The Obama administration, the CIA, and even some congressional committees–they all said there “was no ‘stand down’ order.”
But now five men who helped ward off the terrorists that attacked U.S. diplomatic facilities in Benghazi, Libya two years ago say it’s only because they defied such an order that as many as 25 Americans are alive today.
“There’s quite a few–the soft-skins, we call them, or the non-shooters,” Kris “Tanto” Paronto, one of the security contractors that fateful evening, said in a phone interview on early Monday afternoon. “They’re all still working. I can’t give their names out or give their call signs out. The only ones I can are like me and Oz and Tig who have come out. We’re all on board with the project and we are all a team together, but some want to remain anonymous.
“As far as the numbers, you’ve got–and I’m going to be approximate–but there’s about 25 people that came out there and then there’s however many that left from Tripoli from the State Department when we got there,” Paronto continued. “There’s a lot of them. I haven’t stayed in touch with all of them, and haven’t felt the need to. But a lot of them are staffers for the most part. A lot of them are still working.”
Terrorists who stormed the compound that evening killed U.S. Ambassador to Libya Christopher Stevens and Foreign Service Office Sean Smith. As the attack was beginning, Paronto, John “Tig” Tiegen, Mark “Oz” Geist, Jack Silva, Dave “D.B.” Benton, and Tyrone “Rone” Woods–the security team at the CIA Annex–were ready within minutes to head over to a nearby diplomatic compound, where terrorists from Anshar Al-Sharia armed with AK-47s and other powerful weapons had stormed the building. Inside the compound were Smith, Stevens, and five other Americans.
“Within five minutes of Alec Henderson’s [the highest ranking Diplomatic Security agent in Benghazi, who was in the Tactical Operations Center when the attack began and first alerted the others to the attack] first mayday call from the Compound, Tanto, D.B., Rone, Tig, and Jack were mocked up and assembled outside Building C,” the Annex Security Team and Boston University journalism professor Mitchell Zuckoff wrote in a new book: “13 Hours In Benghazi: The Inside Account Of What Really Happened.”
“They talked among themselves, asking each other if anyone knew how many Americans were on the Compound and what kind of weapons were there,” they wrote. “The answer: seven Americans with light weapons. From the gunfire and explosions they continued to hear, and from the reports of perhaps several dozen attackers, the operators knew that they’d be dealing with what Tanto called ‘a substantial force.'”
As they developed a plan to enter the compound through the back gate when they got there, and loaded up two armored vehicles “with bullet-resistant windows and tires called ‘run-flats’ designed to live up to the name if hit by bullets, spikes, or shrapnel”–a dark-blue BMW sedan and a black Mercedes SUV–their “team leader,” who is unnamed in the book, and “Bob,” the CIA’s top officer in Benghazi, were hesitant and not jumping in with them.
“Several of the operators demanded to know what they were waiting for,” they write in the book. “The Team Leader pulled away from his phone: ‘We need to come up with a plan,’ he said, referring to how they’d coordinate with the 17 February militia [a local ragtag group of fighters in Benghazi who called themselves a militia, and whose allegiances were at best unclear]. Also standing outside the vehicles talking on phones were Bob the Annex chief and his second-in-command, a CIA officer who’d earned the operators’ esteem by treating them with respect.”
They sat inside the vehicles there for what seemed like forever, writing that they “likely could have reached the Compound on foot in the time they’d been waiting” and as time went by the security operators “got the distinct impression that the rescue plan being discussed somehow didn’t include them.”
Eventually, while standing outside the Mercedes SUV, they wrote that Tiegen yelled out: “Hey, we gotta go now! We’re losing the initiative!”
In response, the CIA chief “Bob” shouted him down. “No, stand down, you need to wait,” Bob said, according to the book. The Team Leader followed up by saying: “We need to come up with a plan.”
“It’s too fucking late to come up with a plan,” Tiegen fired back. “We need to get in the fucking area and then come up with a plan.”
At that point, they wrote, Paronto got out of the Mercedes vehicle and asked for them to call in air support from the U.S. military, “specifically an unmanned ISR drone, named for its ability to provide intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance,” and a for a “heavily armed AC-130 Spectre gunship, a four-engine, fixed-wing plane designed for lethal ground assaults,” while noting again to the Team Leader and “Bob” they were “overdue to move out.”
“The CIA chief looked at Tanto, then at the Team Leader, then back to Tanto,” they wrote. “Tanto felt as though the chief was looking right through him. ‘No,’ Bob said, ‘hold up. We’re going to have the local militia handle it.'”
They wrote that Paronto “couldn’t believe his ears” and then said to the Team Leader: “Hey, we need to go.”
