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Five key questions from '13 Hours: The Inside Account of What Really Happened in Benghazi


Recurring themes throughout '13 Hours' beg serious questions yet to be substantively addressed on Benghazi.

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"13 Hours: The Inside Account of What Really Happened In Benghazi" provides a harrowing but vital view as to what occurred on the ground on the night of September 11, 2012. 

The book, which reads like a movie were it only fiction, leaves the reader with three distinct sentiments: awe at the heroes who put their lives on the line for the country they love, sorrow for those who lost their lives on September 11, 2012 and disgust at the many glaring security breakdowns that ultimately led to the murders of Ambassador Chris Stevens, Glen Doherty, Sean Smith and Tyrone Woods.

While author Mitchell Zuckoff provides many answers as to what occurred on the ground that night, in all of its stunning, adrenaline-inducing and at times gory and horrific detail, there are a handful of key questions/takeaways that present themselves based on the recurring themes in the book.

Below are five of the most significant ones that readers of "13 Hours" will walk away with:

1. Why was the U.S. trusting a group called the February 17th Martyrs Brigade to guard U.S. diplomatic/intelligence personnel in Benghazi?

An image from the February 17 Martyrs Brigade Facebook page. (Image Source: Facebook) An image from the February 17 Martyrs Brigade Facebook page. (Image Source: Facebook)

Throughout "13 Hours," U.S. officials are constantly uncertain whether the Libyans they encounter -- be it supposed allied militiamen or unidentified individuals loitering in the streets -- are "friendlies" or "enemies." While Benghazi as is abundantly clear was teeming with competing "rebel" (often jihadist) groups whose allegiances are portrayed as ever-shifting, the U.S. reportedly relied upon one particular Libyan group for security called the February 17th Martyrs Brigade -- which some allege is Al-Qaeda linked, as argued in great detail in another recent book, "The Real Benghazi Story" by Aaron Klein. This militia was supposedly the strongest and best organized in Benghazi, nominally reporting to the Libyan defense ministry according to some reports. The group provided not only security guards for the U.S. Special Mission Compound in Benghazi, but according to security protocol was supposed to provide a quick reaction force in the event of an attack on the compound. Throughout "13 Hours," there are numerous actions (or lack thereof) calling into question the February 17th Martyrs Brigade's competence and/or allegiance. Three February 17th Martyrs Brigade members as well as five Libyan guards provided by the Blue Mountain Group, a British security company, according to the book, fled for cover when the U.S. Special Mission was first attacked, allowing terrorists to burst into the compound almost immediately without resistance.

2. How is it possible that terrorists could storm right through the gates of the U.S. Special Mission and overtake it?

While this question is linked to the first, in addition to the lack of adequate security in terms of manpower, the Special Mission Compound itself is described as being woefully insecure based upon the government's own review released in December 2012. Citing this review, Zuckoff notes that the compound "included a weak and very extended perimeter, an incomplete interior fence, no mantraps and unhardened entry gates and doors. Benghazi was also severely under-resourced with regard to weapons, ammunition, [nonlethal deterrents] and fire safety equipment, including escape masks." While the book notes that the government sought to maintain a low profile, and notes that Ambassador Stevens' time was primarily spent in Tripoli, given the security threats that Stevens himself reported via diplomatic cables and the numerous prior attempts on the lives of foreign diplomats in Benghazi, it is hard to understand how the compound could have been so unprotected. One gets the distinct sense reading "13 Hours" that our assets on the ground were effectively sitting ducks.

3. Why did Ambassador Stevens' security at the compound consist of only five Diplomatic Security agents with little significant field experience, and eight ultimately ineffectual Libyan guards?

