There was a dispute among CIA operatives in Libya about going to help those under attack
CIA officers revealed a clash over how quickly they should go help the besieged US ambassador during the September 2012 attack on an outpost in Benghazi, in Libya, and a standing order for them to avoid violent encounters, according to a congressman and others who heard their private congressional testimony or were briefed on it.The story sounds plausible, but it does not explain why no combat aircraft were available since other stories have indicated the base in Italy had aircraft that could have helped. They reportedly already knew they were not going to get any help from the Libyans yet they wasted valuable time waiting for them. The big question is why were we so ill prepared for an attack we should have known was coming?
The Obama administration has been dogged by complaints that the White House, Pentagon and State Department may not have done enough before and during the attack to save US ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans who died, and by accusations that it later engaged in a cover-up.
One allegation was that US officials told the CIA to "stand down" and not go to the aid of the Americans. Top CIA and Defense and State Department officials have denied that. The testimony from the CIA officers and contractors who were in Libya on the night of 11 September 2012 bolsters those denials, but also sheds light on what may have led to the delay of up to 30 minutes to respond, according to the varying accounts.
None of those who testified said a quicker response would have saved the lives of Stevens and the communications specialist Sean Smith at the temporary diplomatic facility in Benghazi.
The senior CIA officers in charge in Libya that day told Congress of a chaotic scramble to aid Stevens and others who were in the outpost when it was attacked by militants on the 11th anniversary of the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001. Those CIA leaders decided they and their security contractor team should wait before rushing from their annex into the violence roughly a mile away. They said they were trying to first gather intelligence and round up Libyan militia allies armed with heavy weapons, according to the testimony by the CIA officers in charge. Some CIA security contractors disagreed with their bosses and wanted to move more quickly.
Republican Representative Lynn Westmoreland, who leads a House intelligence subcommittee that interviewed the employees, said he believes this disagreement was the source of allegations that the CIA ordered security personnel to "stand down" and not help the people inside the diplomatic mission, and perhaps was the source of accusations that the administration failed to answer a call from the CIA security team for combat aircraft.
One contractor testified that he shouted repeatedly over the agency's radio system to his CIA security boss that they should request combat aircraft. But the security chief explained to lawmakers that he ignored his subordinate's demands because he said he knew that no combat aircraft were available for such a mission, Westmoreland said.
Westmoreland said the CIA security contractors loaded into two vehicles, with weapons ready, the moment they heard the radio call for help from the diplomatic building. Some wanted to rush to the US compound, and their agitation grew as they heard increasing panic when the diplomats reported the militants were setting the compound on fire.
The CIA team leader and the CIA chief at the Benghazi annex told committee members that they were trying to gather Libyan allies and intelligence before racing into the fray, worried that they might be sending their security team into an ambush with little or no backup.
At least one of those security contractors, a former US army ranger, was told to "wait" at least twice, and he argued with his security team leader, according to his testimony that was related by Westmoreland. Westmoreland declined to share the names of the officers who testified because they are still CIA employees.