Among other things, nobody in the administration was willing to answer the simple question of where Obama was during the night of the Benghazi attack. Obama senior advisor Dan Pfeiffer, this past weekend, kept avoiding giving a direct answer to that question when pressed on the point by reporters on five different TV news programs, and insisting that it was an “irrelevant fact.” Pfeiffer also said that it was “irrelevant” whether the IRS had violated the law by targeting conservative political groups for tougher treatment when they applied for tax exempt status. It was the most brazen performance in denial of the obvious facts since Susan Rice went on the same Sunday news programs last September to try to sell the White House modified CIA talking points on the Benghazi attack to the American people.
Because of Pfeiffer’s evasions, it became painfully clear that Obama was not on top of the crisis in Benghazi that night. As commander in chief, he failed to order US military forces that were on alert not far away in Italy to try to intervene and come to the rescue of the embattled US diplomats fighting for their lives against the terrorists attacking them in Benghazi, and nobody in his administration is willing to say why.
In fact, in the weeks that followed, the administration remained deep in denial about what actually happened in Benghazi that night. Obama and his spokesmen repeatedly implied that any terrorist connection in the killing of 4 Americans at the consulate was the incidental outgrowth of a “spontaneous” Islamic protest over a bogus video. They studiously ignored the growing evidence that it had been a carefully planned and executed terrorist attack, and that the administration had known it all along. Then it came out that for months before the attack, the administration had been aware of the increasing danger to the consulate from terrorists in the Benghazi region, but rejected repeated pleas to provide more protection for the US outpost.
ROMNEY WAS CUT OFF ON BENGHAZI IN THE DEBATE
The implication was obvious. The White House had deliberately neglected the safety of American diplomats in harm’s way, and then misled the American people about the deadly consequences to help the president get re-elected. It had the potential to be a knock-out issue in the second debate, enabling Romney to discredit Obama’s national security claims.
But when Romney raised the Benghazi issue in the second debate, Obama cleverly deflected it, claiming that in all his public statements he had always allowed for the possibility that terrorism was involved. When Romney tried to contradict Obama, the debate moderator came to the president’s rescue, declaring that he had mentioned terrorism in talking about Benghazi, effectively cutting off Romney’s best line of attack on the issue before it could get started.
The moderator, CNN’s Candy Crowley, later admitted that Romney’s point was basically correct, that Obama had indeed gone to great lengths in the weeks after Benghazi to give the public the impression that it was not a terrorist attack, even though he was careful to leave the option open. But by then the political damage had been done. Obama’s opponent had been denied use of a critical avenue of attack.
With Obama spared the need to defend his administration’s shameful neglect in Benghazi, and the brazen White House-driven cover-up which followed, he was able to recover his lost momentum in the second debate, and go on to victory in November.
The White House has yet to provide a cogent explanation of why it failed to come to the aid of those at the consulate in Benghazi on the night of the attack, resulting in the deaths of 4 US citizens and the first murder of a US ambassador in 33 years. No adequate explanation has been given as to why State Department officials in Washington rejected repeated calls for help as the security situation there deteriorated in the months before the attack.
PUBLIC WAS IN THE DARK, WHILE THE WHITE HOUSE KNEW THE TRUTH
Initial news accounts of the attack in Benghazi were badly muddled, but while the public was deliberately kept in the dark and confused over what happened there, the White House, the State Department, the Pentagon and the CIA knew exactly what was going on. They had direct, real-time links to US personnel on the ground in Benghazi as the attack unfolded over a period of more than seven hours.
There was an open telephone line between consulate personnel and senior administration security officials in Washington, DC. President Obama was informed of the attack less than two hours after it began in a White House briefing with Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey, but took no immediate action. About 5 hours later, as the second attack of the evening, on the annex to the Benghazi consulate, was still under way, he called Secretary of State Clinton to get an update, but again ordered no further action to save the beleaguered US diplomats.
At about that time, Clinton ordered the State Department to issue a statement, which was carried by Reuters and the Associated Press, which began the administration effort to link the “violence” at Benghazi to an anti-Muslim video posted online. At that point, the Defense Department had a reconnaissance drone over Benghazi confirming telephone reports from the consulate and the embassy in Tripoli that the Benghazi outpost had come under attack by large numbers of terrorists armed with heavy weapons.
TESTIMONY FROM THE SECOND IN COMMAND
Even though the US Ambassador to Libya, Chris Stevens, had already been killed, and the small force of CIA-led defenders at the consulate was in serious danger of being overwhelmed, the US military made no attempt to mount any kind of rescue mission. The only outside help came from a small contingent of CIA contract security officers sent by Gregory Hicks, the deputy chief of mission and Stevens’ second in command from the US embassy in Tripoli, 400 miles from Benghazi.