[instory-book ISBN="9781455582273"]

In addition to questioning the strength of the Libyan forces hired to help protect U.S. assets in Benghazi, one also wonders why there were only five U.S. Diplomatic Security agents provided to cover Ambassador Stevens during his short trip to Benghazi. As Zuckoff recounts, these men had only about a dozen years of military experience cumulatively. Zuckoff writes:

To help DS agents in advance of [Ambassador] Stevens's visit, the [CIA] Annex's GRS [Global Response Staff] operators conducted a security assessment at the [Benghazi] Special Mission Compound, where Stevens would stay. During the review, [special operator Kris Paranto, aka] Tanto asked the DS agents how many security team members they'd have on hand when the ambassador visited, not including local militiamen or other Libyans hired as guards. Five, they told him, each armed with an M4 assault rifle, a mainstay weapon of the US military. Tanto learned that the DS agents collectively had about a dozen years of military experience. He knew that the Annex operators had closer to one hundred years of collective military and contracting experience, much of it on elite security teams. The GRS team also had larger and more powerful weapons.

"If you guys get attacked by any big element," Tanto told them, "you're going to die." Realizing that he'd come across stronger than intended, Tanto reassured the DS agents: "If you need assistance, we're going to help you."

4. Why were the special operators at the CIA Annex who were ready to rush to the Special Mission to save Ambassador Stevens and others instructed by the CIA base chief, "Bob," to wait three times while our men languished?

In what is perhaps the biggest bombshell from "13 Hours," and as discussed during the Fox News special on the book, the CIA base chief at the CIA Annex known as "Bob," three times held up the contract operators who would ultimately rush to the Special Mission, and later defend the CIA Annex. Allegedly, Bob was coordinating plans with the February 17th Martyrs Brigade, as the militia was supposedly to help try to defend the compound. The chief also rejected the calls by Kris Paronto, aka 'Tanto,' one of the operators, who requested U.S. military air support including an unmanned drone for surveillance, and a heavily armed AC-130 Spectre gunship for a ground assault. The drone would come but the gunship would not.

The special operators in the book express their disdain for what they felt was a bureaucratic, political attitude taken by Bob. The CIA's Global Response Staff (GRS) operators reportedly "wrote Bob off as spineless, or as one put it, "a chickensh*t careerist" focused on retirement and a cushy government pension", perhaps most devastatingly reflected in this scenario. Ultimately, against orders to stay put, the special operators left the Annex and rushed to try to save those under attack at the Special Mission. The book speculates that there are several reasons why Bob held the special operators back:

From overhearing the Annex staffers' side of the ongoing phone calls, the GRS contract operators became convinced that the agency wanted the 17 February militia to repel the attack entirely on its own, with no direct American involvement other than the DS agents already trapped inside the compound.

Several GRS operators considered that wishful thinking at best, negligent leadership at worst. They suspected that they knew a motive for such idle hopes: If the operators' Quick Reaction Force remained at the Annex, the CIA wouldn't be forced to reveal or explain its presence in Benghazi. On the other hand, if American clandestine operators and contract security employees went into combat against radical Islamists, the battle would be guaranteed to attract global attention and massive scrutiny. Especially on September 11. During his previous trips to Benghazi, [John Tiegen, aka] Tig had experienced multiple instances where Bob the base chief had told the operators to "stand down," even when Americans were potentially in danger, apparently to avoid the risk of exposing the CIA presence.

Another factor might also have contributed to the delay: the CIA chief seemed genuinely concerned that the Annex might come under fire. If all the GRS operators were at the Compound, the Americans left behind at the Annex would have little chance against a large force of attackers. The contract operators, routinely treated like excess baggage by many of the CIA case officers, were suddenly the most popular Americans in Benghazi.

Regardless, Bob would ultimately receive "a prestigious intelligence service medal."

5. Has the government ensured that such glaring security failures will never be made again?

The description of the major lapses that enabled the attacks on our men and women in Benghazi begs the question as to whether or not America has taken the measures necessary to ensure that such an attack can never happen again. Presumably, Congressman Trey Gowdy's Special Committee will build on the investigative work done to date to document all of the various security lapses and provide a set of recommendations to prevent such an attack going forward. It does bear noting however that some 10 years after the findings of the 9/11 Commission were published, Commission members are criticizing Congress for not implementing the very recommendations they suggested.


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