, 2012: President Obama's Ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice, appears on five separate Sunday television news programs where she claims, falsely, that according to the “best information at present,” the deadly attack in Benghazi was not a premeditated assault but rather a “spontaneous reaction” to “a hateful and offensive video that was widely disseminated throughout the Arab and Muslim world.” For example, she tells Bob Schieffer on CBS's Face the Nation:
“We'll want to see the results of that investigation to draw any definitive conclusions. But based on the best information we have to date, what our assessment is as of the present is in fact what began spontaneously in Benghazi as a reaction to what had transpired some hours earlier in Cairo where, of course, as you know, there was a violent protest outside of our embassy ... sparked by this hateful video. But soon after that spontaneous protest began outside of our consulate in Benghazi, we believe that it looks like extremist elements, individuals, joined in that—in that effort with heavy weapons of the sort that are, unfortunately, readily now available in Libya post-revolution. And that it spun from there into something much, much more violent.... We do not have information at present that leads us to conclude that this was premeditated or preplanned.”
* September 16, 2012: Rice's assertion is quickly contradicted by Libyan security officials who say that American diplomats were warned as early as September 8th about potential violent unrest in Benghazi.
* September 16, 2012: Libya’s interim president, Mohammed el-Magariaf, says the attack on the U.S. mission was planned and coordinated by an Islamist group with ties to al Qaeda. Says Magariaf: “The way these perpetrators acted and moved ... this leaves us with no doubt that this was preplanned, determined—predetermined ... It was planned—definitely, it was planned by foreigners, by people who ... entered the country a few months ago, and they were planning this criminal act … since their arrival."
* September 16, 2012: In an interview with NPR, President Magariaf says: “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 precalculated, preplanned attack that was carried out specifically to attack the U.S. consulate.”
* September 16, 2012 (Information from an exchange between Gregory Hicks and Rep. Trey Gowdy, regarding Susan Rice's account of the events in Benghazi):
GOWDY: So fast-forward, Mr. Hicks, to the [September 16, 2012] Sunday talk shows and Ambassador Susan Rice. She blamed this attack on a video. In fact, she did it five different times. What was your eaction to that? HICKS: I was stunned. My jaw dropped. And I was embarrassed. GOWDY: Did she talk to you before she went on the five Sunday talk shows? HICKS: No sir. GOWDY: You were the highest-ranking official in Libya at the time, correct? HICKS: Yes sir. GOWDY: And she did not bother to have a conversation with you before she went on national television. HICKS: No sir. GOWDY: So Ambassador Rice directly contradicts the evidence on the ground in Libya, she directly contradicts the president of Libya, she directly contradicts the last statement uttered by Ambassador Stevens. (Source: May 8, 2013 testimony of Gregory Hicks before the House Committee on Oversight & Government Reform)
* September 16, 2012 (Information from an exchange between Gregory Hicks and Rep. Patrick McHenry, regarding Susan Rice's characterization of the September 11th violence as a spontaneous outgrowth of a protest against the YouTube video):
MCHENRY: … Would you have said the things that Ambassador Rice said? HICKS: Not after hearing what President Mugariaf said, especially considering the fact that he had gone to Benghazi himself, at great personal and political risk. And for him to appear on world television and say this was a planned attack by terrorists is phenomenal. I was jumping up and down when he said that. It was a gift for us, from a policy perspective, from my perspective, sitting in Tripoli. MCHENRY: And did that occur before September 16th? HICKS: He said that on the same talk shows with Ambassador Rice. (Source: May 8, 2013 hearing before the House Committee on Oversight & Government Reform)
* September 16 through early October 2012 (Information from an exchange between Gregory Hicks and Rep. Trey Gowdy, regarding the serious repercussions of Susan Rice's false account of the events in Benghazi):
GOWDY: Mr. Hicks, what impact did [Susan Rice's demonstrably false narrative] have on the ground, in Benghazi -- the fact that she contradicted the president of Libya? HICKS: ... [A]t the time, we were trying to get the FBI to Benghazi to begin its investigation. And that talk show actually provided an opportunity to make that happen. Afterwards, we encountered bureaucratic resistance for a long period from the Libyans.... It took us an additional 18 days, maybe, to get the FBI team to Benghazi.... (Source: May 8, 2013 testimony of Gregory Hicks before the House Committee on Oversight & Government Reform)
* September 16 through early October 2012 (Information from an exchange between Gregory Hicks and Rep. Paul Gosar, regarding the serious repercussions of Susan Rice's false account of the events in Benghazi):
HICKS: President Magariaf was insulted in front of his own people, in front of the world. His credibility was reduced. His ability to lead his own country was damaged. He was angry. A friend of mine who ate dinner with him in New York during the UN season told me that he was still steamed about the talk shows two weeks later. And I definitely believe that it definitely affected our ability to get the FBI team quickly to Benghazi.... It was a long slog of 17 days to get the FBI team to Benghazi, working with various ministries to get, ultimately, agreement to support that visit.... But at the highest levels of the [Libyan] government, there was never really positive approval. GOSAR: … Was the crime scene secured during that time [the 17 days]? HICKS: No, it was not. We repeatedly asked the government of Libya to secure the crime scene and prevent interlopers, but they were unable to do so. (Source: May 8, 2013 testimony of Gregory Hicks before the House Committee on Oversight & Government Reform)
* September 16 through mid-October 2012 (Information from an exchange between Gregory Hicks and Rep. Paul Gosar, regarding how Hicks was mistreated after he questioned Rice's false account of the events in Benghazi):
HICKS: When Assistant Secretary Jones called me after the talk show [the shows on which Susan Rice had appeared on September 16], I asked her why she [Rice] had said there was a demonstration, when we had reported that there was an attack. GOSAR: … And her reaction was? HICKS: Her reaction, again, was “I don't know,” and it was very clear from the tone that I should not proceed with [this line of questioning] any further. GOSAR: Did you receive any negative feedback based on this conversation? HICKS: Over the next month, I began to receive counseling from Assistant Secretary Jones about my management style, things that I basically was already doing on the ground but nevertheless I implemented everything that she asked me to do.
JORDAN: All that [praise and support you received from the Obama administration] seems to change [after] the phone call you got from Beth Jones [after Susan Rice went on the five Sunday talk shows] ... because you asked Beth Jones what? HICKS: I asked her why the ambassador had said there was a demonstration, when the embassay had reported only an attack. JORDAN: And again, what kind of response did you get from Beth Jones when you asked that question? HICKS: She said, “I don't know.” … The sense I got was that I needed to stop the line of questioning. (Source: May 8, 2013 testimony of Gregory Hicks before the House Committee on Oversight & Government Reform)
DESJARLAIS: [R]ight after the attack, and before the attack, you had [received] all kinds of praise for your leadership. You got a call from Secretary Clinton. You got a call from the president, praising you for your service and how you handled things. Was there a seminal moment, in your mind, to when all this praise and appreciation turned into something else? HICKS: In hindsight, I think it began when I asked a question about Ambassador Rice's statement on the TV shows.... I was angry with the way I'd been criticized. I thought it was unfounded. I felt like I'd been tried and convicted in absentia, but I decided I was going to go back and try to redeem myself. DESJARLAIS: What is your job right now? HICKS: I am a foreign-affairs officer in the Office of Global Intergovernmental Affairs. DESJARLAIS: A far cry from where you were and your level of capabilities. HICKS: Yes sir.... I accepted an officer of what's called a “no-fault curtailment.” That means that there would be no criticiam of my departure of Post, no negative repercussions … The job now is a ... demotion. “Foreign-affairs officer” is a designation that is given to our civil service colleagues who are desk officers. So I've been effectively demoted from deputy chief of mission to desk officer. (Source: May 8, 2013 testimony of Gregory Hicks before the House Committee on Oversight & Government Reform)
* September 17, 2012: State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland refuses to characterize the Benghazi attacks as terrorism. During the daily briefing at the State Department, Nuland also defends Susan Rice’s televised performances of the previous day. Says Nuland: “... Ambassador Rice, in her comments on every network over the weekend, was very clear, very precise, about what our initial assessment of what happened is. And this was not just her assessment, it was also an assessment you’ve heard in comments coming from the intelligence community, in comments coming from the White House.”
* September 18, 2012: White House press secretary Jay Carney is asked about Libyan President Magariaf’s assertion that the YouTube video had nothing to do with the attack in Benghazi. Replying that President Obama “would rather wait” for the investigation to be completed before issuing an opinion on the matter, Carney says: “But at this time, as Ambassador Rice said and as I said, our understanding and 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. What other factors were involved is a matter of investigation.”
* September 18, 2012: Reporters ask Hillary Clinton if Libyan President Magariaf is “wrong” in saying that “this attack was planned for months.” Mrs. Clinton replies: “The Office of the Director of National Intelligence has said we had no actionable intelligence that an attack on our post in Benghazi was planned or imminent.” She does not say whether she thinks Magariaf is right or wrong.
* September 18, 2012: President Obama appears on television with late-night comedian David Letterman. He tells Letterman that “Extremists and terrorists used this [anti-Muslim video] as an excuse to attack a variety of our embassies, including the consulate in Libya.”
* September 19, 2012: President Obama appears at the 40/40 Club in Manhattan, where entertainers Jay Z and Beyonce host a $40,000-per-person fundraiser for him.
* September 19, 2012: Matt Olsen, director of the National Counterterrorism Center, tells a Congressional Committee that the Obama administration is continuing to view the Benghazi incident as an “opportunistic” assault rather than a planned one, though he acknowledges that it could rightfully be classified as terrorism. This marks the first time that anyone in the Obama administration has used the term “terrorism” specifically in connection with the Benghazi attack.
* September 19, 2012: At a press briefing, White House press secretary Jay Carney says: “Based on the information we had at the time—we have now, we do not yet have indication that it was preplanned or premeditated. There’s an active investigation. If that active investigation produces facts that lead to a different conclusion, we will make clear that that’s where the investigation has led.”
* September 19, 2012: Former U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, Andrew McCarthy, who led the investigations into both attacks on the World Trade Center (1993 and 2001), says the Obama administration’s account of the Libyan attacks on the U.S. consulate is “flat-out fantasy.”
* September 19, 2012: Jim Carafano, the Heritage Foundation's deputy director and a leading expert on defense and homeland security, says the Obama administration’s contention that the attack on Ambassador Stevens and his staff in Libya was not premeditated cannot be reconciled with reports from the State Department and the Libyan government.
* September 20, 2012: White House press secretary Jay Carney completely reverses his earlier position, now calling it “self-evident that what happened in Benghazi was a terrorist attack.” Carney continues to maintain, however, that the administration received no early warnings about it.
* September 20, 2012: President Obama, citing insufficient information, still refuses to characterize the Benghazi attack as terrorism. He also makes reference, yet again, to the purported role of the YouTube video:
“Well, we’re still doing an investigation, and there are going to be different circumstances in different countries. And so I don’t want to speak to something until we have all the information. What we do know is that the natural protests that arose because of the outrage over the video were used as an excuse by extremists to see if they can also directly harm U.S. interests.”
* September 20, 2012: The State Department spends $70,000 in taxpayer funds to purchase public-relations advertisements on seven different Pakistani television stations. The ads, intended to underscore the fact that the U.S. government had nothing to do with the YouTube video's content or production, show film clips of speeches where Secretary of State Clinton and President Obama have previously disavowed the film Innocence of Muslims.
* September 21, 2012: Secretary of State Clinton says, “What happened in Benghazi was a terrorist attack.”