In riveting testimony on May 8 before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, Hicks described the course of events that evening in minute detail. His account was the most important new evidence revealed by the investigation into Benghazi led by the committee’s chairman, Republican Congressman Darrel Issa. As a senior US diplomat, Hicks’ version of the events carries a great deal of credibility. According to his account, there was never any doubt from the outset that it was a carefully planned terrorist attack, and that there never was any Islamic protest demonstration in Benghazi that day, something that he told Secretary of State Clinton in a phone conversation while the attack was going on.
Hicks first learned of the assault in Benghazi a few minutes after it started at 9:45 p.m. local time, when the regional head of security, John Martinec, ran into Hicks’ apartment on the embassy grounds in Tripoli yelling, “Greg! Greg! The consulate’s under attack!
LAST CONTACT FROM A MURDERED US AMBASSADOR
Knowing that Ambassador Stevens was in Benghazi, Hicks reached for his cell phone to check for messages, and discovered two missed calls. He called back and spoke briefly with Stevens, who was able to confirm that the consulate was under attack before their weak cell phone connection was broken. It was to be the last time that anyone outside the consulate ever spoke to Ambassador Stevens.
Hicks immediately went to the Tactical Operations Center at the embassy in Tripoli to relay communications between Benghazi and Washington DC, and to try to coordinate efforts to send armed relief to those under attack at the consulate.
Martinec, who was in touch with the security personnel at the Benghazi consulate, confirmed that the compound had been breached and that additional CIA security guards were being sent from a consulate annex building in Benghazi about a mile from the compound.
Throughout the night, Hicks relayed the information he and other embassy officials in Tripoli were receiving from Benghazi to senior administration officials in Washington, while at the same time they tried to secure local assistance from Libyan government forces in battling the terrorists.
One of the first decisions made by Hicks and the others was to dispatch a small force drawn from the embassy’s security staff in Tripoli to Benghazi, via a chartered plane. In the meantime, the six security guards sent from the consulate annex had driven back ten times their number of terrorists from the compound, but not before the terrorists had set the building on fire where Ambassador Stevens and two other members of the consulate staff had been trapped. The three had gone into a hardened security room, which the attackers could not penetrate, but they were soon overcome by poisonous fumes from the fire. Only one of the three, security agent Scott Wickland, was able to escape the fumes by climbing out through a window. Ambassador Stevens and consulate staffer Sean Smith were overcome and eventually died of smoke inhalation.
Wickland and the other guards who had arrived from the annex tried to get back into the building to rescue Smith and Stevens. They found Smith unconscious, but were unable to locate Ambassador Stevens.
US DIPLOMATS IN LIBYA WERE LEFT ON THEIR OWN
About an hour after the attack started, Hicks, in Tripoli, asked the embassy’s military attache who had been in touch with the Pentagon whether any help was being sent by US military forces in the region. He was told that even though there were US F-16 fighters stationed at Aviano, Italy, about two hours flight time away, there were no tanker planes available to refuel them in flight, so they would not be sent. At that point Hicks, realized that the US State Department and CIA officials in Libya were being left on their own.
In fact, an army Special Forces rescue team had been put on standby at the NATO base in Sigonella, Sicily, but it was never sent.
Hicks then described the second wave of the terrorist attack on the Benghazi consulate, less than two hours after the first. It forced the security guards to evacuate remaining US personnel from the Benghazi consulate compound and retreat, under fire, to the annex.
A third wave of terrorists launched a series of probing attacks on the annex at about 11:30 pm local time, and were beaten back after about two hours of fighting.
In the meantime, the relief team from the embassy in Tripoli had landed at Benghazi airport, but was stuck there waiting for ground transport and an escort from local Libyan government forces. Back in Tripoli, Hicks and the embassy staff were trying to find out what had happened to Ambassador Stevens. According to one report, he had been taken to a local Benghazi hospital which was under terrorist control.
Hicks had received a warning that an attack was also possible that evening on the embassy in Tripoli, while he was trying to decide whether to send the rescue team at the Benghazi airport to the hospital or the consulate annex.
CLINTON CALLED TRIPOLI DURING THE ATTACK
At about 2 am local time, Hicks received a phone call from Secretary of State Clinton in Washington asking for a status report. He reported to her directly about the nature of the terrorist attacks, that the ambassador was missing, and that he thought the consulate staff should be evacuated from the Benghazi annex and brought to Tripoli. She agreed and their conversation ended.
