In a report leaked to the Washington Post‘s David Ignatius, a liberal reporter at the Obama administration’s favorite newspaper, a “senior intelligence official” laid out the supposed timeline of events during the attack on the US consulate in Benghazi. The timeline presents more questions than it answers.
●9:40 p.m.: A senior State Department security officer at the consulate in Benghazi called the CIA base, at an annex about a mile away, and requested assistance. “The compound is under attack. People are moving through the gates.” CIA officers at the base can hear the alarm, and a team immediately begins gathering weapons and preparing to leave.
●10:04 p.m.: A seven-person rescue squad from the agency’s Global Response Staff (GRS) leaves in two vehicles. The team leader is a career CIA officer and includes a contractor named Tyrone Woods, who later died. During the previous 24-minute interval, the CIA base chief calls the February 17 Brigade, other militias and the Libyan intelligence service seeking vehicles with 50-caliber machine guns. Nobody responds. The team leader and the base chief agree at 10:04 that they can’t wait any longer and head for the consulate.
The senior intelligence official said that he doesn’t know whether Woods or any of the other team members agitated to go sooner but that he wouldn’t be surprised. “I want them to have a sense of urgency,” he said.
There is something fishy here. Why would the CIA base chief receive no response from local Libyan authorities? Furthermore, why didn’t the call go out for further backup once the consulate came under attack, and once it became clear that the Libyans weren’t going to do anything to help? This report obviously conflicts with Fox News’ source, who said that the CIA team asked repeatedly for permission to go in and was told to stand down.
●10:10 p.m.: The rescue team reached a chaotic intersection a few blocks from the consulate. Militias gathered there have several 50-caliber machine guns, which the CIA team tries unsuccessfully to commandeer; three militiamen offer to help. The rescue party now includes 10 people: six GRS officers, a CIA translator and the three Libyan volunteers.
●10:20 p.m.: A reconnaissance party of two GRS officers heads to the consulate; at 10:25, three more GRS officers enter the main gate and begin engaging the attackers. The firefight lasts about 15 minutes.
●10:40 p.m.: Members of the CIA team enter the burning inferno of “Villa C,” where Ambassador Christopher Stevens is believed to be hiding. CIA officers try numerous times to reach the “safe room” but are driven back by the intense smoke and fire. Small-arms fire continues from the Libyan attackers.
●11:11 p.m.: An unarmed military Predator drone arrives over the compound to provide aerial reconnaissance. The drone had been diverted from a mission over Darnah, about 90 minutes away. But without weapons, it can’t help much.
This is a problematic moment in the timeline. Why was the drone diverted if it had no weapons capacity? Where was its live feed being directed? And why weren’t reinforcements called once the initial assault began at 9:40?
●11:15 p.m.: The CIA team puts the State Department group into a vehicle and sends them to the agency base; at 11:30, the CIA officers depart under fire and reach the annex six minutes later.
●11:56 p.m.: CIA officers at the annex are attacked by a rocket-propelled grenade and small arms. Sporadic attacks continue for about another hour. The attacks stop at 1:01 a.m., and some assume the fight is over.
Who assumed the fight was over? Certainly not the members of the CIA who stayed on site, and who ended up dying there.
●1:15 a.m.: CIA reinforcements arrive on a 45-minute flight from Tripoli in a plane they’ve hastily chartered. The Tripoli team includes four GRS security officers, a CIA case officer and two U.S. military personnel on loan to the agency. They don’t leave the Benghazi airport until 4:30 a.m. The delay is caused by negotiations with Libyan authorities over permission to leave the airport; obtaining vehicles; and the need to frame a clear mission plan. The first idea is to go to a Benghazi hospital to recover Stevens, who they rightly suspect is already dead. But the hospital is surrounded by the al-Qaeda-linked Ansar al-Shariah militia that mounted the consulate attack.
This is insanity. If an emergency flight with backup arrived at the Benghazi airport at 1:15 a.m., there is no rational excuse for them not leaving the airport until 4:30 a.m. absent orders. Why was the initial plan to head to the hospital if they suspected Stevens was dead, rather than to the CIA annex where the attack was still going on?
●5:04 a.m.: The team from Tripoli arrives at the CIA base. Glen Doherty, one of the GRS men from Tripoli, goes to the roof and joins Woods in firing positions.
●5:15 a.m.: A new Libyan assault begins, this time with mortars. Two rounds miss and the next three hit the roof. The rooftop defenders never “laser the mortars,” as has been reported. They don’t know they’re in place until the indirect fire begins, nor are they observed by the drone overhead. The defenders have focused their laser sites earlier on several Libyan attackers, as warnings not to fire. At 5:26 the attack is over. Woods and Doherty are dead and two others are wounded.
Why did the defenders focus their lasers as a warning not to fire? Is this standard procedure? They had clearly lasered terrorists, and were not provided with supporting fire. Again, how does this source know what the drone footage showed?
●6 a.m.: Libyan forces from the military intelligence service finally arrive, now with 50 vehicles. They escort the Americans to the airport. A first group of 18, including two wounded, depart at 7 a.m. A second group of 12, plus the four dead, leave at 10 a.m. for Tripoli and then the long flight back to America.
Where were these Libyan forces all along – and what forced them now, just half an hour after the end of the attack, to get involved?
This source is anonymous. That means that his or her account is no more or less reliable than the sources quoted by Fox News. The only way that this will be resolved is with a full and open disclosure of material by the Obama administration. And each branch of the Obama administration, from State to CIA to Defense, has seemed less than inclined to open up.