* September 22, 2012: Fawzi Bukatef, leader of the February 17 Martyrs Brigades, says that the Obama administration took no action during the attacks on the mission in Benghazi, and that “We [the Brigade] had to coordinate everything.” Bukatef's account is entirely consistent with Libyan Interior Minister Wanis al-Sharif's earlier assertion that Libyan security forces had essentially handed the U.S. mission personnel over to the attackers.
* September 24, 2012: Taping an appearance on ABC television's The View (which would air the folowing day), Obama says it is still impossible to determine whether the Benghazi attack was an act of terrorism: “[W]e don’t have all of the information yet, so we are still gathering.”
* September 25, 2012: In a speech to the UN Assembly, Obama, continuing to emphasize the notion that the YouTube video triggered the violence in Benghazi, states that “a crude and disgusting video sparked outrage throughout the Muslim world.” He goes on to say, “The future must not belong to those who slander the prophet of Islam. But to be credible, those who condemn that slander must also condemn the hate we see in the images of Jesus Christ that are desecrated, or churches that are destroyed, or the Holocaust that is denied.”
* Scholar Barry Rubin offers an assessment of why Obama was reluctant to classify the Benghazi attacks as terrorism (Source: "As Benghazi Scandal Builds, Libya Falls Apart," by Barry Rubin, May 13, 2013):
"Suppose that from the beginning on September 11, 2012, the U.S. government announced that the U.S. facility was under attack by a militia group linked to al-Qaeda: it would have had to explain why it had hired members of that militia group to guard the facility, a scandal in itself. We know, 100 percent, that this is true ...
"Next, there might have been a rescue attempt and a firefight between American forces and that militia group in which casualties would have occurred on both sides. … the United States would then have been in a military conflict with that militia. It would have to demand that the Libyan government take action and cooperate with U.S. efforts to punish it."
* September 26, 2012: Libyan president Mohamed al-Magariaf reiterates that the September 11 attack in Benghazi “was a preplanned act of terrorism directed against American citizens.” He states unequivocally that the YouTube video Innocence of Muslims “had nothing to do with this attack.”
* September 26, 2012: At a UN Security Council meeting, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, completely reversing her original story, concedes that there was an explicit link between al Qaeda's North African network and the deadly attacks on the U.S. mission in Benghazi 15 days earlier.
* September 27, 2012, filmmaker Mark Basseley Youseff (a.k.a. Nakoula Basseley Nakoula), who produced Innocence of Muslims, is arrested for “probation violation” and is denied bail. He would serve almost a year in prison.
* September 28, 2012: The Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI), which is controlled by the President of the United States, issues a statement that seems designed to quell the growing controversy over the administration’s obviously false assertions that the attacks of 9/11 grew out of spontaneous demonstrations:
“In the immediate aftermath [of the attack], there was information that led us to assess that the attack began spontaneously following protests earlier that day at our embassy in Cairo. We provided that initial assessment to Executive Branch officials and members of Congress, who used that information to discuss the attack publicly and provide updates as they became available. As we learned more about the attack, we revised our initial assessment to reflect new information indicating that it was a deliberate and organized attack carried out by extremists. It remains unclear if any group or person exercised overall command and control of the attack, and if extremist group leaders directed their members to participate. However, we do assess that some of those involved were linked to groups affiliated with, or sympathetic to al Qaeda.”
Journalist Stephen Hayes writes: “The statement [above] strongly implies that the information about al Qaeda-linked terrorists was new, a revision of the initial assessment. But it wasn’t. Indeed, the original assessment stated, without qualification, 'we do know that Islamic extremists with ties to al Qaeda participated in the attack.'”
Hayes also suggests that ODNI tried to give political cover to its director, James Clapper, by not having him personally issue the statement above. Writes Hayes: "The statement from the ODNI came not from James Clapper ... but from his spokesman, Shawn Turner. When the statement was released, current and former intelligence officials [said] that they found the statement itself odd and the fact that it didn’t come from Clapper stranger still. Clapper was traveling when he was first shown a draft of the statement to go out under his name. It is not an accident that it didn’t."
* October 2, 2012: White House press secretary Jay Carney declines to comment on reports claiming that U.S. diplomats in Libya asked for additional security during the weeks preceding September 11, 2012.
* October 3, 2012: It is revealed that sensitive documents remain only loosely secured in the wreckage of the U.S. mission, meaning that vital information about American operations in Libya is accessible to looters and curiosity-seekers. Among the items scattered throughout the looted compound are documents detailing America's weapons-collection efforts and emergency-evacuation protocols, Ambassador Stevens' travel itinerary, and the personnel records of Libyans who were contracted to secure the mission.
* October 4, 2012: After weeks of waiting for security concerns to be addressed, an FBI team finally gains access to the ransacked U.S. mission compound in Benghazi. The team leaves the site after just 12 hours. According to a New York Timesreport: “Already looters, curiosity seekers and reporters have been through the site, which is only protected by two private security guards hired by the compound’s Libyan owner … It appears that the FBI spent little or no time interviewing residents in Benghazi. Typically they would spend weeks, rather than hours, at a crime scene as important to national security as this site.” U.S. officials say the hunt for those possibly connected to the September 11 attack has narrowed to just one or two people in an extremist group.
* Early October 2012 (Information from an exchange between Gregory Hicks and Rep. Jim Jordan, regarding Congressman Jason Chaffetz's October 6, 2013 visit to Libya):
JORDAN: … [A]s I read the transcript, it seems to me that it [tension between Hicks and his superiors in the Obama administration] came to a head in phone calls you were on with lawyers from the Department of State prior to Congressman [Jason] Chaffetz [a member of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee] coming to visit in Libya [on October 6, to get an on-the-ground assessment of the attack]. Is that accurate? HICKS: Yes sir. JORDAN: And tell me about those conversations, what those lawyers instructed you to do on Mr. Chaffetz's visit to Libya. HICKS: I was instructed not to allow the RSO, the acting deputy chief of mission, and myself to be personally interviewed by Congressman Chaffetz. JORDAN: So the people at State told you, don't talk to the guy who's coming to investigate? HICKS: Yes sir. JORDAN: … You’ve had [dozens and dozens of] congressional delegations come to various places you’ve been around the world. Has that ever happened … Have you ever had anyone tell you don’t talk with the people from Congress coming to find out what took place? HICKS: Never. JORDAN: … And isn't it true that one of those lawyers on the phone call accompanied the folks in the delegation and tried to be in every single meeting you had with Mr. Chaffetz and the delegation from this committee? HICKS: Yes sir, that's true. JORDAN: Tell me what happened when you got a classified briefing with Mr. Chaffetz. What happened in the phone call that happened after that? HICKS: The lawyer was excluded from the meeting because his clearance was not high enough, and the delegation had insisted that the briefing not be limited by – JORDAN: Did the lawyer try and get into that briefing? HICKS: He tried, yes, but the annex chief would not allow it, because the briefing needed to be at the appropriate level of clearance. JORDAN: You had a subsequent conversation after this classified briefing that the lawyer was not allowed to be in, with you and Mr. Chaffetz and others in that delegation, and you had another conversation on the phone with Cheryl Mills [counselor for the Department of State and chief of staff to Secretary Clinton].... She is as close as you can get to Secretary Clinton. Is that accurate? HICKS: Yes sir. JORDAN: And tell me about that phone call you had with Cheryl Mills.... HICKS: She demanded a report on the visit – JORDAN: Was she upset by the fact that tis lawyer, this babysitter, this spy, whatever you want to call him, was not allowed to be in that [classified briefing]? HICKS: She was very upset. JORDAN: So this goes right to the person next to Secretary Clinton. Is that accurate? HICKS: Yes sir. (Source: May 8, 2013 testimony of Gregory Hicks before the House Committee on Oversight & Government Reform)
* Early October 2012 (Information from an exchange between Gregory Hicks and Rep. Scott Desjarlais, offering additional insight into how Hicks was mistreated by the Obama administration after he questioned Susan Rice's false account of the September 11th attacks):
DESJARLAIS: After Congressman Chaffetz's visit, did you feel any kind of shift in the way you were treated? HICKS: Yes, again, I did.... Prior to [Chaffetz's] visit, Assistant Secretary Jones had visited, and she pulled me aside and, again, said I needed to improve my management style and indicated that people were upset. I had had no indication that my staff was upset at all, other than with the conditions that we were facing. Following my return to the United States, I attended Chris's [Stevens'] funeral in San Francisco and then I came back to Washington. Assistant Secretary Jones summoned me to her office and she delivered a blistering critique of my management style. And she even exclaimed, “I don't know why Larry Pope would want you to come back.” And she said she didn't even understand why anyone in Tripoli would want me to come back. (Source: May 8, 2013 testimony of Gregory Hicks before the House Committee on Oversight & Government Reform)
* October 9, 2012: The State Department acknowledges that, contrary to the Obama administration's initial reports, the attack on the mission in Benghazi did not begin as a low-level protest that suddenly and unexpectedly spiraled out of control. The State Department now concedes that there were no protests at all in Benghazi before the deadly assault.
* October 10, 2012: In a heated congressional hearing, Eric Nordstrom recalls talking to a regional director and asking for twelve security agents:
“His response to that was, ‘You are asking for the sun, moon and the stars.’ And my response to him – his name was Jim – ‘Jim, you know what makes most frustrating about this assignment? It is not the hardships, it is not the gunfire, it is not the threats. It is dealing and fighting against the people, programs and personnel who are supposed to be supporting me. And I added (sic) it by saying, ‘For me the Taliban is on the inside of the building.’”
* October 10, 2012: In the same congressional hearing, Lieutenant Colonel Andrew Wood, the commander of a Security Support Team (SST) that was sent home in August 2012 (against his wishes and those of Ambassador Stevens), says: “We were fighting a losing battle. We couldn’t even keep what we had.” Nordstrom agrees, saying: “[I]t was abundantly clear we were not going to get resources until the aftermath of an incident. And the question that we would ask is again, ‘How thin does the ice need to get until someone falls through?’” Nordstrom states that on one occasion, he was “specifically told, 'You can’t request an SST extension.'” “How I interpreted that,” says Nordstrom, “was there was going to be too much political cost.”
* October 10, 2012: The State Department claims that it has never believed, even for a moment, that the attack in Benghazi was carried out in reaction to a YouTube video. The Associated Press reports:
“Department officials were asked about the administration’s initial—and since retracted—explanation linking the violence to protests over an American-made anti-Muslim video circulating on the Internet. One official responded, ‘That was not our conclusion.’ He called it a question for ‘others’ to answer, without specifying.”
* October 11, 2012: When the subject of the Benghazi attacks is raised during his vice-presidential debate against Paul Ryan, Vice President Joe Biden says, “We weren’t told they wanted more security there.” In light of the obvious falsity of that statement, White House spokesman Jay Carney subsequently explains that Biden's “We” referred only to Biden himself, President Obama, and the White House.
* October 14, 2012: Pat Smith, the mother of Sean Smith (the foreign service information-management officer who was killed in the Benghazi terrorist attack), tells CNN that the Obama administration told her that the incident was caused entirely by the YouTube video:
"... [The] things that they've told me are just outright lies. That Susan Rice, what—she talked to me personally and she said, she said, this is the way it was. It was—it was because of this film that came out.... Oh, absolutely. Absolutely. In fact all of them did. All of them did. Leon Panetta actually took my face in his hands like this and he says, trust me. I will tell you what happened. And so far, he’s told me nothing. Nothing at all. And I want to know.
"I told them , if it’s such a secret thing, fine, take me in another room, whisper in my ear what happened so that I know, and we’ll go from there. But no. No, they—you know, they treat me like—at first I was so proud because they were treating me so nice when I went to that reception. They all came up to me and talked to me and everything. I cried on Obama’s shoulder. And he — then he’d kind of looked off into the distance. So that was worthless to me. I want to know, for God’s sakes."
