U.S. intelligence officials offered a timeline Thursday of the CIA's response to the attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, from its annex less than a mile from the diplomatic mission. U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans were killed in the attack, which occurred on the 11th anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
(GOP dirty tricks: "Special-Operations-Speaks-PAC" GOP FRONT
A minute-by-minute look at how the security teams' response played out. All times are local for Benghazi.
- 9:40 p.m. The CIA annex receives its first call that the consulate has come under attack.
By 9:40 p.m. local time—3:40 p.m. on the East Coast—the officer called the annex's security team, the U.S. embassy in Tripoli and the diplomatic-security headquarters in Washington.
It took a seven-man team from the CIA security roughly 50 minutes to get to the consulate after it was alerted, according to administration officials.
Within 25 minutes, the team headed out of the annex to the consulate compound, a senior U.S. intelligence official said. It took another 25 minutes to reach the compound, in part because the team stopped to get heavy weapons and came under fire as they moved in, the official said.
- 10:00 PM Less than 25 minutes later, the security team leaves the annex en route to the consulate.
- Over the next 25 minutes, team members approach the compound and attempt to get heavy weapons. When they cannot secure heavy weapons, they make their way onto the compound itself in the face of enemy fire.
- 11:11 p.m. A Defense Department surveillance drone - an unarmed Predator - that had been requested arrives over the consulate compound.
- 11:30 p.m. All U.S. personnel have departed the consulate except for Stevens, who is missing. The vehicles come under fire as they leave the facility.
The CIA team left the consulate around 11:30 p.m. with all American officials from the compound, except for the missing U.S. ambassador, the senior U.S. intelligence official said. They came under fire as they left.
- Over the next 90 minutes, the CIA annex comes under sporadic fire from small arms and rocket-propelled grenades. The security team returns fire, dispersing the attackers.
- Around 1 a.m., a team of additional security personnel from Tripoli lands at the Benghazi airport and attempts to find a ride into town. Upon learning that Stevens is missing and that the situation at the CIA annex has calmed, the team focuses on locating Stevens and obtaining information about the security situation at the hospital.
Shortly after they arrived back at the annex, the annex began receiving small-arms fire and RPG rounds, the official said. The CIA security team returned fire and the attackers dispersed around 1 a.m.
- Before dawn, the team at the airport finally manages to secure transportation and armed escort. Having learned that Stevens is almost certainly dead and that the security situation at the hospital is uncertain, the team heads to the CIA annex to assist with the evacuation. In the attack, the State Department also has said that a department computer expert, Sean Smith, was killed.
- 5:15 a.m. The team arrives at the CIA annex, with Libyan support, just before mortar rounds begin to hit the facility. Two security officers are killed when they take direct mortar fire while engaging the attackers. The attack lasts only 11 minutes before dissipating.
- 6:10Less than an hour later, a heavily armed Libyan military unit arrives at the CIA annex to help evacuate all U.S. personnel and takes them to the airport.
Officials close to Mr. Petraeus say he stayed away in an effort to conceal the agency's role in collecting intelligence and providing security in Benghazi. Two of the four men who died that day, Tyrone Woods and Glen Doherty, were former Navy SEAL commandos who were publicly identified as State Department contract security officers, but who actually worked as Central Intelligence Agency contractors, U.S. officials say.
The U.S. effort in Benghazi was at its heart a CIA operation, according to officials briefed on the intelligence. Of the more than 30 American officials evacuated from Benghazi following the deadly assault, only seven worked for the State Department. Nearly all the rest worked for the CIA, under diplomatic cover, which was a principal purpose of the consulate, these officials said.
4:30 p.m., the Pentagon's command center had alerted Defense Secretary Panetta and others to the attack. Minutes later, the U.S. military's Africa Command redirected an unarmed drone from its surveillance mission over militant camps to Benghazi. When the drone arrived at 5:11 p.m. Eastern time, cameras captured images of burning buildings, helping officials in Washington pinpoint which facilities had been targeted by militants.
But the images didn't help the CIA team on the ground respond to the attacks, officials said.
Meanwhile, in Tripoli, another CIA team mobilized to provide additional security for the CIA annex and help evacuate Americans from Benghazi. The team went to the Tripoli airport with a suitcase full of cash to find a plane to fly to Benghazi. They were delayed because Libyan authorities insisted the Americans be accompanied by a larger Libyan force on the ground in Benghazi, which took time to assemble, U.S. officials say. Libyan officials attribute the delay to the Americans not sharing key logistical details with them.