“No,” the Team Leader responded, issuing yet another stand down order. “We need to wait. The chief is trying to coordinate with 17 Feb and let them handle it.”
After sitting there reeling for several more minutes, and listening to the radio calls for help from the Americans inside the compound, the group of contractors eventually “en masse” decided “that the time for asking permission had ended.”
“The operators climbed out of their idling vehicles and assembled in a huddle outside Building C, near the Team Leader, Bob the CIA Annex Chief and his second in command,” they wrote. “Jack caught Rone’s attention and they exchanged incredulous, wide-eyed looks. To Jack, the meaning was clear: This delay is nuts. Worse, it’s dangerous, for the guys at the Compound and also for us.”
During this whole time period, Tiegen told Breitbart News that what was going through his mind was that “we just got to get over there before these guys get killed.”
“At the time, we didn’t know if anybody was dead–obviously there was somebody alive because they were on the radio, that’s the only thing we’re thinking is we’ve got to get over there. They’re powerless right now,” he said.
As the radios “crackled” again “with beseeching calls” for help from the Americans at the compound, the “CIA base bosses and the Team Leader, all talking animatedly on their cell phones, still wouldn’t give the operators the go-ahead.”
Shortly thereafter, after they had been sitting there for 20 minutes–an eternity in a terrorist attack like this, a timeframe so long that Paronto said on Fox News late last week in his first interview on the book alongside Geist and Tiegen that he believes had they not waited Smith and Stevens would have survived–“another radio call came from the Compound” in which the “warbling voice of a DS agent was so tightly controlled it sounded constricted” and the security operators listening from the Annex “sensed fear edging toward panic” when the agent in the compound said: “If you guys do not get here, we’re going to die!”
“That was all it took,” they wrote. “Roughly twenty minutes, possible more, had elapsed since the operators had first mustered at Building C. They were long past ready to go. If a cavalry wanted to do any good, it needed to move out. With or without approval.”
Paronto then ordered the Team Leader: “We need to go. Get in the fucking car.”
The Team Leader obliged and off they went to compound, where after a brutal battle they were able to save the lives of the other five Americans there–and then get the rest of the Americans, another possibly 20 or more, out of the Annex and off to Tripoli, at which point they got out of Libya altogether.
“The five RSOs, three were sent down with the ambassador, and there were two that were already there. Those are the guys that we went and got out of there. There could have been seven dead Americans instead of two,” Tiegen told Breitbart News in his Monday afternoon interview, the two dead Americans there that he’s referring to being Smith and Stevens–Woods and Doherty, who flew in from Tripoli, died later.
When asked that if it’s because they stepped forward and broke through the stand down order, there are at least five extra people who are still alive, Tiegen said: “Yes.”
The political class in Washington has written off that there was any “stand down” order, even though there were at least three distinct times the security operators detail in this book that they were told to stand down. The State Department, congressional Democrats and the House Intelligence Committee as a whole have determined there was no “stand down” order, but Tiegen says none of those people were on the ground–and “Bob” clearly told them to “stand down.”
“I’m not even sure if ‘Bob’ even testified yet, or anything,” Tiegen told Breitbart News. “Maybe they’re lying to them. I have no idea. Because it happened.”
When asked if he thinks Bob came up with the stand down order on his own, or if someone else–perhaps someone in Tripoli, or someone in Washington–told him to say that, Tiegen said he’s not sure. “Honestly, I don’t know,” Tiegen told Breitbart News. “He was on the phone the whole time, so I don’t know who he was talking to. He could have been talking to the militia, he could have been talking to the chief of station in Tripoli–I have no idea.”
Paronto told Breitbart News that the “stand down” order made no sense after a couple minutes.
“As a military tactician, which we are–all of us are–there is no need for it,” Paronto said. “The first few minutes, okay, I understand that, we are trying to link up and we’re trying to get with a foreign force to help us–which he had no rapport with, which we did not trust–and I’ll give them that. But after that timeframe, that makes no sense–because you’re basically giving the enemy more of an edge and because our guys are dying and they’re coming across the radio saying they’re dying. Just your emotions, you have to keep them in check, and if you read the book you’ll see that. It’s like a little duck in water, your feet are just going crazy but you’ve got to show you’ve got control of your emotions on the exterior. But I felt anger, and it still fires me up to this day.”
He added that he felt a need to save his fellow countrymen–a surge of patriotism rushed through him–when he made the call to leave the Annex for the Compound without approval. “[I was feeling] frustration and anger and especially when you’re hearing your friends–because I’m friends with Scott and Al and Dave, the State Department guys, and they’re Americans. You don’t leave a fallen comrade behind,” Paronto said.
Geist has formed an organization, Shadow Warriors Project, meant to honor security contractors like the ones in Benghazi.