* October 15, 2012: In a CNN interview, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton takes the blame for what happened in Benghazi. “I take responsibility. I'm in charge of the State Department's 60,000-plus people all over the world, 275 posts. The president and the vice president wouldn't be knowledgeable about specific decisions that are made by security professionals.” “I want to avoid some kind of political gotcha,” she adds, noting that “we're very close to an election.”
* October 16, 2012: During the second presidential debate between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney, President Obama says that he immediately told the American people that the September 11th killing of Christopher Stevens and three other Americans in Benghazi “was an act of terror.” Seven months later, on May 13, 2013, the Washington Post published its own in-depth analysis of how Obama characterized the events of 9/11/12 in the days and weeks that followed. Said The Post:
Immediately after the attack, the president three times used the phrase “act of terror” in public statements:
(1) “No acts of terror will ever shake the resolve of this great nation, alter that character, or eclipse the light of the values that we stand for.” — Obama, Rose Garden, Sept. 12
(2) “We want to send a message all around the world — anybody who would do us harm: No act of terror will dim the light of the values that we proudly shine on the rest of the world, and no act of violence will shake the resolve of the United States of America.” — Obama, campaign event in Las Vegas, Sept. 13
(3) “I want people around the world to hear me: To all those who would do us harm, no act of terror will go unpunished. It will not dim the light of the values that we proudly present to the rest of the world. No act of violence shakes the resolve of the United States of America.” — Obama, campaign event in Golden, Colo., Sept. 13
... Note that in all three cases, the language is not as strong as Obama asserted in the debate. Obama declared that he said “that this was an act of terror.” But actually the president spoke in vague terms, usually wrapped in a patriotic fervor. One could presume he was speaking of the incident in Libya, but he did not affirmatively state that the American ambassador died because of an “act of terror.” … [S]uch nuances of phrasing are often very important. A president does not simply utter virtually the same phrase three times in two days about a major international incident without careful thought about the implications of each word. [...]
Whatever the reason, when given repeated opportunities to forthrightly declare this was an “act of terrorism,” the president ducked the question. For instance, on Sept. 12, immediately after the Rose Garden statement the day after the attack, Obama sat down with Steve Kroft of 60 Minutes and acknowledged he purposely avoided the using the word “terrorism:”
KROFT: “Mr. President, this morning you went out of your way to avoid the use of the word ‘terrorism’ in connection with the Libya attack.” OBAMA: “Right.” KROFT: “Do you believe that this was a terrorist attack?” OBAMA: “Well, it’s too early to know exactly how this came about, what group was involved, but obviously it was an attack on Americans. And we are going to be working with the Libyan government to make sure that we bring these folks to justice, one way or the other.” (For unknown reasons, CBS did not release this clip until just two days before the elections, and it attracted little notice at the time because Superstorm Sandy dominated the news.)
Eight days later, on Sept. 20, Obama was asked at a Univision town hall whether Benghazi was a terrorist attack related to al-Qaeda, after White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters that “it is self-evident that what happened in Benghazi was a terrorist attack.”
QUESTION: “We have reports that the White House said today that the attacks in Libya were a terrorist attack. Do you have information indicating that it was Iran, or al-Qaeda was behind organizing the protests?” OBAMA: “Well, we’re still doing an investigation, and there are going to be different circumstances in different countries. And so I don’t want to speak to something until we have all the information. What we do know is that the natural protests that arose because of the outrage over the video were used as an excuse by extremists to see if they can also directly harm U.S. interests.”
Finally, during an interview on ABC’s The View on Sept. 25, Obama appeared to refuse to say it was a terrorist attack:
QUESTION: “It was reported that people just went crazy and wild because of this anti-Muslim movie -- or anti-Muhammad, I guess, movie. But then I heard Hillary Clinton say that it was an act of terrorism. Is it? What do you say?” OBAMA: “We are still doing an investigation. There is no doubt that the kind of weapons that were used, the ongoing assault, that it wasn’t just a mob action. Now, we don’t have all the information yet so we are still gathering.”
So, given three opportunities to affirmatively agree that the Benghazi attack was a terrorist attack, the president obfuscated or ducked the question. In fact, as far as we can tell from combing through databases, [May 13, 2013] was the first time the president himself referred to Benghazi as an “act of terrorism.”
Administration officials repeatedly have insisted that this is a distinction without much difference. “There was an issue about the definition of terrorism,” Carney said on October 10. “This is by definition an act of terror, as the President made clear.”
During the campaign, the president could just get away with claiming he said “act of terror,” since he did use those words — though not in the way he often claimed. It seemed like a bit of after-the-fact spin, but those were his actual words — to the surprise of Mitt Romney in the debate. But the president’s claim [in May 2013] that he said “act of terrorism” is taking revisionist history too far, given that he repeatedly refused to commit to that phrase when asked directly by reporters in the weeks after the attack. He appears to have gone out of his way to avoid saying it was a terrorist attack, so he has little standing to make that claim now.
Indeed, the initial unedited talking points did not call it an act of terrorism. Instead of pretending the right words were uttered, it would be far better to acknowledge that he was echoing what the intelligence community believed at the time--and that the administration’s phrasing could have been clearer and more forthright from the start.
Four Pinocchios. [This was the Washington Post's rating of Obama's lack of honesty vis a vis whether he had referred to the Benghazi attacks as "terrorism" in their immediate aftermath. This rating signifies that Obama was wholly dishonest about the matter.]
* October 18, 2012: On Comedy Central's The Daily Show, host Jon Stewartasks Obama: “Is part of the investigation helping the communication between these divisions? Not just what happened in Benghazi, but what happened within. Because I would say, even you would admit, it was not the optimal response, at least to the American people, as far as all of us being on the same page.” To this, Obama responds: “Here's what I’ll say. If four Americans get killed, it’s not optimal.”
* October 19, 2012: House Government Oversight Committee chairman Darrell Issa writes a letter to President Obama, questioning why he has “not been straightforward with the American people in the aftermath of the attack.”
* October 25, 2012: Defense Secretary Leon Panetta says the U.S. military did not intervene when the mission in Benghazi was under assault because military leaders had no “real-time information” about what was happening on the ground.
* October 26, 2012: CIA director David Petraeus emphatically denies that he or anyone else at the CIA refused assistance to the former Navy SEALs who requested help while under assault on the night of September 11, 2012. According to The Weekly Standard and ABC News, Petraeus's denial strongly suggests that the refusal to assist was a presidential decision made by Obama himself.
* October 26, 2012: A CIA spokesman issues this statement: “No one at any level in the CIA told anybody not to help those in need [at the Benghazi mission]; claims to the contrary are simply inaccurate.”
* October 26, 2012: At a press briefing in Washington, the State Department shuts down down reporters' questions about Benghazi. The administration appears determined to say as little as possible about the September 11 attack until after the November 6 elections.
* October 26, 2012: President Obama says: “What happened in Benghazi is a tragedy.... [M]y biggest priority now is bringing those folks [the perpetrators] to justice, and I think the American people have seen that’s a commitment I'll always keep.”
* October 26, 2012: President Obama discusses the situation in Libya during a satellite interview with local Denver, Colorado TV reporter Kyle Clark. The following key exchange occurs:
CLARK: "Were the Americans under attack at the consulate in Benghazi, Libya denied requests for help during that attack? And is it fair to tell Americans that what happened is under investigation and we'll all find out after the election?"
OBAMA: "Well, the election has nothing to do with four brave Americans getting killed and us wanting to find out exactly what happened. These are folks who served under me who I had sent to some very dangerous places. Nobody wants to find out more what happened than I do. But we want to make sure we get it right, particularly because I have made a commitment to the families impacted as well as to the American people, we're going to bring those folks to justice. So, we're going to gather all the facts, find out exactly what happened, and make sure that it doesn't happen again but we're also going to make sure that we bring to justice those who carried out these attacks."
CLARK: "Were they denied requests for help during the attack?"
OBAMA: "Well, we are finding out exactly what happened. 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. Number two, we're going to investigate exactly what happened so that it doesn't happen again. Number three, find out who did this so we can bring them to justice. And I guarantee you that everyone in the state department, our military, the CIA, you name it, had number one priority making sure that people were safe. These were our folks and we're going to find out exactly what happened, but what we're also going to do it make sure that we are identifying those who carried out these terrible attacks."
* October 30, 2012: Senator John McCain characterizes the Benghazi affair as either a “massive cover up” or “massive incompetence.”
* October 31, 2012: Michael Scheuer, who headed the CIA’s Osama bin Laden tracking unit in the late 1990s and has worked for the Agency for more than 20 years, says that what occurred in Benghazi was not incompetence but rather a “callous political decision to let Americans die”:
“It’s hard to claim incompetence when you have the information in a real-time manner as the White House did. They were watching or listening to the attack on our people there in Benghazi for about seven hours. This, clearly, is a case of deciding not to help those people and now trying, in the waning days of the election campaign, to prevent Americans from learning what a cowardly and arrogant policy Obama picked in order to protect his election chances. Had we sent people to try to help the people who were being attacked, we may have been too late, it may have taken too long to get there, we may have run into a bigger battle and lost more people but the key element here is there is no evidence, from day one until today, that the Obama administration did anything at all to help those people. Nothing was put in train. Nothing was tried. At the end of the day, we abandoned those four people on the orders of the president.”
* November 1, 2012: Pat Smith, the mother of Sean Smith (the foreign service information-management officer who was killed in the Benghazi terrorist attack), complains that the Obama administration has provided no substantive information about how her son died. Said Mrs. Smith, “Until I find out anything, Obama killed my son, my only child, the one who was going to take care of me when I’m old.” * November 4, 2012: A car bomb explodes in front of a Benghazi police station and injures three officers.
* November 8, 2012: Mark Basseley Youseff, the filmmaker who produced the YouTube video Innocence of Muslims, is sentenced to a year in jail for an “unrelated” offense.
* November 9, 2012: CIA director David Petraeus admits to having had an extramarital affair and resigns from his post at the CIA.
* November 16, 2012: In testimony before the House and Senate intelligence panels, General Petraeus states that the CIA sought to make clear from the outset that an al Qaeda affiliate was involved in the deadly attack on the U.S. mission in Benghazi. Petraeus also says that references to “Al Qaeda involvement” were stripped from his agency's original talking points, but he does not know by whom. Following Petraeus's testimony, Republican Representative Peter King confirms that according to Petraeus, “the original [CIA] talking points were much more specific about Al Qaeda involvement. And yet the final ones just said [there were] indications of extremists.”
* November 16, 2012: Twelve Democratic congresswomen accuse Republican Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham of “clear sexism and racism” because, in condemning Ambassador Susan Rice for her misleading narrative about the root causes of the Benghazi attack, they have described Rice as “unqualified” and “not very bright.”
* November 17, 2012: Frank Gaffney, founder and president of the Center for Security Policy, makes reference to the Obama administration's alleged funneling of weapons, by way of Libya, to Syrian rebels and jihadists seeking to overthrow Syrian President Bashar al-Assad:
“If it is the case that the Obama administration, was in fact, in the person of Christopher Stevens and the CIA operation in Benghazi, taking arms that had been bought from people who had liberated them from Gaddafi’s weapons caches and sending some of those to people [in Syria] who we know include Islamists of the most radical stripe, which include al-Qaida, that is a scandal that will make Iran-Contra look like a day at the beach…”
* December 8, 2012: Mohammed Abu Jamal Ahmed, a suspect in the September 11 attack on the U.S. mission in Benghazi, is arrested in Cairo, Egypt.
