When the bodies of Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans killed in Benghazi, Libya, arrived at Andrews Air Force Base after the Sept. 11 attack, they were greeted by the president, the vice president and the secretaries of state and defense. Conspicuously absent was CIA Director David Petraeus.More:
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.
The coordinated attacks stirred up a political hornet's nest over whether the administration provided adequate security and whether it was forthcoming with its assessment of what happened. In the election season, that cast a shadow over the Obama administration's foreign policy record.
Nearly eight weeks after the attacks, a complete accounting hasn't emerged in public view. The brunt of the public criticism for security lapses has so far been directed at the State Department, rather than the CIA, which, by design, operates largely in the shadows. Critics in Congress say the CIA has used secrecy in part to shield itself from blame—a charge officials close to the agency deny.
This account of the CIA presence in Benghazi sheds new light on the events, and how the essentially covert nature of the U.S. operations there created confusion. Congressional investigators say it appears that the CIA and State Department weren't on the same page about their respective roles on security, underlining the rift between agencies over taking responsibility and raising questions about whether the security arrangement in Benghazi was flawed.
The CIA's secret role helps explain why security appeared inadequate at the U.S. diplomatic facility. State Department officials believed that responsibility was set to be shouldered in part by CIA personnel in the city through a series of secret agreements that even some officials in Washington didn't know about.
It also explains why the consulate was abandoned to looters for weeks afterward while U.S. efforts focused on securing the more important CIA quarters. Officials say it is unclear whether the militants knew about the CIA presence or stumbled upon the facility by following Americans there after the attack on the consulate...
In the months leading up to the attack, Mr. Stevens and others sent a series of diplomatic messages to the administration warning that security in Benghazi was deteriorating. Nevertheless, security at the consulate wasn't beefed up and Mr. Stevens's movements weren't restricted, according to congressional investigators.William Kristol has commentary on this, at the Weekly Standard, "Clinton vs. Petraeus — But Where's Obama?"
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.
Outside of Tripoli and Benghazi, the nature of the security relationship between the consulate and the annex wasn't widely known, and details about that arrangement are still the subject of dispute. The night of the attack, many top officials at the State Department in Washington weren't initially aware that the annex had a security force that answered to the CIA and provided backup security for the consulate.
Soon after the shooting started, a diplomatic security officer at the consulate hit an alarm. 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.
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.
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.
The congressional investigator said the delay showed that the secret CIA-State security arrangement was inadequate...
Yeah, where is that guy?
More at CBS News, "Sources: Key task force not convened during Benghazi consulate attack." The report indicates that "top officials" couldn't make up their minds on what to do. Response teams were repeatedly readied for deployment then made to "stand down." It was total confusion.
And see Eli Lake, at the Daily Beast, "New Details on Benghazi."
And Foreign Policy, "'Troubling' Surveillance Before Benghazi Attack." Also, "State Department to review its own Benghazi review," and "Congress wants answers on newly found Benghazi documents."