At one point during the consulate siege, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton telephoned the CIA director directly to seek assistance. Real-time intelligence from the field was scarce and some officials at State and the Pentagon were largely in the dark about the CIA's role.
At 5:41 p.m. Eastern time, Mrs. Clinton called Mr. Petraeus. She wanted to make sure the two agencies were on the same page.
At about 7 p.m.—1 a.m. in Benghazi—the team touched down at the Benghazi airport. The team had to negotiate for transport into Benghazi, the senior U.S. intelligence official said. When the team learned the ambassador was missing and the annex attackers had dispersed, they focused on the security situation at the hospital, where the ambassador was thought to be.
By the time the team was able to arrange transportation with an armed escort, the intelligence official said, they had learned that the ambassador was almost certainly dead and the security at the hospital was unclear, so they decided to go to the annex to help with the evacuation. The ambassador was pronounced dead shortly after 2 a.m.
The spy agency was the first to set up shop. It began building up its presence there soon after the Libyan revolution started in February 2011. The uprising overturned what had been a tight working relationship between the Gadhafi regime's spy services and the Americans, creating a gap that the CIA presence sought to fill, officials said.
The CIA worked from a compound publicly referred to as the "annex," which was given a State Department office name to disguise its purpose. The agency focused on countering proliferation and terrorist threats, said an American security contractor who has worked closely with CIA, the Pentagon and State. A main concern was the spread of weapons and militant influences throughout the region, including in Mali, Somalia and Syria, this person said.
Protecting the CIA annex was a roughly 10-man security force. The State Department thought it had a formal agreement with the CIA that called for that force to be used in emergencies to bolster security for the consulate.
The State Department has been criticized by lawmakers and others for failing to provide adequate security for its ambassador, especially in light of an attack there in June and after other violence prompted the U.K. to pull out of the city. In October, Mrs. Clinton took responsibility for any security lapses.
"They were the cavalry," a senior U.S. official said of the CIA team, adding that CIA's backup security was an important factor in State's decision to maintain a consulate there.
On the night of the attack, the consulate, on a 13-acre property, was protected by five American diplomatic security officers inside the walls, supported by a small group of armed Libyans outside. The CIA's security force at the annex sometimes provided backup security for the ambassador when he traveled outside the consulate.
Using GPS locaters, team members raced to the annex, arriving at 5:15 a.m. Within minutes, the annex was under fire again. The two security officers were killed by mortar fire, the senior U.S. intelligence official said, adding that attack lasted 11 minutes.
The emphasis on security at the CIA annex was underscored the day after the attack. With all U.S. personnel evacuated, the CIA appears to have dispatched local Libyan agents to the annex to destroy any sensitive documents and equipment there, even as the consulate compound remained unguarded and exposed to looters and curiosity seekers for weeks, officials said. Documents, including the ambassador's journal, were taken from the consulate site, and the site proved of little value when Federal Bureau of Investigation agents finally arrived weeks later to investigate.
U.S. officials said they prioritized securing the annex because many more people worked there and they were doing sensitive work, while the consulate, by design, had no classified documents. The American contractor said the top priority was destroying sensitive documents.
In ensuing weeks, tensions over the matter spread to the FBI and Capitol Hill. The FBI didn't initially get to review surveillance footage taken at the compound because officials say it was being analyzed by the CIA. The CIA, in turn, wasn't able to immediately get copies of FBI witness interviews, delaying the agency's analysis of what happened outside the consulate and at the annex.
The significance of the annex was a well-kept secret in Benghazi. A neighbor said that he never saw Libyan security guards at the annex compound and that the street never had any extra police presence or security cordon. "If the CIA was living there, we never knew it," the neighbor said.
President Obama and his entire national security team monitored what was going on half a world away. Army Gen. Carter Ham, who was the regional commander for Africa, happened to be in Washington that day.
One source familiar with the events said there was a sense of urgency.
The consulate was burning, and Ambassador Chris Stevens, who was visiting the consulate with a small security team, was missing in the smoky chaos. For the next six hours or more, top officials in Washington watched and tried to send help as a second attack centered on the consulate's annex, a secret CIA base.
Officials say that U.S. forces from Europe and Fort Bragg in North Carolina were dispatched in an effort to help, but they arrived too late. Officials considered sending U.S. warplanes from Italy, but it was decided dropping bombs would lead to civilian casualties.