* December 13, 2012: After months of criticism over her blatant misrepresentations of the September 11 events in Benghazi, Ambassador Susan Rice withdraws her name from consideration as a candidate for Secretary of State (succeeding the outgoing Hillary Clinton). President Obama accepts Rice's decision, saying: “While I deeply regret the unfair and misleading attacks on Susan Rice in recent weeks, her decision demonstrates the strength of her character, and an admirable commitment to rise above the politics of the moment to put our national interests first…. The American people can be proud to have a public servant of her caliber and character representing our country.”
* December 15, 2012: State Department officials notify the press that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, “while suffering from a stomach virus ... became dehydrated and fainted, sustaining a concussion.” Clinton’s office states that she will be unable to participate in the House Foreign Affairs Committee's hearing on Benghazi scheduled for December 20 on Capitol Hill.
* December 18, 2012: An independent report issued by the Accountability Review Board (ARB) led by Thomas Pickering and former Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman Mike Mullen, blames State Department leadership for “systemic failures” leading up to the Benghazi attack, and asserts that U.S. officials relied too heavily on Libyan guards at the mission, where security was “grossly inadequate.” The report does not blame Secretary Clinton personally, however. Rather, it singles out the Bureau of Diplomatic Security and the Bureau of Near East Affairs for a “lack of proactive leadership and management ability in their responses to security concerns.” But despite the failures of those two Bureaus, the ARB states that no individual officials ignored or violated their duties, and thus it recommends no disciplinary action.
* December 19, 2012: In response to the ARB report, Bureau of Diplomatic Security chief Eric Boswell and his deputy Charlene Lamb both resign, along with an unidentified official in the Bureau of Near East Affairs. It is soon learned, however, that these resignees are merely on administrative leave; they remain on the State Department payroll and will all be back to work soon.
* December 20, 2012: William J. Burns (deputy secretary of state) and Thomas R. Nides (deputy secretary of state for management and resources) both testify in place of Hillary Clinton in the House Foreign Affairs Committee's hearing on Benghazi.
* December 20, 2012: The U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, headed by Senator John Kerry, issues a report entitled, “Benghazi: The Attack and the Lessons Learned.”
* December 22, 2012: After months of trying to get access, FBI agents question the only known suspect in the September 11 attack on the U.S. mission in Benghazi. He is Ali al-Harzi, a 26-year-old Tunisian who was detained in Turkey and extradited to Tunisia in October 2012.
* December 30, 2012: Senators Joe Leiberman (I/D-Connecticut) and Susan Collins (R-Maine) release a report entitled Flashing Red: A Special Report On The Terrorist Attack At Benghazi, which states that on September 11, the terrorists essentially walked into the Benghazi mission compound unimpeded and set it ablaze, while State Department personnel in Washington ignored or responded inadequately to repeated pleas for more security from those on the ground in Libya.
* December 30, 2012: In an interview with NBC’s David Gregory, President Obama says: “Some individuals have been held accountable inside of the State Department and what I’ve said is that we are going to fix this to make sure that this does not happen again, because these are folks that I send into the field. We understand that there are dangers involved but, you know, when you read the report and it confirms what we had already seen, you know, based on some of our internal reviews; there was just some sloppiness, not intentional, in terms of how we secure embassies in areas where you essentially don’t have governments that have a lot of capacity to protect those embassies.”
* Late December 2012 to early January 2013: Although Ahmed Boukhtala, a member of an Islamic terrorist group, is the main suspect in the September 11 terrorist attack on the U.S. mission in Benghazi, he continues to live freely in that city. Libyan authorities are reluctant to become entangled in cases like his, which involve terror-group affiliations. In an interview with a Libyan newspaper, Boukhtala neither admits nor denies his role in the September 11 attack. In response to a direct question regarding the incident, he says:
“Let’s first ask about the reason for their presence in Benghazi in this suspicious and secret way. The other thing is: what is the nature of work they were doing in Benghazi? What was the role that the consulate was playing, and who gave it permission to violate Libya’s sovereignty and intervene in Libyan politics?”
* January 3, 2013: Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is released from the hospital following a bout with the flu, a concussion, and a blood clot. It is reported that she will soon testify in front of a Congressional committee about the terrorist attack on the American mission in Benghazi.
* January 6, 2013: Reports say that Libya's investigation into the deadly September 11 attack on the U.S. mission in Benghazi has been hampered by widespread fear that Islamic extremists will retaliate with violence against witnesses who testify.
* January 9, 2013: Tunisian authorities release Ali al-Harzi, the only man held so far in connection with the September 11 attacks in Benghazi—an indication that the Libyan-led investigation into those attacks is foundering. According to the Benghazi-based analyst and political science professor Khaled al-Marmimi: “Investigators are afraid to keep probing the case because they are concerned extremists will kidnap them at any moment.”
* January 10, 2013: Despite President Obama's September 12, 2012 vow to “work with the Libyan government to bring to justice the killers who attacked our people,” Libyan authorities now say the investigation is stalled, if not entirely dead, with witnesses too fearful to talk and key police officers targeted for violent retribution. According to Mohamed Buisier, a political activist in Benghazi: “There is no Libyan investigation. No, no, no. There is not even a will to investigate anything. Even for us civilians, it is very dangerous if you talk about this subject.”
* January 17, 2013: FBI director Robert Mueller goes to Libya to meet with senior officials, including the prime minister, justice minister, and intelligence chief, to discuss what occurred in Benghazi on September 11, 2012.
Hillary Clinton's Testimony
* January 23, 2013: Fully 134 days after the September 11 attack in Benghazi, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton testifies before Congress.
During the course of her testimony, Clinton states that she was unaware of Ambassador Stevens' August 15, 2012 cable saying that "we can't defend this place."
Clinton also testifies: "I want to make clear that no one in the State Department, the intelligence community, any other agency, ever recommended that we close Benghazi. We were clear-eyed about the threats and the dangers as they were developing in eastern Libya and in Benghazi."
(This testimony was later contradicted, however, by Lt. Col. Andrew Wood, who headed the U.S. military’s efforts to improve diplomatic security in Libya. Wood testified that he personally had recommended that the Benghazi mission be closed, in light of the fact that more than 200 attacks -- including approximately 50 in Benghazi -- had been carried out against American interests in Libya.)
The most dramatic moment in the proceedings occurs when Wisconsin senator Ron Johnson asks Mrs. Clinton to explain why the State Department spent so long characterizing the attack as an unplanned, unforseeable escalation of an impromptu protest over an obscure anti-Muslim YouTube video, rather than a pre-planned, carefully orchestrated act of terrorism led by an al Qaeda-affiliated group. Clinton yells back: “With all due respect, the fact is we had four dead Americans. Was it because of a protest or was it because of guys out for a walk one night who decided to kill some Americans? What difference at this point does it make?”
Also during the question-and-answer session, Clinton says: “I did not say ... that it was about the video for Libya.” This was a lie, as evidenced by the following facts:
On September 12, 2012, Clinton released a public statement linking the attack against the U.S. mission in Benghazi to the YouTube video, which she described as “inflammatory material posted on the Internet.” “I condemn in the strongest terms the attack on our mission in Benghazi today,” said Clinton, adding: “The United States deplores any intentional effort to denigrate the religious beliefs of others. Our commitment to religious tolerance goes back to the very beginning of our nation.”
On September 13, 2012, Clinton delivered a televised statement denouncing not only the violence in Benghazi but also the “disgusting and reprehensible” video allegedly responsible for it, and stating “very clearly” that “the United States government had absolutely nothing to do with this video.” “We absolutely reject its content and message,” said Clinton, emphasizing America’s great “respect for people of faith.”
At the September 14 receiving ceremony where the bodies of the four dead Americans were returned to the United States, Clinton spoke to the grieving families of the deceased. In the course of her remarks, she referenced an “awful Internet video that we had nothing to do with.” Afterward, she told the father of Tyrone Woods, the former Navy SEAL who had been killed in the attack, “We will make sure the person who made that film is arrested and prosecuted.”
Also at the September 14 receiving ceremony, Clinton told Pat Smith -- the mother of slain Foreign Service Information Management Officer Sean Smith -- that the cause of the violence that had killed her son was the YouTube video. (Source: The O'Reilly Factor: Interview with Pat Smith on May 9, 2013).
Another important moment in the January 23 proceedings occurs when Republican Senator Rand Paul directs the following pointed remarks at Mrs. Clinton:
"One of the things about the original 9/11 is that no one was fired. We spent trillions of dollars, but there were a lot of human errors, judgement errors and the people who make judgement errors need to be replaced, fired and no longer in a position to make these judgement calls.
"So we have a Review Board. The Review Board finds 64 different things we can change. A lot of them are common sense and can be done, but the question is, it’s a failure of leadership that they weren’t done in advance and 4 American lives were lost because of this. I’m glad that you are accepting responsibility. I think that ultimately with you leaving, you accept the culpability for the worst tragedy since 9/11, and I really mean that. Had I been President at the time, and I found that you did not read the cables from Benghazi, you did not read the cables from Ambassador Stevens, I would have relieved you of your post. I think it is inexcusable.
"The thing is, that we can understand you are not reading every cable. I can understand that maybe you are not aware of the cable from the Ambassador in Vienna that asks for $100,000 for an electrical charging station. I can understand that maybe you are not aware that your Department spent $100,000 on 3 comedians who went to India on a promotional tour called Make Chi, Not War, but I think you might be able to understand that you should be aware of the $80 million spent on a consulate in Mahshahr al-Sharif that will never be built.
"I think it’s inexcusable that you did not know about this [the growing danger in Benghazi] and that you did not read these cables. I think by anybody’s estimation, Libya has to be one of the hottest of hot spots around the world. Not to know of the requests for securities, really I think cost these people their lives. Their lives could have been saved had someone been more available, had someone been aware of these things, more on top of the job, and the thing is, I don’t suspect you of bad motives. The Review Board said, well these people weren’t willfully negligent. I don’t think you were willfully…I don’t suspect your motives for wanting to serve your country, but it was a failure of leadership not to be involved. It was a failure of leadership not to know these things, and so I think it is good that you are accepting responsibility, because no one else is. There is a certain amount of culpability to the worst tragedy since 9/11, and I’m glad you are accepting this."
Senator Paul then has the following exchange with Mrs. Clinton:
PAUL: "Is the United States involved with an procuring of weapons, transfer of weapons, buying, selling, anyhow transferring weapons to Turkey out of Libya?" CLINTON: "To Turkey? I will have to take that question for the record. Nobody’s ever raised that with me." PAUL: "It’s been in news reports that ships have been leaving from Libya and that they may have weapons, and what I would like to know is, the annex that was close by—were they involved with procuring, buying, selling weapons, and are these weapons being transfered to other countries? Any countries, Turkey included?" CLINTON: "Well, Senator, you’ll have to direct that question to the agency that ran the Annex. I will see what information is available…" PAUL: "You’re saying you don’t know?" CLINTON: "I do not know. I have no information on that."
On May 18, 2015, Fox News confirmed that according to a Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) memo, "U.S. Intelligence agencies were fully aware that weapons were moving from the terrorist stronghold in Libya to Syria before the [9/11/12] attack." As Fox reporter Catherine Herridge stated: "[A] DIA memo dated October 5th, 2012, leaves no doubt that U.S. Intelligence agencies were clearly aware lethal weapons were being shipped to Syria by the port of Benghazi.... The DIA memo reported that military stockpiles moving to Benghazi to Syrian ports. The shipments included rifles, RPGs and missiles."