At about 3 am, Hicks received a phone call from the prime minister of Libya informing him that Ambassador Stevens had died in the Libyan hospital. Shortly thereafter, Libyan government forces finally arrived at the Benghazi airport, and together with the embassy guards from Tripoli, set out for the consulate annex. They arrived after 4 am, just moments before the fourth wave of terrorist attacks began. Devastatingly accurate mortar fire landed on the roof of the consulate, killing two of the CIA security guards who had just arrived from the airport, and badly wounding a third.
Meanwhile, in Tripoli, Hicks had set in motion preparations in defense against a possible attack there, and organized for an evacuation at dawn.
At about 5 am, Libyan government forces had also arrived at the embassy in Tripoli, making its evacuation unnecessary. Hicks decided he could send a team of four US Special Forces commandoes at the embassy to relieve those who had been fighting to defend the consulate annex in Benghazi all night. The Libyan government supplied a C-130 transport plane to take them from Tripoli to Benghazi. However, as the special forces were about to board the plane, their commander received an order by phone from the Pentagon to stand down. “You don’t have the authority to go now.” the commander was told, and so that rescue force was never sent.
BLOWING THE WHISTLE ON THE COVERUP
In the end, the consulate personnel were successfully evacuated from the Benghazi annex to Tripoli without further incident, but Hicks remains angry to this day at the way his people were abandoned, and how he has been treated by his superiors at the State Department since the attack.
He claims that his diplomatic career has been derailed as punishment for serving as a whistleblower, telling the American people the truth about what really happened in Benghazi on the night of September 11.
Hicks testified that he had told his State Department colleagues after the attack that he did not believe it was the result of the anti-Islam video. When he heard UN Ambassador Susan Rice, nevertheless, repeatedly cite the video on network television as the motive for the attack five days later, Hicks said he was “stunned. My jaw dropped. And I was embarrassed.”
When he then asked Acting Assistant Secretary for Near Eastern Affairs Beth Jones why Rice said the attacks were in response to the video, “she said, ‘I don’t know,’” Hicks recalled in his testimony.
When pressed on the reaction of his colleagues to his challenge to the claim that the video was responsible for the attack, Hicks told the congressional panel, “The sense I got was I needed to stop the line of questioning.”
Under questioning by Republican Congressman Jim Jordan, Hicks said that he had received an angry phone call from Secretary Clinton’s chief of staff and top counsel, Cheryl Mills, over a classified briefing on Benghazi he had given to Congressman Jason Chaffetz without a lawyer from the State Department being present. Apparently, the State Department was very concerned about what Hicks would reveal about what the administration knew about the Benghazi attack and when it knew it.
Since the Benghazi attack, Hicks has been demoted, he testified. He had been told originally that he could expect a “good level of assignment” in the wake of his performance during the Benghazi attack. Instead, he’s been assigned a desk job in Washington as a low ranking foreign affairs officer, a far less prestigious position than his previous post as deputy chief of mission in Libya. But instead of intimidating him, the demotion has motivated Hicks to come forward and reveal the truth about Benghazi, exposing the administration cover-up.
WHY CLINTON LET RICE GO ON TV
Hicks’ testimony explains one of the initial mysteries surrounding the White House reaction to the attack, and why it chose Susan Rice as its spokesperson on Benghazi rather than the Secretary of State. Clinton knew that Hicks was ultimately likely to reveal that he had spoken to her directly from Libya while the fighting was still in progress, with eyewitness reports from the scene.
She knew from the beginning that Benghazi was not a spontaneous Islamic protest demonstration which got out of hand, because Hicks had told her that. She would not dare to go on television 5 days later to present the American people with what she knew at that time was a fictitious version of the attack and that the lie would likely be exposed.
ISSA WILL ASK CLINTON TO TESTIFY AGAIN ON BENGHAZI
Congressman Darrell Issa, the chairman of the House Oversight committee, has said that he expects to hold more hearings on what happened in Benghazi, and to call former Secretary of State Clinton back to ask her what she had been told about the Benghazi attack and by whom. Issa will also ask Clinton about the State Department’s role in creating the final version of the infamous CIA talking points on the Benghazi attack. These were later used by UN Ambassador Susan Rice to support the fictitious story that it arose spontaneous during the course of a Muslim protest, rather than being a carefully planned terrorist attack.
