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Intelligence Perspective on Benghazi

Perspective on Benghazi

By Intelligence Operative Jay Holmes*

Image of burning US Consulate in Benghazi by Voice of America employee, public domain.

On September 11, 2012, Islamic terrorists attacked the US Consulate in Benghazi. They murdered US Ambassador to Libya Christopher Stevens and three other Americans during the attack. We extend our condolences to the loved ones of those four Americans who lost their lives in service to their country.

Within twenty-four hours of the attack, both President Obama and Secretary of State Hilary Clinton stated that the incident was not a terrorist attack, but rather a spontaneous assault carried out by angry Libyans who were protesting against an anti-Islamic video produced by an Egyptian expatriate in the US.

In the weeks since the attack, the White House and State Department told the public, contrary to their original statements, that the attacks were an organized assault carried out by international terrorists. The public, along with the families of the four dead Americans, are questioning why a US Consulate in a well known danger spot like Benghazi was left with so little security.

The administration is still repeating the mantra that “the attack was unprecedented.” Apparently, these youngsters remain unaware of the November 1979 attack on the US Embassy in Tehran. Note to Self: Send son’s middle school textbook and DVD of Argo to White House.

Within days of the attack, the public learned that Ambassador Stevens had endorsed the Benghazi Consulate’s requests for increased security and passed them on to Washington. We know that request made it as far as Secretary of State Hilary Clinton. I’m not yet certain if the request made it to President Obama’s desk. However, the White House, with the cooperation of the major media outlets, played down the allegations that security was denied from the top and claimed that the lack of security was caused instead by “Republican budget cuts” of State Department security funds. The White House also claimed that “all the intelligence” indicated there was no need for increased security.

I found both of these statements worrisome because as political hot air goes, they seem fairly flimsy and desperate. After decades of listening to the statements issued forth from our various administrations, I know that often times that sort of flimsiness in White House denials indicates a concern for brewing scandals.

Most Americans are aware that all federal budgets and omnibus spending bills require the final approval of the US President so the budget excuse was at best nonsensical, and at worst an indication of deeper troubles. As for “all the intelligence” which indicated no need for increased security, the White House and the Secretary of State were both aware of two failed bombing attempts against the Benghazi Consulate that occurred April 6 and June 2, only a few months before the successful September 11 attack.

On October 26, FOX News broke an exclusive story that quoted sources from within the CIA who were involved in the rescue of US consulate staff. According to those CIA sources, CIA personnel requested military assistance three specific times during the attack and were denied.

Originally, this denial was blamed on Defense Secretary Leon Panetta alone. We now know that Panetta was in a meeting with President Obama, Vice President Biden, and National Security Advisor Thomas Donilan approximately one hour after the start of the attack. This was hours before the third denial of assistance and well before at least two of our Americans were killed. I can’t imagine Panetta would not have mentioned the ongoing assault to our nation’s two top officials and requested their input since they were, after all, sitting in the same room as a drone fed real time imagery to the White House. If he did not mention it, one has to wonder what, exactly, was more important to them at that moment.

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta responded to the FOX News piece by claiming that he and the president lacked enough information to justify sending US troops “into harms way.” This response doesn’t explain why he and the president were willing to leave the US personnel in Benghazi in harm’s way by denying them assistance from the massive US military assets in the Mediterranean.

These assets included two combat-ready Air Mobile/Airborne Special Forces teams close to Libya on call in Italy, and the powerful Naval Air and Marine forces of the US Navy’s Sixth Fleet, including the Sixth Fleet drone capability. Fighter strikes from Italy could have been accomplished within, at most, an hour and a half of the start of the incident. Also, with minimal air support, our people could have been evacuated more easily and safely.

Panetta’s claim that the administration lacked “enough information” is inconsistent with the fact that they knew about two prior bombing attacks on the Benghazi Consulate, and it is a direct contradiction of the fact that they received real time imagery from the drone on site. It is also a direct contradiction of the fact that eight US security personnel were sent by charter plane from Tripoli to rescue the Benghazi staff during the incident. How is it that the administration had enough information to send the team from Tripoli, but not enough information to employ any of the vast military assets that were available and may have saved some of the American lives lost in the attack and the ensuing rescue operation?