Responses to Hillary Clinton's Testimony
* Information from an exchange between Eric Nordstrom, Gregory Hicks, and Rep. Jason Chaffetz, regarding Hillary Clinton's testimony about who made security decisions in Benghazi:
CHAFFETZ: When I saw Secretary Clinton four and a half months after the attack in Benghazi, testify before the United States Congress that she didn't make the security decisions, [that] you made the security decisions, Mr. Nordstrom. You're the regional security officer on the ground. You were the chief security person. You're the ones that made the security decisions. True of false? NORDSTROM: The response I got from the regional director, when I raised the issue that we were short of our standards for physical security was that my quote, “tone,” was not helpful. CHAFFETZ: Is it true or false: The security decisions on the ground in Libya were made by you. NORDSTROM: I would have liked to have thought, but apparently no. CHAFFETZ: Mr. Hicks, when you heard and saw that, did you have a reaction to it? What's your personal opinion? HICKS: When I was there, I was very frustrated by the situation – at times, even frightened by the threat scenario that we were looking at, relative to the resources that we had to try to mitigate that threat scenario. (Source: May 8, 2013 testimony before the House Committee on Oversight & Government Reform)
* Mrs. Clinton's testimony was also later contradicted by Eric Nordstrom's testimony before the House Committee on Oversight & Government Reform, when he had the following exchange with Rep. Jim Jordan:
JORDAN: Mr. Nordstrom you testified in October  there were 200 and some security incidents in Libya [during] the 13 months prior to the attack. Is that correct? NORDSTROM: That's correct. JORDAN: Repeated attempts to breach the facility there. You repeatedly asked for additional security personnel and it was denied. Correct? NORDSTROM: That's correct. JORDAN: Not only denied, but it was reduced. Correct? NORDSTROM: That's correct. JORDAN: And then four and a half months after it all happens, the Secretary of State says you were responsible for the security situation in Libya. (Source: May 8, 2013 testimony before the House Committee on Oversight & Government Reform)
Testimony of Leon Panetta and General Martin Dempsey
* February 7, 2013: Leon Panetta (Defense Secretary) and General Martin Dempsey (Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff) testify before the Senate Armed Services Committee as to what they know about the September 11, 2012 terrorist attack in Benghazi.
Senator Kelly Ayotte asks Panetta if President Obama ever contacted him subsequent to their 5 p.m. pre-scheduled meeting on September 11 (at which time they were already aware of the attack in Benghazi), and he replies, “No.”
Ayotte asks Panetta if anyone else from the White House called him after 5 p.m. on September 11, or if he contacted the White House after 5pm, and he replies “No” to both questions.
Ayotte asks Panetta if the President ever asked him, “Why weren’t we able to, in light of the second attack that occurred seven hours later, [send] armed assets there in order to help those who were left and attacked in the Annex?” Panetta replies, “The President has made very clear to both myself and General Dempsey that with regards to future threats, we have got to be able to deploy forces in a position where we can more rapidly respond.”
Ayotte asks Panetta: “Did he [Obama] ask you how long it would take to deploy assets, including armed aviation, to the area?” He replies, “No.”
Ayotte asks Panetta: “He [Obama] didn’t ask you what ability you had in the area and what we could do?” Panetta again replies, “No. I mean, he relied on both myself and Gen. Dempsey’s capabilities. He knows generally what we have deployed to the region; we’ve presented that to him in other briefings.”
Ayotte asks Panetta, “But just to be clear, that night he [Obama] didn’t ask you what assets we had available and how quickly they could respond and what we could do to help those individuals?” Panetta replies, “I think the biggest problem that night, Senator, was that nobody knew really what was going on there.”
Ayotte's final question is, “And there was no follow up in the night, at least from the White House directly?” Panetta replies, “No. No there wasn’t.”
* February 7, 2013: Key testimony by General Dempsey (exchange with Senator John McCain):
MCCAIN: “Did you ever get the [August 15, 2012] message that said they could not withstand a sustained on the Consulate?” DEMPSEY: “I was tracking that intelligence. I was tracking through General Ham…” MCCAIN: “Did you receive that information?” DEMPSEY: “I did and I saw it…” MCCAIN: “So it didn’t bother you?” DEMPSEY: “It bothered me a great deal.” MCCAIN: “Then why didn’t you put forces in place to be ready to respond?” DEMPSEY: “We never received the request to do so, number one and number two, we—” MCCAIN: “You never heard of the Ambassador Steven’s repeated warnings about the last [inaudible because of cross talk]” DEMPSEY: “I had, through General Ham. But we never received a request for support from the State Department which would have allowed us to put forces ... [inaudible b/c of cross talk]”
* February 7, 2013: Key testimony by Panetta and Dempsey together (exchange with Senator Ted Cruz):
CRUZ: “In between 9:42 pm Benghazi time, when the first attacks started, and 5:15 am, when Mr. Doherty and Mr. Woods lost their lives, what conversations did either of you have with Secretary Clinton?” PANETTA: “We did… We did not have any conversations with Secretary Clinton.” CRUZ: “So, and General Dempsey, the same is true, true for you?” DEMPSEY: [He nods his head in the affirmative.]
Panetta says that President Obama told him and General Dempsey to “do whatever you need to do to be able to protect our people there,” though when it came to specifics the president “left it up to us.”
This is highly significant, because, as radio host Mark Levin explains, only the President of the United States is authorized to order American troops to take any action requiring them to cross the border of a sovereign nation where they are not already stationed. In other words, the only assets that Panetta and Dempsey had at their disposal—absent such an order—were those few that were already stationed in Libya. Other U.S. assets in the region, such as a carrier group and fast-reaction forces based in the region (but outside Libya's borders). Says Levin:
"Only the President of the United States can authorize a cross-border operation, the sending of military forces into another nation. Bin Laden is a case in point. So only the President had the authority to order a military operation in Libya, in Benghazi. He didn't do it.
"A U.S. Navy carrier group was 300 miles off Libya's shore. Three hundred miles, that's all. Fast-moving jets could have easily been there in a little over an hour. They weren't sent.
"Livorno, Italy—where fast-reaction forces were located and alerted—is the same distance from Benghazi as Tripoli. They could have been there in less than two hours, from alert to boots-on-the-ground. Less than two hours. But they weren't ordered by the President of the United States.
"It's obvious from today's testimony by Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta ... that Obama did not authorize the cross-border military operation, meaning Obama lied to that local reporter [Kyle Clark, in Denver, on October 26, 2012]. The only asset Panetta and Dempsey had left to send was the seven-man Reaction Force from Tripoli."
After the Panetta/Dempsey Testimony
* February 14, 2013: In a letter to Congress, the White House acknowledges that President Obama made no phone calls on the night of the September 11, 2012 attacks on the U.S. mission in Benghazi.
* February 20, 2013: Contradicting the February 14th White House letter, White House press secretary Jay Carney says, “At about 10 pm [on 9/11/12], the President called Secretary Clinton to get an update on the situation.”
* March 25, 2013: The New York Times -- citing air traffic data, interviews with officials in a number of countries, and the accounts of rebel commanders -- reports that, contrary to previous denials by the Obama administration, the CIA in recent months has been working with Arab governments and Turkey to sharply increase the supply of arms shipments to Syrian rebels. Says the Times:
With help from the C.I.A., Arab governments and Turkey have sharply increased their military aid to Syria’s opposition fighters in recent months, expanding a secret airlift of arms and equipment for the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad, according to air traffic data, interviews with officials in several countries, and the accounts of rebel commanders.
The airlift, which began on a small scale in early 2012 and continued intermittently through last fall, expanded into a steady and much heavier flow late last year, the data shows. It has grown to include more than 160 military cargo flights by Jordanian, Saudi and Qatari military-style cargo planes landing at Esenboga Airport near Ankara, and, to a lesser degree, at other Turkish and Jordanian airports.
As it evolved, the airlift correlated with shifts in the war within Syria, as rebels drove Syria’s army from territory by the middle of last year. And even as the Obama administration has publicly refused to give more than “nonlethal” aid to the rebels, the involvement of the C.I.A. in the arms shipments — albeit mostly in a consultative role, American officials say — has shown that the United States is more willing to help its Arab allies support the lethal side of the civil war.
From offices at secret locations, American intelligence officers have helped the Arab governments shop for weapons, including a large procurement from Croatia, and have vetted rebel commanders and groups to determine who should receive the weapons as they arrive, according to American officials speaking on the condition of anonymity. The C.I.A. declined to comment on the shipments or its role in them....
Most of the cargo flights have occurred since November, after the presidential election in the United States and as the Turkish and Arab governments grew more frustrated by the rebels’ slow progress against Mr. Assad’s well-equipped military. The flights also became more frequent as the humanitarian crisis inside Syria deepened in the winter and cascades of refugees crossed into neighboring countries.
The Turkish government has had oversight over much of the program, down to affixing transponders to trucks ferrying the military goods through Turkey so it might monitor shipments as they move by land into Syria, officials said. The scale of shipments was very large, according to officials familiar with the pipeline and to an arms-trafficking investigator who assembled data on the cargo planes involved.
“A conservative estimate of the payload of these flights would be 3,500 tons of military equipment,” said Hugh Griffiths, of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, who monitors illicit arms transfers.
“The intensity and frequency of these flights,” he added, are “suggestive of a well-planned and coordinated clandestine military logistics operation.”
Although rebel commanders and the data indicate that Qatar and Saudi Arabia had been shipping military materials via Turkey to the opposition since early and late 2012, respectively, a major hurdle was removed late last fall after the Turkish government agreed to allow the pace of air shipments to accelerate, officials said....
The airlift to Syrian rebels began slowly. On Jan. 3, 2012, months after the crackdown by the Alawite-led government against antigovernment demonstrators had morphed into a military campaign, a pair of Qatar Emiri Air Force C-130 transport aircraft touched down in Istanbul, according to air traffic data.
They were a vanguard.
Weeks later, the Syrian Army besieged Homs, Syria’s third largest city. Artillery and tanks pounded neighborhoods. Ground forces moved in.
Across the country, the army and loyalist militias were trying to stamp out the rebellion with force — further infuriating Syria’s Sunni Arab majority, which was severely outgunned. The rebels called for international help, and more weapons.
By late midspring the first stream of cargo flights from an Arab state began, according to air traffic data and information from plane spotters.
On a string of nights from April 26 through May 4, a Qatari Air Force C-17 — a huge American-made cargo plane — made six landings in Turkey, at Esenboga Airport. By Aug. 8 the Qataris had made 14 more cargo flights. All came from Al Udeid Air Base in Qatar, a hub for American military logistics in the Middle East....
The former American official said David H. Petraeus, the C.I.A. director until November, had been instrumental in helping to get this aviation network moving and had prodded various countries to work together on it....
The American government became involved, the former American official said, in part because there was a sense that other states would arm the rebels anyhow. The C.I.A. role in facilitating the shipments, he said, gave the United States a degree of influence over the process, including trying to steer weapons away from Islamist groups and persuading donors to withhold portable antiaircraft missiles that might be used in future terrorist attacks on civilian aircraft.
* April 2013: Pat Smith, the mother of Sean Smith (the foreign service information-management officer who was killed in the Benghazi terrorist attack), reveals more about the Obama administration's failure to provide her with any substantive information about how and why her son died:
"My son himself told me that he warned them…. He said: ‘I told them, I sent messages’…. He was on the tele-type of whatever it is… he was on there telling them, just before it happened, and that the guy out there was taking pictures of the place. He was telling them that. He was a communications guy and he was communicating that.
"They [the Obama administration] don’t tell me much. They want me to shut up…. I was told, and I really would rather not say by who, [though] I can if you need it, but I was told that I’m causing a lot of problems and to shut up…. I told them ‘I will not! I will not shut up until I find out what really happened!’
