Commentary Magazine


Intel Officials Push Back on Fox Story

The Associated Press reports that intelligence officials are pushing back on the Fox News story from last week, which reported that CIA officials in Washington told its officers in Benghazi to stand down when the attack on the consulate began, and that requests from security officers for military support were rejected:

According to the detailed timeline senior officials laid out Thursday, the first call to the CIA base came in at about 9:40 p.m., and less than 25 minutes later about the team headed to the consulate. En route they tried to get additional assistance, including some heavier weapons, but were unable to get much aid from the Libyan militias. 

The team finally got to the consulate, which was engulfed in heavy diesel smoke and flames, and they went in to get the consulate staff out. By 11:30 p.m., all of the U.S. personnel, except Stevens, left and drove back to the annex, with some taking fire from militants along the way.

By that time, one of the Defense Department’s unarmed Predator drones had arrived to provide overhead surveillance. … 

The second CIA team headed to the annex, and arrived after 5 a.m., just before the base came under attack again.

That’s not military support; it’s CIA support. We already knew there was a second CIA security team sent in. The question is, who denied military backup? Fox reported that the security officers on the ground were asking for Spectre gunships and air support. The intelligence officers pushing back on the Fox story didn’t deny that these requests were made — in fact, they didn’t even mention them in the AP story at all. 

AP also reports that the Pentagon had moved assets into place in Sicily, but couldn’t move them in without a request from the State Department and a green light from the Libyan transitional government:

As the events were unfolding, the Pentagon began to move special operations forces from Europe to Sigonella Naval Air Station in Sicily. U.S. aircraft routinely fly in and out of Sigonella and there are also fighter jets based in Aviano, Italy. But while the U.S. military was at a heightened state of alert because of 9/11, there were no American forces poised and ready to move immediately into Benghazi when the attack began. 

The Pentagon would not send forces or aircraft into Libya — a sovereign nation — without a request from the State Department and the knowledge or consent of the host country. And Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has said the information coming in was too jumbled to risk U.S. troops.

The timeline provided to the AP doesn’t contradict the crux of the Fox News report. Requests for military backup were made, and they were denied. The question is, who denied it? Did Panetta make the decision or the State Department? Was the Libyan government contacted about this, and did they reject it?

The White House also says President Obama ordered troops into the region in preparation for an intervention shortly after the attack began. Obviously, he would have the final say over the State Department and the Libyan government if he wanted to send them into Benghazi. Was he given updates on the situation, and told about the requests? If not, why not? If so, what was his response?