House Benghazi Report Details Military, Intelligence Failures
The U.S. military never attempted to deploy any assets or troops to Benghazi during the 13-hour attack on the American consulate in 2012, according to a supplemental report released by the House Select Committee on Benghazi on Tuesday morning.
Although Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta has said he ordered three support teams to deploy to Benghazi about two hours into the attack, the committee said it found no evidence that these forces were mobilized until hours after the attack ended. Military assets, such as fighter planes and armed drones never left the ground, according to the report.
“We are now convinced, contrary to the administration’s public claim that the military did not have time to get to Benghazi, that the administration never launched men or machines to help directly in the fight,” wrote Reps. Mike Pompeo (R., Kan.) and Jim Jordan (R., Ohio) in the analysis. “That is very different from what we have been told to date. And the evidence is compelling.”
The congressmen issued their assessment as a supplement to the long-awaited report by the Benghazi Committee. According to the analysis, the Obama administration was fixated on how to frame the Sept. 11, 2012, terrorist attack to the public, and spent little time trying to coordinate a military response while the attack was ongoing.
The attack took place less than two months before the 2012 presidential election. There were early indications the assault was planned—such as targeted mortar fire—but Obama administration officials initially linked it to spontaneous anti-American protests that had occurred the same day in Cairo.
Four Americans died in the 13-hour battle: U.S. Ambassador to Libya Chris Stevens, Foreign Service officer Sean Smith, and CIA contractors Tyrone Woods and Glen Doherty.
In the hours and days that followed the assault, Secretary Hillary Clinton, United Nations Ambassador Susan Rice, and other administration officials publicly suggested that the attack spontaneously spun out of a protest over an anti-Islam video.
Officials later blamed this erroneous assessment on conflicting intelligence and confusion during the attack. But diplomatic security agents who spoke to the committee said there were no signs or reports of protests on the ground and it was clear early on that they were facing a coordinated terrorist assault.
The House Benghazi Committee, led by Chairman Trey Gowdy (R., S.C.), has interviewed nearly 100 witnesses and reviewed over 75,000 pages of documents as part of its investigation into the attack.
The committee’s report relied on testimony that diplomatic security agents at the compound gave to the committee. One of the agents said there was “Zip, nothing, nada” to indicate that there were protests in Benghazi leading up to the attack. Another agent who said there was no sign of protesters was also providing dispatches to Washington “every 15 to 30 minutes throughout the night—giving the State Department virtually a front row seat to the attack.”
Other security officials said there were signs of growing threats in Benghazi in the months leading up to the attack. Nine months earlier, one diplomatic security officer testified that he told a State Department security desk officer shortly after arriving in Benghazi that his trip there “was a suicide mission; that there was a very good chance that everybody here was going to die; that there was absolutely no ability here to prevent an attack whatever.”
The desk officer in Washington reportedly responded that “everybody back here in D.C. knows that people are going to die in Benghazi, and nobody cares and nobody is going to care until somebody does die.”
But according to committee testimony from security officers, there was pressure from Washington for the outpost to remain open in Benghazi and for Ambassador Chris Stevens to bring the State Department a “deliverable”—a permanent consulate in Benghazi.
The report also referred to an internal State Department talking points memo, which was circulated by a public relations officer on September 17, 2012. The document said officials “have not yet seen any signs that the attack on our consulate in Benghazi was other than premeditated or coordinated.” But in the draft obtained by the Benghazi committee, there were strike marks through words “premeditated or coordinated” and they were replaced by the word “spontaneous.”
According to Reps. Pompeo and Jordan, the document suggests that the State Department changed its public comments to reflect UN Ambassador Rice’s televised claim that the attack was “spontaneous.”
“No one asked about it could explain the change,” wrote the congressmen. “The change—from the truth to a known false statement—is troubling.”
Democrats on the Benghazi Committee, who have been critical of the investigation, released their own report blasting Gowdy on Monday.
They accused the committee chairman of “trying to land a front-page conviction rather than a neutral judge of facts seeking to improve the security of our diplomatic corps.”
A spokesperson for Gowdy responded by accusing Democrats of failing to participate in the committee’s investigation and obstructing it in order to defend Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.
“As Chairman Gowdy has said, this is not about one person,” said spokesman Matt Wolking. “This investigation is about the four brave Americans we lost in Libya: Chris Stevens, Sean Smith, Tyrone Woods, and Glen Doherty. That is how the Majority has conducted its thorough investigation, and we look forward to revealing the new information we have uncovered to the families and the American people.”
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