Issa also said that, “From what we can tell, he [Obama] went to the residence between 5:00 in the evening and when he got on a plane for fundraisers in Las Vegas. He pretty well ignored his responsibilities as commander-on-chief.”
All of the senior administration officials in Washington at the time have participated in the cover-up. At a congressional hearing earlier this year, Defense Secretary Panetta and Joint Chiefs of Staff head General Dempsey said that launching a rescue mission for Benghazi from Italy that night would not have been “practical,” because it would have taken the supersonic F-16 jets up to 20 hours to arrive. That is very hard to believe, considering the fact that it takes a subsonic 747 jetliner half that long to fly from New York to Israel.
WHERE WAS OBAMA WHEN BENGHAZI WAS UNDER ATTACK?
While a small contingent of CIA guards were fighting a desperate battle to keep the Benghazi consulate from being overrun by terrorists attacking in waves, for the president in Washington that evening went, it was business as usual, which was all about running for re-election. When the White House spokesman was asked by reporters why the president did not bother to go to the Situation Room to monitor the developing situation in Benghazi that night, he had no choice but to stonewall the question, declaring it “irrelevant” in feigned indignation.
The day after the attack, Obama made a brief Rose Garden appearance bemoaning the loss of four American lives in the Benghazi attack, and left to go raise money for his re-election campaign in Las Vegas. In his remarks and actions, he treated the terrorist attack almost as if it were an accidental occurrence, rather than the result of negligence by those responsible for the safety of US diplomats abroad.
THE POLITICAL MOTIVE BEHIND THE DECEPTION
Obama and administration spokesmen continued to insist that Benghazi was probably nothing more than a “spontaneous reaction” to a bogus video, weeks after it had become clear to almost everyone else that it had been a carefully orchestrated terrorist attack, which had to have been planned well in advance.
That version of events was unacceptable to the White House, because such an attack was inconsistent with its claim that with the killing of bin Laden, the global war on terror had been all but won. To that end the administration launched a deliberate effort to mislead the voters into believing that there was no proof that the Benghazi attack was a deliberately planned act of terrorism.
In their public relations blitz, Rice and Obama were careful to mention that terrorist involvement was possible in Benghazi, subject to the conclusion of an FBI investigation of the attack, which was curiously slow to develop on the ground in Libya.
When pressed by reporters several times about the level of terrorist involvement during the weeks after the attack, Obama skillfully ducked the question, careful to avoid being caught later in a direct lie to the American people.
The White House knew that its story would not stand up over the long run. But even as the evidence mounted that the “spontaneous protest” against the bogus video was nothing more than a politically motivated fiction, the media bought it, rallying around Obama on the issue long enough to get him safely past Election Day.
Now that Obama has been safely re-elected, the White House dismisses every effort to revisit its original, discredited version of the Benghazi attack as the irrelevant grumblings of the president’s defeated Republican opponents.
SANITIZING THE INFAMOUS CIA TALKING POINTS
But the inconvenient facts about Benghazi keep coming out. In recent weeks, the infamous CIA talking points which served as a convenient cover for Susan Rice’s efforts to hoodwink the American public on national television about Benghazi, have been exposed as a carefully crafted fiction. From the time they were drafted by the CIA, they underwent 12 different drafts before being released to the public.
In that process, administration officials carefully removed all mention of the terrorist group which was behind the Benghazi attack or its affiliation with al Qaeda. The word “attack” was toned down to a “violent incident.” References to prior CIA reports of armed terrorist activity in the region were removed, as was the word “violent” from “violent extremists.”
By the time the final version of the talking points emerged, then-CIA director David Petraeus, who had submitted the original draft, could hardly recognize them and recommended that they not be used.
Administration defenders seek to portray the sanitizing of the talking points as the result of an interagency review process between the State Department and the CIA in which the White House played no role.
In fact, the White House supervised the process of watering down the CIA’s original findings so that the talking points that emerged would lend credence to a totally fictitious version of events. It was never intended to tell the American people about what actually happened at Benghazi. It was designed to control the political damage from the terrorist attack on Benghazi during a presidential re-election campaign that made believe that terrorism had already been defeated, and it served that purpose admirably.
BENGHAZI PART OF A DISTURBING PATTERN
If Hicks’ testimony and other evidence of the cover-up had not come out at the same time as evidence of other acts of administration deception and political manipulation at the IRS and the Justice Department, Obama might have gotten away with dismissing the furor over Benghazi as a “political sideshow.”
But in the context of the other scandals, it contributes to a disturbing pattern of politically motivated actions which are undermining Obama’s credibility as a national leader and may well haunt him for the rest of his term in office.