Rapid response team told to "stand down"?
In the CIA's version of events, a State Department security officer at the consulate called the CIA annex to request backup within minutes of the attack, prompting a team to "immediately" begin "gathering weapons and preparing to leave," which it did about 25 minutes later. But Fox News correspondent Jennifer Griffin reported that CIA contractors Glen Doherty and Tyrone Woods, who received the State Department's request for backup at the annex, were twice told to "stand down" by superiors before they "ignored those orders and made their way to the consulate which at that point was on fire."
The CIA has vigorously disputed Fox's claim: "We can say with confidence that the Agency reacted quickly to aid our colleagues during that terrible evening in Benghazi. Moreover, no one at any level in the CIA told anybody not to help those in need; claims to the contrary are simply inaccurate," a CIA spokeswoman said in an emailed statement. Whether or not there's any truth to the Fox story, which is based on testimony from anonymous "sources who were on the ground in Benghazi," this discrepancy will likely come up in the congressional hearings. Likewise, lawmakers will likely want to answer one question the Fox report didn't -- namely, who ordered the CIA operatives to "stand down" if, in fact," they were ordered to do so.
Another question that may come up is why, according to the CIA's timeline, the Global Response Staff team that arrived in Benghazi from Tripoli at 1:15 a.m. did not leave the airport until 4:30 a.m. The timeline explains away the lapse by citing "negotiations with Libyan authorities over permission to leave the airport; obtaining vehicles; and the need to frame a clear mission plan." It's certainly possible that they were delayed by local authorities, but it seems likely that lawmakers will want to know why a trained military response squad couldn't negotiate a couple of rental cars in under three hours. Likewise, there are unanswered questions about why reinforcements were needed in the first place. Out of more than 30 employees at the consulate in Benghazi, 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," according to the Wall Street Journal. If there were so many CIA operatives at the consulate, why did it fall to Doherty and Woods to make a heroic defense of the compound?
If the CIA's response to the consular attack remains murky, the Pentagon's isn't much clearer -- and why the best DOD could manage was an unarmed surveillance drone is almost certain to come up at the hearings this week. According to the Pentagon's timeline, it took Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta more than three hours after the consulate was breached to order Marine anti-terrorist teams scrambled from Spain and Croatia -- and another 40-50 minutes for them to receive formal authorization -- meaning that they did not arrive in Libya until almost 24 hours after the attack began. By that time, the consular officials, CIA officers, and contractors had been evacuated along with the bodies of Stevens, Woods, Doherty, and Sean Smith, a technology expert who died alongside the ambassador.
Panetta maintained that the Pentagon did everything in its power to respond in a timely manner, but congressional Republicans have already raised questions about the Defense Department's handling of the situation. Panetta's explanation "only confirms what we already knew -- that there were no forces at a sufficient alert posture in Europe, Africa or the Middle East to provide timely assistance to our fellow citizens in need in Libya," wrote Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) and five other senators in a joint statement. But it "fails to address the most important question -- why not?" Expect lawmakers to get into why the U.S. Africa Command did not have a Commanders' In-Extremis Force, or C.I.F., on hand, and why no armed drones or gunships were readily accessible.