The election may be over, but questions over the Obama White House’s handling of the Sept. 11 attacks in Benghazi, Libya remain. And now that CIA Director David Petraeus has resigned from his post citing an extramarital affair, those questions are likely to either get a lot more difficult to answer, or a lot less difficult to answer, as more information trickles out.
And indeed, some information already has. On Friday, the Pentagon released its official timeline of the response to the Benghazi attacks through an anonymous official. Fox News caught the release of this information, and has done the necessary job of comparing it with separate accounts of the attacks by other sources including the CIA.
The accounts diverge and discrepancies abound. From Fox News:
Right from the start, the Pentagon and the CIA timelines do not match. (The CIA timeline, which was released on Nov. 1, states that at 9:40 p.m., “A senior State Department security officer at the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi called the CIA annex and requested assistance.”)
A source at the CIA annex that night told Fox News that when they first asked to go and help, they were told to wait.[…]
For nearly an hour, no one told the defense secretary and Joint Chiefs chairman that a U.S. ambassador is in peril and his personal security officer has pressed his “personal distress button” which sends an SMS signal back to the command authority in the U.S. and a U.S. embassy has been overrun by attackers.[…]
According to the senior U.S. defense official who briefed reporters on the timeline, “There has been a great deal of speculation about the use of or desirability of military responses. Some have indicated manned and unmanned aircraft options would have changed the course of events. Unfortunately, no aircraft options were available to be used or effective.”
According to a source who debriefed those who were at the CIA annex that night, “When they asked for air support, they were told they could have an unarmed drone.”
Based on just this small sample, it should be clear that the CIA’s account of what happened and the Defense Department’s account of what happened cannot both be true at the same time. And the above truly is just a small sample of the bewildering differences between the CIA’s and the Pentagon’s stories.
Moreover, whichever one is true, many will find something to criticize in the response by the administration. The Pentagon source reportedly told Fox News that it took General Martin Dempsey and Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta more an hour (78 minutes, to be exact) to meet with President Barack Obama after they already knew the attack had begun. Such a delay arguably indicates either hubris or incompetence on the part of Dempsey and Panetta for not immediately bringing the subject to the attention of the commander in chief.
Finally, if the response by the administration was slow, the military’s response was even more sluggish. It reportedly took five hours for two Marine FAST teams to arrive in Libya, and one plane carrying military assets took 20 hours to arrive, even though it was coming from a location just two to three hours away. Survivors of the attacks have quoted particular radio dispatches which the Pentagon now denies ever took place, and the CIA and Pentagon records diverge as to when a rescue team sent from Tripoli arrived in Benghazi by 15 minutes.
In short, the waters have only been muddied when it comes to Benghazi, and answers now appear an even more distant prospect. In the absence of clear information, the finger pointing and mutually exclusive explanations are likely to continue apace.