CIA sources also said CIA employee Tyrone Woods used a laser to illuminate a terrorist mortar team that was firing on the Consulate. As an ex-Navy SEAL, Woods would not have exposed his laser by illuminating a target unless he expected an air unit such as an armed drone, Navy F/A-18, or an Air Force Spectre gun ship to fire on the target right away. Permission for that fire would have come from Commander of Forces in Africa US Army General Carter Ham or any of his superiors, such as Defense Secretary Panetta or President Obama. Revocation of that permission, which Woods apparently had reason to believe was issued, could only have come from those same people, as well.

Sensibly, some members of the press have turned to the CIA for answers. Of course, asking the CIA questions when you are not the president or a member of a Congressional Intelligence Committee can lead to less than satisfying results. So far, the CIA has skillfully managed to strongly deny all of the allegations that have not been made.

In the long and proud CIA tradition of honestly answering anything but the question being asked, CIA Director General David Petraeus sternly denies that the CIA failed to respond to calls for help from the Benghazi Consulate. He does not, however, confirm or deny what requests for military assistance were made by CIA personnel in Benghazi. Thanks Dave. That really clarifies things. Keep up the good work.

Most press members know better than to ask questions of the NSA. The NSA might well have recordings of all the relevant communications from and to Benghazi, but getting that out of the NSA would be more difficult than mining diamonds on Pluto.

So far, the president has dodged the questions raised by the FOX News story by simply saying what amounts to, “I never did that.” He has left any other talking to Panetta.

Panetta claims that questions being asked “amount to Monday morning quarterbacking.” This answer is convenient for him and the Obama administration, and it is being well received by the Democratic Party faithful. But those voters who feel less constrained in their political choices might not find Panetta’s response an adequate substitution for an explanation or accountability, and the fact is that no presidential candidate can be elected solely by the votes of their party’s faithful. For either Romney or Obama to win the election, they will need the votes of those Americans who are willing to vote without regard for the labels “Democrat,” “Republican,” “liberal,” “progressive,” or “conservative.”

Based on the information thus far available, it appears the administration decided to respond to the attack on the US Consulate in Benghazi with as minimal response as possible. I suspect this has everything to do with the fact that Obama was reluctant to initiate military activity on a new front so close to the election when so much of his base is anti-war under all circumstances. His minimalist approach turned out to be a bad guess, and it is now becoming clear to the public that said guess was made against the advice of his people on the ground.

Naturally, the president may be reluctant to be seen as expanding military operations into new areas, but the message he sent with his non-action was that Americans will not act militarily to protect their own on foreign soil. This is no doubt extremely encouraging to all of our terrorist enemies, as well as to the Iranian government as it rapidly approaches nuclear capability.

With time and a little interest from members of Congress, more facts will surface and a clearer picture will emerge. How much time that will take is a key question. On November 6, the administration might realize the benefits of its strategy of dodging questions concerning the Benghazi debacle, but the questions are significant enough to lose Obama some votes. In fact, the President might find himself back in the community organizing business next January.

What happened in Benghazi matters. It matters to the families; it matters to our Americans abroad; it matters to our enemies; it matters to the public, and it matters to our political future as a nation. How much it matters to the election, however, will depend on the reaction of those Americans who will vote independently this November.

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*‘Jay Holmes’, is an intelligence veteran of the Cold War and remains an anonymous member of the intelligence community. His writing partner, Piper Bayard, is the public face of their partnership.

Bayard & Holmes blog at Bayard & Holmes. You may contact them in blog comments, on Twitter at@piperbayard, on Facebook at Piper Bayard, or by email at piperbayard@yahoo.com

© 2012 Jay Holmes. All content on this page is protected by copyright. If you would like to use any part of this, please contact us at the above links to request permission.


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