Mark Baisley

Most members of the White House press corps have been more comfortable talking to their children about sex than reporting to the American public on the topic of Benghazi.  But suddenly this week, the matter rose to the level of a joke in Jay Leno’s Tonight Show monologue: “Today at a press conference, even a non-Fox reporter asked about Benghazi.”

Eight months of information is now being unloaded all at once to the conventional media audience.  And those of us who are old enough to remember the good old days of Watergate realize just how confusing these things can be.  So to bring everyone up to speed, I offer the following three levels of explanation.

CliffsNotes Summary

On September 11, 2012, a Muslim terrorist group stormed the American embassy outpost in Benghazi, Libya.  Four Americans were killed, including the United States Ambassador to Libya, Chris Stevens.  On the day of the year that radical Islamists are known to celebrate jihad against the United States, the Ambassador was curiously 400 miles away from the fortified American Embassy to Libya in the capital city of Tripoli.

During the eight-hour siege, the only military asset that was afforded to the outpost in Benghazi was a loitering drone that could stream live video back to the Commander-in-chief.  A special forces team, anxious to respond, was ordered twice to “Stand down.”

In the days following the attack, the Obama Administration enlisted Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and United States Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice in an international publicity spin.  The attack was depicted as a spontaneous and righteous uprising in direct response to an amateur video from California called Innocence of Muslims, which can still be seen on YouTube (To watch the short, click HERE).

While the video has long been dismissed as unrelated to the Benghazi assault, the Obama Administration has curiously imprisoned the filmmaker and punished every government employee who challenges this odd cover story.  The American public, Congressional Republicans and now, finally, the White House press corps are asking “What the Hell?”

Wonkish Narrative

According to testimony, Ambassador Stevens had traveled to Benghazi at the direction of his boss, Secretary Hillary Clinton.  This Benghazi “consulate” also provided cover for the nearby covert CIA “annex” that monitored local Islamist militant operations.  The most powerful of those local Islamist militant groups is Ansar al-Shariah, which wields more control over the Benghazi area than does the Libyan government.  At 8:00PM, about 150 members of Ansar al-Shariah began the process of isolating the compound with roadblocks enforced by truck-mounted machine guns.

At 9:40PM, seven Americans were in the compound when it was attacked.  The five American diplomatic security agents assigned to the consulate used small arms against the overwhelming assault by Ansar al-Shariah fighters.  Agent David Ubben quickly ushered Ambassador Stevens and Information Management Officer Sean Smith to a caged safe room inside the residence building.

At about 9:45PM, the Embassy in Tripoli receives word of the attack in Benghazi.  Greg Hicks, the second-highest ranking American diplomat in Libya, spoke via cell phone with his boss, Ambassador Stevens who described the attack underway.  After the cell phone connection with Stevens drops, Hicks notifies the State Department Operations Center in Washington and communicates with the CIA Annex in Benghazi.  He then telephones the Libyan government to request military help.

Frustrated by the locked metal bars, Ansar al-Shariah fighters doused the residence building with diesel fuel and set it ablaze.  A U.S. Predator drone was quickly reassigned to observe the events from above.  The drone arrived overhead at 11:11PM.  Within the first hour of the assault, six Americans security agents supported by sixteen Libyan militants from the CIA annex arrived at the compound to engage the Ansar al-Shariah fighters.

With the Libyan militants forming a protective perimeter around the residence, the American security agents heroically crawled through the burning building in an attempt to rescue the Ambassador and his Information Management Officer.  Sean Smith is discovered dead, but Christopher Stevens could not be found.  As the militants’ perimeter collapsed, the American agents fled towards the annex one mile away through a hail of gunfire and explosions.

In a bullet-ridden car on two flat tires, the Americans made their way through the obstacles set up by Ansar al-Shariah.  While they carried the body of Information Management Officer Sean Smith, the whereabouts of Ambassador Stevens remained unknown.  The Ansar al-Shariah fighters followed the Americans to the CIA annex compound where some American agents took positions on the roofs.  The CIA facility was attacked sporadically with gun fire and a rocket propelled grenade until about 1:30AM when the fighting seemed to end.

At 12:30AM, intercepted Twitter feeds revealed that Ansar al-Shariah is not only leading the attack on the consulate in Benghazi, but also conveyed their intent to attack the Embassy in Tripoli.  This information prompts Hicks to initiate the process of evacuating the Embassy and destroying communications equipment.

Back in Washington, D.C., a former Marine named Mark Thompson was analyzing the situation from his desk at the State Department.  Thompson’s title is Bureau of Counter Terrorism, Leader Foreign Emergency Support Team.  Thompson conveyed to the White House his recommendation to deploy his team to Libya using a standby aircraft designed for just this type of emergency.  The response to Thompson was that such a mission was, “not the right time and it was not the team that needed to go right then.”

Greg Hicks requested military air support, recommending that a fighter jet flyover may disperse those who were attacking the annex.  The response to Hicks’ request was that the nearest fighter jets were too far away to make the trip on a single tank of fuel and that no tankers were available for in-flight refueling.