"The President? I cried on his shoulder. And I was crying there and he’s patting me on the back and looking around to who he’s gonna talk to next. So I didn’t feel any comfort there. Hillary? I cried on her shoulder also, but she paid a little attention to me then walked off.
"That’s the reason I keep opening my mouth about it. I want someone to admit it so that it won’t happen again. So that there’s safety there."
* April 9, 2013: WorldNetDaily (WND) reports that more than 700 special operations veterans (belonging to a group called Special Operations Speaks) "are demanding that the House of Representatives convene a special committee to uncover the answers to lingering questions about the Benghazi terrorist attacks." “I don’t anything significant has been learned except that what is to be learned is of sufficient importance that the administration is pulling out all the stops to hide it,” says retired U.S. Navy captain and SEAL Larry Bailey, co-founder of Special Operations Speaks. Adds Bailey:
“The greatest indicator of culpability is the fact that the commander in chief, after having seen his troops under fire from a drone-mounted camera, after 30 minutes of being in the White House Situation Room, he excused himself and was never heard from since. He went to bed that night and got up the next morning and flew to Las Vegas for a fundraiser and never once – and this is according to [former Defense Secretary Leon] Panetta and Hillary Clinton – never once called back to check and see how things were going. The guilt issue comes when the culpability is covered up, and that’s where we’re coming from. We know the culpability is there, but we have not begun to get our claws into the guilt issue, but we will....
“It was so easy to get people to sign the petition [for a special committee]. We got 700 names right away, all the way from four-star generals down to guys who were privates in the Army and didn’t do a career in the Army, but they were special operations and they’re part of our brotherhood. It just breaks your heart to hear about those two guys living for seven hours and fighting for seven hours and knowing they could have been rescued at any time during that time. Knowing that there were aircraft somewhere in the area, and knowing that there were ships not too far away and knowing that there were rescue teams within a reasonable distance, they could have been rescued. They went to the sound of the guns. They were saving people, but they couldn’t be saved themselves because of the ineptitude or the political chicanery of an administration that doesn’t even care about the military.”
Bailey also complains that the survivors of the 9/11/12 attack have been forced to sign nondisclosure agreements.
Benghazigate Congressional Report: Obama Administration Lied About Video; Hillary Clinton Knew About Inadequate Security
• "Reductions of security levels prior to the attacks in Benghazi were approved at the highest levels of the State Department, up to and including Secretary Clinton. This fact contradicts her [Mrs. Clinton's] testimony before the House Foreign Affairs Committee on January 23, 2013."
• "In the days following the attacks, White House and senior State Department officials altered accurate talking points drafted by the Intelligence Community in order to protect the State Department."
• "Contrary to Administration rhetoric, the talking points were not edited to protect classified information. Concern for classified information is never mentioned in email traffic among senior Administrationofficials."
The report makes a clear case that Hillary Clinton knew the situation in Benghazi and chose to weaken security while far larger sums of money were being spent elsewhere by the State Department:
• "Repeated requests for additional security were denied at the highest levels of the State Department. For example, an April 2012 State Department cable bearing Secretary Hillary Clinton’s signature acknowledged then-Ambassador Cretz’s formal request for additional security assets but ordered the withdrawal of security elements to proceed as planned."
• "The attacks were not the result of a failure by the Intelligence Community (IC) to recognize or communicate the threat. The IC collected considerable information about the threats in the region, and disseminated regular assessments to senior U.S. officials warning of the deteriorating security environment in Benghazi, which included threats to American interests, facilities, and personnel."
• "In addition, the April 2012 cable from Secretary Clinton recommended that the State Department’s Bureau of Diplomatic Security and the U.S. Mission in Libya conduct a 'joint reassessment of the number of DS agents requested for Benghazi.' This prompted one frustrated Embassy Tripoli employee to remark to her colleagues that it 'looks like no movement on the full complement of [five DS] personnel for Benghazi, but rather a reassessment to bring the numbers lower.'"
Furthermore, the report points to a lack of preparation by the White House and its centralized national security framework:
• "The President, as Commander-in-Chief, failed to proactively anticipate the significance of September 11 and provide the Department of Defense with the authority to launch offensive operations beyond self-defense. Defense Department assets were correctly positioned for the general threat across the region, but the assets were not authorized at an alert posture to launch offensive operations beyond self-defense, and were provided no notice to defend diplomatic facilities."
The report addresses the fumbled cover-up and incompetent response in the aftermath of the attacks:
• "The Administration willfully perpetuated a deliberately misleading and incomplete narrative that the attacks evolved from a political demonstration caused by a YouTube video. U.S. officials on the ground reported – and video evidence confirms – that demonstrations outside the Benghazi Mission did not occur and that the incident began with an armed attack on the facility. Senior Administration officials knowingly minimized the role played by al-Qa’ida-affiliated entities and other associated groups in the attacks, and decided to exclude from the discussion the previous attempts by extremists to attack U.S. persons or facilities in Libya."
• "Administration officials crafted and continued to rely on incomplete and misleading talking points. Specifically, after a White House Deputies Meeting on Saturday, September 15, 2012, the Administration altered the talking points to remove references to the likely participation of Islamic extremists in the attacks. The Administration also removed references to the threat of extremists linked to al-Qa’ida in Benghazi and eastern Libya, including information about at least five other attacks against foreign interests in Benghazi."
• "Senior State Department officials requested – and the White House approved – that the details of the threats, specifics of the previous attacks, and previous warnings be removed to insulate the Department from criticism that it ignored the threat environment in Benghazi."
• "Evidence rebuts Administration claims that the talking points were modified to protect classified information or to protect an investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). Email exchanges during the interagency process do not reveal any concern with protecting classified information. Additionally, the Bureau itself approved a version of the talking points with significantly more information about the attacks and previous threats than the version that the State Department requested. Thus, the claim that the State Department’s edits were made solely to protect that investigation is not credible."
• "The Administration’s decision to respond to the Benghazi attacks with an FBI investigation, rather than military or other intelligence resources, contributed to the government’s lack of candor about the nature of the attack."
• "Responding to the attacks with an FBI investigation significantly delayed U.S. access to key witnesses and evidence and undermined the government’s ability to bring those responsible for the attacks to justice in a timely manner."
The report includes a timeline of events and of the administration’s narrative and slams Obama’s determination to treat the attacks as criminal attacks, rather than acts of war:
• "Without significant progress in finding and questioning suspects, it appears that the decision to proceed with an FBI investigation – presumably with the intention of obtaining a criminal indictment in U.S. courts – was ill-advised. For instance, the United States responded to the attacks against U.S. embassies in Africa in the 1990s and against the U.S.S. Cole in 2000 with criminal investigations. On their own, those investigations failed to bring many of those responsible to justice and likely encouraged further terrorist activity. This approach is not the most effective method of responding to terrorist attacks against U.S. interests in foreign countries."
• "It was only after the September 11, 2001 attacks, when the United States responded to terrorism with military force, that the government successfully brought some of the perpetrators of those attacks and the previous attacks to justice. The Department of Defense offered to provide a U.S. military security team to accompany the FBI team. This option was not pursued. Terrorists are not deterred by criminal investigations. Because members of terrorist organizations that attack U.S. interests around the world are conducting more than a crime, they must be responded to accordingly to be thwarted."
After the Benghazigate Congressional Report
* May 4, 2013: Three career State Department officials—describing themselves as Benghazi "whistleblowers"—say they will testify the following week in a congressional hearing (conducted by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, chaired by California Republican Darrell Issa) examining the September 11, 2012 terrorist attacks. Those who will testify include:
Gregory N. Hicks, a foreign service officer and former Deputy Chief of Mission/Chargé d’Affairs in Libya
Former Marine Mark I. Thompson, acting Deputy Assistant Secretary for Counterterrorism for the State Department
Diplomatic security officer Eric Nordstrom, former Regional Security Officer in Libya.
Hicks and Thompson have not yet spoken publicly about the Benghazi attacks. Nordstrom previously testified before the committee in October 2012, when he spoke about the series of requests that he, along with Ambassador Stevens and others, had made seeking enhanced security at the Benghazi mission. Noting that the State Department had refused most of their requests, Nordstrom said, angrily: "[F]or me, the Taliban is on the inside of the [State Department] building."
* Early May 2013: Former U.S. Attorney Joe diGenova and his wife, Victoria Toensing (a former chief counsel to the Senate Intelligence Committee) announce that they are representing, pro bono, two career State Department "whistleblowers" who claim that their accounts about the Benghazi attacks were disregarded by the Accountability Review board convened by then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
Moreover, DiGenova and Toensing claim that their clients have faced threats from superior officers. “I'm not talking generally, I'm talking specifically about Benghazi — that people have been threatened,” Toensing said. “And not just the State Department; people have been threatened at the CIA…. It's frightening…. They're taking career people and making them well aware that their careers will be over.”
Testimony at the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Hearing
* May 8, 2013: The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee holds a hearing on the events of Sept. 11, 2012, in Benghazi, Libya. The witnesses are: (a) Gregory Hicks, foreign service officer and former Deputy Chief of Mission in Libya, who was stationed at the State Department residential compound in Tripoli on 9/11/12; he is also a Democrat who voted for Hillary Clinton in the 2008 presidential primary, and then for Barack Obama in the 2008 and 2012 general elections; (b) Mark Thompson, Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Counter-terrorism; and (c) Eric Nordstrom, diplomatic security officer.
To read key excerpts of the testimony that was presented during the May 8, 2013 hearing, click here. (NOTE: These excerpts have also been inserted in the various places where they belong in the timeline above, on this page.)
Benghazi Survivors Forced to Sign Non-Disclosure Agreements
* May 21, 2013: At a CIA ceremony honoring the Agency officials killed in the September 11, 2012 terrorist attacks in Benghazi, several CIA officers who survived those attacks are asked to sign non-disclosure agreements (NDAs)—despite the fact that they are: (a) leaving government service, and (b) still bound by previous NDAs which they signed. Both before and after the May 21st NDAs, intelligence officials adamantly deny that anyone affiliated with the CIA has been asked to sign nondisclosure agreements regarding the events in Benghazi.
* July 18, 2013 (Thursday): Congressman Frank Wolf, a Republican from Virginia, speaks on the House floor and reports that survivors of the Benghazi terror attack have been forced to sign non-disclosure agreements:
"On Tuesday I raised the question of why none of the Benghazi survivors, whether State Department, CIA, or private security contract employees have testified publicly before Congress.
"According to trusted sources that have contacted my office, many if not all of the survivors of the Benghazi attacks along with others at the Department of Defense, the CIA have been asked or directed to sign additional non-disclosure agreements about their involvement in the Benghazi attacks. Some of these new NDAs, as they call them, I have been told were signed as recently as this summer.
"It is worth noting that the Marine Corps Times yesterday reported that the Marine colonel whose task force was responsible for special operations in northern and western Africa at the time of the attack is still on active duty despite claims that he retired. And therefore could not be forced to testify before Congress.
"If these reports are accurate, this would be a stunning revelation to any member of Congress, any member of Congress that finds this out and also more importantly to the American people. It also raises serious concerns about the priority of the administration's efforts to silence those with knowledge of the Benghazi attack in response.
"So today I ask, how many federal employees, military personnel, or contractors have been asked to sign additional non-disclosure agreements by each agency? And do these non-disclosure agreements apply to those undercover or have non-covert State Department and Defense Department employees?
"I do not expect the Obama administration to be forthcoming with answers, but if this Congress, if this Congress does not ask for the information and compel its delivery, the American people will never learn the truth. Any federal employer employee or contractor who has been coerced and is silenced through a non-disclosure agreement should expect that Congress [will] ask to speak out on their behalf and compel their voice to be heard. That's why I, along with 159 of my colleagues, support a Select Committee to hold public hearings to learn the truth about what happened that night in Benghazi."