The officials had little time to respond. There were no U.S. troops anywhere near the consulate, either in Libya or even in neighboring countries. So dozens of special operations forces and CIA guards from Tripoli were sent by aircraft to Benghazi, 480 miles to the east. They could not get there in time to help defend the consulate.
Ham, back in Washington, requested a military counterterrorism force from Europe. But they arrived in Libya the day after the attack and deployed to Tunisia two days later. A larger special operations force was sent from Fort Bragg, complete with their own helicopters and trucks. They arrived in Sigonella, Italy, too late to be any help. No American forces were denied by Washington, officials say.
American attack aircraft? An AC-130 gunships would seem to make sense. That's the lumbering black cargo plane, a flying battleship with three types of heavy guns and high-resolution cameras. It's often used to support special operations forces in tight urban areas and can zoom in on enemy forces. But there were no Spectre gunships in the area, officials learned.
Attack helicopters? None around. There were two Navy ships in the Mediterranean, the USS Laboon and the USS McFaul, but only the Laboon is equipped with a Seahawk helicopter, the Navy's version of the BlackHawk.
They were American warplanes based in Aviano, Italy, just across the Mediterranean. But they could not arrive in time to help with the consulate fight. When the attack began, consulate officials made an urgent call to the CIA guards at the nearby annex: We're under attack.
CIA officials in Washington strongly deny there was any order not to mount a rescue mission. And the source tells NPR there was never an order to stay put. It was all about getting ready, not delaying. Within 24 minutes, the American and Libyan team moved out toward the consulate.
( Our sources indicate it took 24 min to coordinate & sync up with Libyan forces
to avoid friendly fire incidents,G)
The main reason for the delay, several sources said, was that CIA officials were making urgent contact with a Libyan militia, known as the February 17 Brigade, which was the closest thing to an organized security force in Benghazi. The United States depends on local security to protect U.S. diplomatic facilities everywhere, and officials wanted to coordinate any response to the consulate attack. After this delay, Woods and his colleague proceeded to the consulate.
The convoy drove along an indirect route to avoid hostile militias, and the Americans and Libyans hustled along on foot for the last half mile, arriving an hour after the call for help.
The source said that surveillance cameras establish what time they left the annex and what time they showed up at the consulate. When they arrived, Ambassador Stevens was missing. He was carried to a hospital by looters, and later died there of asphyxiation from the smoke he inhaled while in the consulate's safe room.
The American and Libyan team loaded up the wounded and the survivors and made their way back to the annex. They got lost in the maze of streets, and some militia members shot at their tires as they made it back to the annex. In Washington, there was relief. At the White House and the Pentagon, top officials believed the worst was over after the successful rescue mission
The Second Attack
For several hours, there was a lull in the fighting. Then a second attack began, at the well-fortified annex. In Washington, the issue of attack aircraft came up among top officials.
The F-16 Fighting Falcons could come to the rescue from their base in Aviano, some officials thought. But there were no clear targets, it was decided. An unarmed Predator drone flew over the area, just before the consulate attack ended. But it offered only a "soda straw" view hundreds of feet below near the annex. There were no armed drones in the area.
Officials watched the grainy footage from the drone. It was hard to determine among the hundreds of people who was with a militia supporting the U.S., and who was taking part in that second attack, and who was a spectator — people, as the source said, "watching a war movie in front of them." Sporadic gunfire added to the confusion about separating friend from foe.
Officials eventually decided they can't drop large bombs in a residential neighborhood.
A decision was made: No close air support, not even as a show of force that could possibly disperse the fighters. The Americans, and their Libyan allies fighting with them on the ground, were on their own.
At some point, the Quick Reaction Force arrived from Tripoli to help. Rocket-propelled grenades and mortars slammed into the annex. One mortar curled into the base and killed two Americans. The annex was never breached, and the attackers were fought off. The force from Tripoli helped move the survivors to the airport.
In the end, four Americans were killed: Ambassador Stevens, Sean Smith, a U.S. Foreign Service officer, as well as two embassy security personnel, Glen Doherty and Tyrone Woods. Another 30 Americans and Libyans were wounded.
The Fox “stand down” story is simply false. And the efforts of the GOP
& Darrell Issa @DarrellIssa are an attempt to stir up a political lynch mob
for political gain on the deaths of 4 American HEROES. Promoting false rumors as fact and disseminating lies.