A book published this week titled Under Fire: The Untold Story of the Attack in Benghazi reveals that reports of a “terrorist attack” were sent immediately from a Diplomatic Security agent on site to CIA agents at the Annex and to the U.S. embassy in Tripoli. Word of the attack reached Washington in less than 30 minutes.
On the morning of the attack a man was seen taking photos of the compound. Hours later the attackers crept silently up to the main gate and put a gun in the guard’s face, demanding he open the gate or die. Withing minutes the compound was overrun by the attackers.
The names of the DS agents have been concealed by the authors of Under Fire to protect their identities. One of those agents was located in the Tactical Operations Center (TOC) when the attack took place:
From his command post, R. could observe a 360-degree panoramic view of the compound due to a bank of strategically placed interior surveillance cameras and the horizon painted what in the business is best described as an “oh shit” moment. He could see men swarming inside the main gate, and he noticed the Blue Mountain Libya guards and several of the February 17 Brigade militiamen running away as fast as they could; they had, though, radioed the TOC to inform the RSO [Regional Security Officer] that the compound was under attack. The RSO’s command of the video cameras gave the agents on the compound something of a tactical edge. Even thought they were overrun and outnumbered, the TOC could identify where the terrorists were, and the RSO could provide the attackers’ coordinates to the ARSOs [Assistant Regional Security Officers]. He immediately alerted the QRF [Quick Response Force] at the Annex and at the embassy in Tripoli by cell phone. His message was short and to the point: “Benghazi under fire, terrorist attack.” Nothing more needed to be said. The many REACT drills had become reality. This was an agent’s worst nightmare.
The authors go on to describe hallmarks of a pre-planned attack:
It was clear that whoever the men assaulting the compound were, they had been given precise orders and impeccable intelligence. They knew when, where and how to get from the access points toward the ambassador’s residence and how to cut off the DS agents as well as the local guard force and the February 17 Brigade militiamen on duty that night…The attackers had known that there were new, uninstalled generators behind the February 17 command post, nestled between the building and the overhand of foliage from the western wall, as well as half a dozen jerry cans full of gasoline to power them.
Twenty-five minutes after the attack began, word of it reached the State Department in Washington and 35 other recipients including DOD, AFRICOM, the FBI and many others. Here is the cable that was sent as reproduced in Under Fire:
Subject: U.S. Diplomatic Mission in Benghazi Under Attack (SBU)
SBU: The Regional Security Officer reports that the diplomatic mission is under attack. Embassy Tripoli reports approximately 20 armed people fired shots; explosions have been heard as well. Ambassador Stevens, who is in Benghazi, and four COM personnel are in the compound safe haven. The 17th of February militia is providing security support.
The Operations Center will provide updates as available.
The word terrorist was not used in the cable. Then again it also did not mention a video or protests preceding the attack by armed militants. It remains unclear where the State Department got this idea.
[The Examiner reported on Under Fire yesterday. The excerpts above are taken from the book itself which went on sale Tuesday.]