Selective Release of Photos of the Attack Scene
* June 2013: In response to two Freedom Of Information Act (FOIA) requests by the conservative watchdog group Judicial Watch, the State Department releases seven photos that were taken of the besieged diplomatic mission in Benghazi shortly after the attacks of 9/11/12. (In December 2012, and again in February 2013, Judicial Watch requested that the State Department turn over all the photos and videos it possessed of the besieged diplomatic mission.) It would later be discovered, in November 2013, that the State Department actually had many additional photos of the attack scene in its possession, but failed to make them available to Judicial Watch.)
Report: Dozens of CIA Operatives Were on the Ground in Benghazi on 9/11/12, and Seven Were Badly Wounded
* August 1, 2013: CNN's Jake Tapper issues an explosive report indicating that approximately 35 CIA operatives were on the ground in Benghazi when terrorists attacked the U.S. consulate on September 11, 2012. Some excerpts:
... Sources now tell CNN dozens of people working for the CIA were on the ground that night, and that the agency is going to great lengths to make sure whatever it was doing, remains a secret. CNN has learned the CIA is involved in what one source calls an unprecedented attempt to keep the spy agency's Benghazi secrets from ever leaking out.
Since January, some CIA operatives involved in the agency's missions in Libya, have been subjected to frequent, even monthly polygraph examinations, according to a source with deep inside knowledge of the agency's workings. The goal of the questioning, according to sources, is to find out if anyone is talking to the media or Congress.
It is being described as pure intimidation, with the threat that any unauthorized CIA employee who leaks information could face the end of his or her career....
"Agency employees typically are polygraphed every three to four years. Never more than that," said former CIA operative and CNN analyst Robert Baer.... "If somebody is being polygraphed every month, or every two months it's called an issue polygraph, and that means that the polygraph division suspects something, or they're looking for something, or they're on a fishing expedition. But it's absolutely not routine at all to be polygraphed monthly, or bi-monthly," said Baer....
Among the many secrets still yet to be told about the Benghazi mission, is just how many Americans were there the night of the attack. A source now tells CNN that number was 35, with as many as seven wounded, some seriously. While it is still not known how many of them were CIA, a source tells CNN that 21 Americans were working in the building known as the annex, believed to be run by the agency....
Speculation on Capitol Hill has included the possibility the U.S. agencies operating in Benghazi were secretly helping to move surface-to-air missiles out of Libya, through Turkey, and into the hands of Syrian rebels.
Fox News reports that seven of the CIA operatives who survived the Benghazi attacks were injured badly enough to warrant hospitalization; that one of them reportedly underwent a partial leg amputation; and that another suffered smoke inhalation and a possible brain injury.
* August 1, 2013: Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-South Carolina) states that the Obama Administration has been: (a) "not letting us talk with people who have the most amount of information" about the Benghazi attacks, and (b) "dispersing them around the country and changing their names."
* Summer 2013: Florida Rep. Bill Young speaks for 90 minutes with David Ubben, a U.S. diplomatic security agent who was severely injured in the Benghazi attack of 9/11/12. Ubben tells Young that the attackers were very well organized and obviously had inside information about the U.S. compound, as they were thoroughly familiar with its physical layout. Says Young:
"He [Ubben] confirmed this -- that it was a very well orchestrated, and well organized, almost a military operation, using military weapons and using military signals.... He emphasized the fact that it was a very, very military type of operation, they had knowledge of almost everything in the compound. They knew where the gasoline was, they knew where the generators were, they knew where the safe room was, they knew more than they should have about that compound....
"It was pretty well figured out, where everything was, where the doors were located, where the safe room was -- the whole thing.... He [Ubben] said that when the attack started, the Libyan security folks who were supposed to secure the compound, they ran. So, they were at the mercy of their own capabilities."
CIA Director John Brennan Deceives Congress Regarding Benghazi Survivors and the Non-Disclosure Letters
* September 3, 2013: In a letter to House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence chairman Mike Rogers, CIA director John Brennan responds to several specific questions that Rogers previously posed (in a letter dated August 2, 2013) regarding whether or not the CIA officers who survived the Benghazi attacks were subsequently subjected to polygraphs or required to sign non-disclosure agreements (NDAs). Posing and answering several questions as a means of responding to Rogers' queries, Brennan writes:
1. Has any officer, either staff of contractor, been forced to undergo any polygraph because of their presence or their participation in any activity related to Benghazi attacks?
2. Has any officer, either staff of contractor, been required to sign any non-disclosure agreement because of their presence at Benghazi or their participation in any activity related to the Benghazi attacks?
The Government's Betrayal of the Families of Those Killed in Benghazi
* September 15, 2013: Charles Woods -- the father of Tyrone Woods, one of the Navy SEALS who disobeyed orders and heroically rushed to the rescue of the Benghazi mission personnel and was abandoned without support on September 11, 2012 -- is asked by an interviewer to speak about President Obama's handling of the crisis. He replied:
"It’s a little late for that. I wish he [Obama] had taken the time the night of September 11, not to go to bed, not to go prepare to collect money in Las Vegas, but I wish he had taken time then to watch more of the video of the live time ambush attack and that I wish that he had sent the troops that everybody knows were available to rescue those people…
"In this case, there was no rescue attempt, no planes sent. In fact, Ty’s body was left on the tarmac for three hours and there wasn’t even an American plane sent to rescue or even take his body home. They had to commandeer a Libyan plane and didn’t even know where they would be taken in order to remove his body from the tarmac. Is that the way to treat an American hero?"
September 19, 2013: Parents of two of the Americans who were killed in Benghazi on 9/11/12 testify before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. Patricia Smith, mother of slain U.S. Foreign Service information officer Sean Smith, testifies that she met with President Obama, Vice President Biden, and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton the day the four Americans’ bodies were returned to the U.S. She also says that all three (Obama, Biden, and Clinton) -- as well as other senior administration officials -- lied to her about the cause of the attack:
“I was told a few things, and they were all lies. Obama, and Hillary, and Panetta, and Biden, and Susan [Rice] all came up to me at the casket ceremony. Every one of them came up to, gave me a big hug. And I asked them ‘What happened? Please tell me.’ And every one of them says, ‘It was the video.’ And we all know that it wasn’t the video. Even at at time they knew it wasn’t the video. So they all lied to me.”
Smith also says that all of the officials promised that they would “check up” on what happened and get back in touch with her. But that has not happened. “I don’t count,” Smith says, “the people of America don’t count. The only thing that counts is their own selves, and their own jobs.”
Charles Woods, father of slain Navy SEAL Tyrone Woods, also testifies. Among his remarks are the following:
“It’s been over a year since four brave Americans were tragically killed in Benghazi. And after one year we know very few answers. We’ve been asking for the last year. We don’t know much more than we did a year ago. Two of my heroes while growing up were John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King. Reverend King made the statement, that ‘Justice delayed is justice denied.’ It’s been over a year. We have no justice. We have very few truthful answers that have been provided.”
* November 18-20, 2013: The State Department belatedly releases dozens of never-before-published photographs of the immediate aftermath of the Benghazi terrorist attack, after weeks of inquiries by The Washington Times about the authenticity of photographs it received from a Welsh security contractor that had been assigned to the doomed U.S. mission.
The State Department photos show buildings and vehicles ablaze during the attack, ransacked offices, burned-out cars, and Arabic graffiti scrawled on walls.
“The new photos reveal a level of total devastation thoroughly belying Obama’s original cover story that the carnage was perpetrated by a bunch of random malcontents upset over an unpleasant video,” says Judicial Watch president Tom Fitton on November 20.
Senate Intelligence Committee Report on Benghazi
*January 13, 2014: A comprehensive report by the Senate Intelligence Committee definitively declares that individuals tied to Al Qaeda groups were involved in the 9/11/12 attack on the U.S. mission in Benghazi. While the report does not implicate Al Qaeda “core” -- whose leadership is believed to be in the Pakistan region -- it does implicate some of Al Qaeda's most influential branches, including Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). “Individuals affiliated with terrorist groups, including AQIM, Ansar al-Sharia, AQAP, and the Mohammad Jamal Network, participated in the September 11, 2012, attacks,” the report says.
The report contends that the attack was not “highly coordinated,” but rather “opportunistic” -- possibly organized in “short order” after protests over an anti-Islam film elsewhere in the Middle East. The report acknowledges, however, that there was no such protest (against the film) in Benghazi before the attack.
The Senate report also concludes that the attack was “preventable,” and that the Obama administration -- particularly the State and Defense departments -- failed to respond to “ample strategic warning[s]” by the intelligence community about the growing danger in Benghazi prior to September 11, 2012.
Further, the report cites the failure of the Obama administration to "bring the attackers to justice."
Newly Declassified Documents Give Insight into Benghazi Attacks
Hundreds of pages of declassified transcripts from the U.S. military's top commanders present a picture of a woefully ill-postured military force whose assets were not in a position to quickly respond to the Benghazi terror attack -- or other hot spots across Africa and the Middle East.
The 450 pages of newly declassified transcripts detail testimony from secret, closed hearings last year before Congress. They provide fresh insight into the military's decision-making that night from the very commanders who staged the rescue efforts, including the top commander in Africa at the time Gen. Carter Ham.
Among other details, they reveal gaps in the military's positioning of assets around the world.
For example, no attack aircraft were placed on high alert on Sept. 11, and the closest F-16 fighter planes to any of the trouble spots in North Africa were in Aviano, Italy. None were armed, and the closest air refuellers were positioned 10 hours away at a base in Great Britain.
No Defense Department AC-130 gunships were within a 10-hour flight to Libya, according to committee members who heard commanders' testimony over the past 15 months. And the commander's in-extremis force, which included a unit of 23 special operators who are used at the commander's discretion, were training in Croatia that day. They did not make it to a staging base in Sigonella, Italy, for another 19 hours after the attack began, according to committee members. ... [T]he commander of AFRICOM's Joint Special Operations Task Force for the Trans Sahara region, Col. George Bristol, admitted to the subcommittee on July 31 of last year that he believed there was an increased threat on Sept. 11 and was not comfortable with the military's force posture in North Africa. He expressed those concerns with members of his team in Libya. The transcript reads as follows:
REP. ROB WITTMAN: "In your professional opinion, based on that, were you somewhat uncomfortable maybe knowing about the threat that that was the posture then that was going to be there within that theater?"
BRISTOL: "Sir, I -- yes, and that wasn't the only country that I was worried about that."
... The new congressional testimony also shows that [General Carter Ham] was left out of White House-led discussions regarding preparedness and force posture on the eve of Sept. 11, despite White House assurances that then-counterterrorism adviser John Brennan had met for weeks with deputies and the nation's principal national security advisers to review "security measures" and force protection at home and abroad.
A White House press release on the eve of the Benghazi attack stated unequivocally: Brennan "convened numerous meetings," and the president and his national security principals discussed "steps taken to protect U.S. persons and facilities abroad." But according to Ham, whose area of operation came under attack, he was not asked what forces he had pre-positioned in the event of an attack and whether they were they sufficient.
[REP. MARTHA] ROBY: "So did anyone in DOD, the White House or national security staff, including Mr. Brennan, review the force posture with you?"
HAM: "Not personally with me. I did have a discussion with General Dempsey. ... I did not have a personal discussion with anyone at the national security staff."