The one organization that did respond with reinforcements was the CIA.  A “hastily chartered aircraft” leaves Tripoli after midnight carrying a CIA case officer who is accompanied by four contract security personnel and two American military personnel.  They arrive at Benghazi International Airport at 1:15AM, but do not depart for the CIA annex until 4:30AM.  According to the published CIA timeline, “The delay is caused by negotiations with Libyan authorities over permission to leave the airport.”

Hicks persuaded the Libyan government to add one of their military transport planes from Tripoli to Benghazi to assist in the evacuation of Americans holed up at the annex.  The plane would carry Libyan troops, as well as the four American special forces personnel from the Embassy in Tripoli.  That plane left without the Americans when an order was received from military higher-ups that the special forces were not authorized to leave Tripoli.

At 2:00AM, Greg Hicks provides an update to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and her staff.  Unbeknownst to Hicks, Ambassador Christopher Stevens had already been found dead by locals who sought to loot the embassy compound.  Thinking he may yet be alive, they drove him to a medical center where doctors tried unsuccessfully to revive him from the effects of smoke asphyxiation.  At 3:00AM, Hicks receives a call from the Libyan Prime Minister, informing him of Stevens’ death.  Hicks forwards the bad news to Washington.

When the Tripoli team finally arrives at the annex, it is 5:00AM.  While there has been no weapon fire for four hours, the Ansar al-Shariah fighters have taken advantage of the lull to position rifles and mortars.  The attack resumes and former Navy Seals Glen Doherty and Tyrone Woods are killed in their positions on the roof by well-placed mortars.  By 5:26AM, the battle ends.  Thirty-five minutes later, according to the CIA timeline, “Libyan forces from the military intelligence service finally arrive, now with 50 vehicles. They escort the Americans to the airport… and then the long flight back to America.”

Beginning September 16, 2012, the Obama Administration fielded Susan Rice, the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, on five national television interviews including Face The Nation.  The Benghazi attack was depicted as a spontaneous and righteous Muslim response to the amateur video from California.  When asked for his reaction to the televised assertions from Rice, Greg Hicks responded, “I was stunned.  My jaw dropped and I was embarrassed.”

In the weeks that followed, the Obama Administration’s open praise of acting Ambassador Greg Hicks turned into paranoid disdain.  During a phone call with Secretary Clinton’s attorney and Chief of Staff Cheryl Mills, Hicks expressed his concerns regarding the video cover story.  Mills made it clear that Hicks ought not to be asking such questions.

Soon after, a congressional delegation visited Libya to investigate the events of September 11. Cheryl Mills gave specific instructions to Hicks that he and others were not to allow themselves to be interviewed by the congressional delegation. Mills sent a State Department lawyer along with the delegation to keep an eye on things.  When the lawyer was disinvited from the delegation for a classified briefing, Mills was infuriated.  Greg Hicks was quickly demoted and reassigned stateside.

Conspiracy Theories

The September 11 attacks took place in the heat of the presidential election season.  Most Republicans and zero Democrats believe that the video cover was intended to convince voters that George W’s war with Islam had been long ago settled by the panache of Barack Obama.

While the Obama / Clinton machines set about propagandizing the California video story, the President of Libya and Assistant Secretary of State Beth Jones both posted communications that the incident was actually a terrorist attack by Ansar al-Shariah.

Whitehouse Spokesman Jay Carney recently spent the most miserable 90 minutes of his career trying to explain to a rejuvenated White House press corps exactly how the original public talking points were edited down to an abridged paragraph that could accommodate the Obama campaign’s cover story.

CIA Director David Petraeus at first seemed to concur with the California video story.  Soon after, however, his agency published timelines that only supported a planned and effective terrorist attack.  Within weeks, Petraeus resigns over the news of an extramarital affair.  Some rumor that the Administration held this information over Petraeus’ head.  Others contend that Petraeus outed himself and intends to play one more chess move under congressional oath.

The most elaborate conspiracy theory is that Ambassador Stevens was set up to die or get kidnapped.  He was directed by Assistant Secretary of State Beth Jones to work out of the consulate on a flare-up day like September 11.  Only the Secretary of State has the authority to approve occupancy of a consulate like Benghazi that did not meet the legal security standards.

Until July of 2012, the Embassy in Tripoli was defended by fourteen American Special Forces personnel.  In a curious statement during congressional testimony, Greg Hicks described how that presence was drawn down to four troops in response to a carjack attempt.  And while those four specialists were ordered twice to not respond to the Benghazi attack, the Pentagon maintains to this day, through Spokesman Major Robert Firman that, “There was never any kind of stand-down order to anybody.”

The reason given for never attempting to send military air power is that they would not arrive in Benghazi in time to make a difference.  This would only make sense if they knew in advance how long the attack would last.

Four Americans died, several others were injured, a crucial CIA watch post was abandoned, and Susan Rice and Hillary Clinton have risked their political futures.  But Obama did get re-elected, so I guess the investment paid off as planned.  Sure, there is an extraordinary amount of clean up now.  But Hillary Clinton conveyed the revealing attitude for Congress with her insightful question, “What difference, at this point, does it make?”  This was followed by Jay Carney’s telling perspective on the Benghazi attack, “That was a long time ago.”  Until the Democrats come clean with the truth, the conspiracies will continue to germinate.


Mark Baisley

Mark Baisley is a security and intelligence professional