And yet AFRICOM commanders were aware of a deteriorating security situation in Libya, and had discussions at the Defense secretary and Joint Chiefs level, following a visit to Libya in December 2011 by then-Defense Secretary Leon Panetta. Panetta and his aides noted the rise of violent militias and the lack of any Marine element at the U.S. Embassy in Tripoli. It is customary for the State Department to enlist the help of a Marine detachment to secure Embassy property and classified materials in most countries around the world. Ham and other Pentagon officials had offered to provide Ambassador Chris Stevens with Marines for the Embassy in Tripoli. One of the remaining questions is why the State Department did not accept the Pentagon offer. There were no U.S. Marines stationed anywhere in Libya on the night of the attack.
* February 12, 2014: Retired Air Force Lieutenant Colonel Randall Schmidt says that on the night of 9/11/12, “destroyers could have responded to the attack,” as well as “rapid reaction forces,” “armed predators,” and aircraft. “The point is there were enough forces to respond,” says Schmidt.
Newly Obtained Benghazi Emails Show White House Attempt to Protect Obama by Changing the Talking Points
* April 29, 2014: Previously unreleased internal Obama administration emails -- obtained by Judicial Watch via the Freedom of Information Act -- show that in the days following the 9/11/12 Benghazi terrorist attacks, the Obama administration worked feverishly to misrepresent the incident as nothing more than an unforeseeable and spontaneous reaction to an obscure Internet video, rather than a result of bad policy or lack of preparation by the administration. (This was contrary to all prior assertions by the White House, which had falsely claimed that it had played no role in formulating talking points, and that all relevant documents about Benghazi had already been turned over.)
Specifically, senior White House adviser Ben Rhodes sent emails to top White House officials such as David Plouffe and Jay Carney on September 15, 2012 -- just a day before Ambassador to the UN Susan Rice made her infamous appearances on five Sunday news programs discussing the attacks. In other words, Rice’s orders came from top Obama administration communications officials.
According to Rhodes's emails, Rice's “goal,” was “to underscore that these protests are rooted in an Internet video, and not a broader failure or policy. Rhodes's email also advised Rice to articulate that:
“[W]e’ve made our views on this video crystal clear. The United States government had nothing to do with it. We reject its message and its contents. We find it disgusting and reprehensible. But there is absolutely no justification at all for responding to this movie with violence. And we are working to make sure that people around the globe hear that message.”
Rhodes further instructed Rice to say something to the effect of: “I think that people have come to trust that President Obama provides leadership that is steady and statesmanlike. There are always going to be challenges that emerge around the world, and time and again, he has shown that we can meet them.”
Also contained in the 41 pages of documents obtained by Judicial Watch is a September 12, 2012 email from Payton Knopf, the former deputy spokesman at the U.S. Mission to the United Nations. In this email, Knopf informs Rice that senior officials have already concluded that the Benghazi attack was “complex” and planned in advance. Nevertheless, Rice went on television and insisted that the attacks were “spontaneous.”
The newly released cache of emails also confirm that in the following days, then-CIA Deputy Director Mike Morell heavily edited and altered the critical fact sheet that contained the agency's original talking points on the attacks. Says one email:
“The first draft apparently seemed unsuitable … because they seemed to encourage the reader to infer incorrectly that the CIA had warned about a specific attack on our embassy. Morell noted that these points were not good and he had taken a heavy hand to editing them. He noted that he would be happy to work with [then deputy chief of staff to Hillary Clinton] Jake Sullivan and Rhodes to develop appropriate talking points.”
Says Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton on April 29, 2014: “Now we know the Obama White House’s chief concern about the Benghazi attack was making sure that President Obama looked good. And these documents undermine the Obama administration’s narrative that it thought the Benghazi attack had something to do with protests or an Internet video. Given the explosive material in these documents, it is no surprise that we had to go to federal court to pry them loose from the Obama State Department."
* May 1, 2014: In an interview with Fox News reporter Bret Baier, Tommy Vietor, who was a National Security spokesman for the Obama administration at the time of the Benghazi attacks, says: "I was in the Situation Room that night, okay. We didn't know where the ambassador was definitively." When Baier asks Vietor whether the president himself was in the Situation Room, Vietor replies, "No." Soon thereafter, Vietor says that Obama was "in the White House."
*May 21, 2014: Five Congressional Democrats -- Elijah Cummings, Adam Smith, Adam Schiff, Linda Sanchez, and Tammy Duckworth -- are appointed by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi to join Republicans on the newly formed House Select Committee investigating Benghazi. The main motivation of the Democrats -- who have previously vowed not to participate in what they have depicted as an unnecessary political "witch hunt" -- is to protect Hillary Clinton’s reputation in particular, and the Obama administration’s in general.
According to “sources familiar with the conversations,” reports Politico, the Democrats' about-face regarding their own participation in the Committee hearings is due to the fact that Hillary Clinton recently informed them that she preferred that they participate rather than leave her open to unanswered “enemy fire” from House Republicans.
Even as Pelosi appoints her five colleagues to the panel, she dismisses the need for it. “The Republican obsession with Benghazi has not been about the victims, the families or the country,” she insists, adding that it is “not necessary” to participate in a “partisan exercise once again.”
“The creation of this committee is solely for propaganda, for politics,” says Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA). “It’s rather cheap, in my opinion, because after all the other committees held hearings and looked at the issue, and there was nothing there. But Republicans are trying to make a scandal where there is none.” Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-NY) notes that “even a kangaroo court would be better off with a defense attorney.” And panel member Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD) believes “Republicans will attack Hillary Clinton by any means necessary.”
* September 16, 2014: Former Deputy Secretary of State Raymond Maxwell reports that he witnessed -- in the basement of the State Department’s Foggy Bottom headquarters -- a Sunday meeting in which Cheryl Mills (Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s chief of staff) and Jake Sullivan (Clinton's deputy chief of staff) were overseeing and directing staffers who were busy culling through boxes and purging documents that might implicate Clinton or her top staffers in the Benghazi attacks. "When he arrived," reports Fox News, "Maxwell says he observed boxes and stacks of documents. He says a State Department office director, whom Maxwell described as close to Clinton’s top advisers, was there. His [Maxwell's] aide was also there, and though she worked for him, he [Maxwell] was not told of her Sunday file purging duties."
According to Maxwell: "She [the aide] told me, ‘Ray, we are to go through these stacks and pull out anything that might put anybody in the [Near Eastern Affairs] front office or the seventh floor in a bad light.’" ("Seventh floor" was State Department shorthand for then-Secretary of State Clinton and her principal advisers.) Adds Maxwell: “I asked her [the aide], ‘But isn’t that unethical?’ She responded, ‘Ray, those are our orders.’ ”
Following Maxwell's revelations, Republican congressman Jason Chaffetz says that Clinton’s team was clearly scrubbing documents before investigators could examine them. He tells Fox News: "They were essentially creating two piles: The things the Accountability Review Board and that Congress would see and anything else that would shed quote ‘bad light’ on Hillary Clinton and her senior management that they were put in a different pile and they were never to be seen." Chaffetz also says that Maxwell came to him and Congressman Trey Gowdy more than a year ago and told them the same story.
* November 21, 2014: The U.S. House of Representatives Permanent Select Committe on Intelligence releases its report on Benghazi. (Click here to read the full report.) Breitbart.com journalist John Sexton summarizes the report as follows:
After a two-year investigation, the bipartisan House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence released its report on Benghazi. The report contains a total of 17 findings, most of which focus on the behavior of the intelligence community. Some of the report's findings are at odds with reporting by major news organizations, including Fox, CNN, and the NY Times.
The following list provides excerpts from all 17 findings. Refer to the full report for the complete text.
1. There is no evidence of an intelligence failure. Prior to the Benghazi attacks, the CIA provided sufficient strategic warning of the deteriorating threat environment to U.S. decision-makers, including those at the State Department.
2. CIA provided sufficient security personnel, resources, and equipment to defend against the known terrorist threat and to enable CIA operations in Benghazi.
3. State Department security personnel, resources, and equipment were unable to counter the terrorist threat that day, and they required CIA assistance.
4. The CIA was not collecting and shipping arms from Libya to Syria.
5. A mixed group including members of al-Qa'ida in the lands of the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), al-Qa'ida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), al-Qa'ida in Iraq (AQI), the Muhammad Jamal Network (MJN), Ansar Al-Sharia (AAS), and Abu Abaydah Ibn Jarah Battalion (UJB) participated in the attacks, along with Qadafi loyalists.
6. Appropriate personnel on the ground in Benghazi made the decision to send CIA officers to rescue the State Department officers at the TMF.
7. Although some security officers voiced a greater urgency to depart for the TMF, no officer at CIA was ever told to stand down.
8. The decision to send CIA officers from Tripoli to Benghazi to rescue the Ambassador and bolster security of the U.S. personnel in Benghazi was a tactical decision appropriately made by the senior officers on the ground.
9. The Tripoli team's decision not to move to the hospital to retrieve Ambassador Stevens was based on the best intelligence at the time.
10. The CIA received all military support that was available. Neither the CIA nor DOD denied requests for air support. One CIA security officer requested a Spectre gunship that he believed was available, but his commanding officer did not relay the request because he correctly knew the gunship was not available.
11. Ambassador Rice's September 16 public statements about the existence of a protest, as well as some of the underlying intelligence reports, turned out to be inaccurate.
12. Deputy CIA Director Michael Morell made significant changes to the talking points.
13. CIA's Office of Public Affairs also made substantive changes to the talking points by removing the reference to "ties to al-Qa'ida" in the second bullet of the original draft.
14. Overall, the CIA could have placed more weight on eyewitness sources on the ground and should have challenged its initial assessments about the existence of a protest earlier.
15. CIA did not intimidate or prevent any officer from speaking to Congress or otherwise telling his story.
16. There is no evidence that the CIA conducted any unusual polygraph exams related to Benghazi.
17. While at times the agencies were slow to respond, ultimately the CIA, NCTC, FBI and other Executive Branch agencies fully cooperated with the Committee's investigation.
Like the previous Senate report, the House Intel report does place blame with the State Dept. for not heeding the frequent, albeit non-specific, warnings issued by the CIA about the deteriorating security situation in Libya.
The House report does knock down several claims surrounding the response to the attack, including that the military could have done more to respond (finding #10). But many of the report's findings are at odds with reports by large, credible news sources, including Fox News, CNN and the NY Times.
The report disputes that there was a delay in responding to the attack beyond what was required for CIA personnel to put on their gear (finding #7). That finding seems to be at odds with the statements of three men directly involved in the response, who told Fox News' Bret Baier that they were ready to go in five minutes and were explicitly told, "Stand down, you need to wait" by a supervisor they refer to as "Bob."
The finding that no undue pressure, polygraphs, or NDA's were used to silence CIA officers contradicts reporting by CNN. According to a CNNreport dated August 1, "Since January, some CIA operatives involved in the agency's missions in Libya have been subjected to frequent, even monthly polygraph examinations."
With regard to finding #4, multiple reports from the NY Times alleged that the CIA was involved in organizing an arms pipeline to move weapons from Libya to Turkey and Syria. No one claimed the CIA was directly funding this pipeline, only that it was tacitly involved.
As for the talking points, the House report finds they were indeed wrong but faults the CIA for the error, saying they did not place enough value on eyewitness testimony (finding #14) or challenge their early findings soon enough. The report does not mention that a separate set of talking points prepared for Susan Rice by the White House told her to emphasize that the attack was not the result of the President's foreign policy but of the internet video.
There remains some partisan disagreement confined to the appendices of the report. The majority staff faults the State Department for the security failure and faults the Obama administration for downplaying the apparent al Qaeda connections and emphasizing the spontaneous, video-caused attack to back up their campaign year claim al Qaeda was decimated. The minority disputes these assertions, even once again making the claim that the President called the attack an act of terror the following day.