Benghazi panel rebuts conspiracy theorists

Benghazi panel rebuts conspiracy theorists

My colleague Josh Rogin has a more complete and straightforward writeup of this report, an independent look at the State Department’s handling of the Sept. 11 attack that killed U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans, over at The Cable, but I want to highlight a few elements of it in the meantime.

In short, it demolishes some of the more outlandish storylines on the Sept. 11 attack on the U.S. "special mission" in Benghazi (officially, it wasn’t a consulate), from the notion that the Obama administration delayed its response for some strange reason to the idea that anyone gave orders not to come to the mission’s aid.

"The Board members believe every possible effort was made to rescue and recover Ambassador Stevens and Sean Smith," it reads, before going on to detail in gripping bureaucratese the heroic efforts of the mission’s security officers to save their boss — going back into the smoke-filled complex multiple times, at great personal risk, to try to find him and bring him to safety.

What about the story, reported by Fox News, that the "CIA chain of command" ordered the rescue squad from the agency’s Benghazi annex to "stand down"? Nope: "The departure of the Annex team was not delayed by orders from superiors," the report found.

Nor did officials in Washington dawdle on the night of the attack, though they come in for plenty of criticism for lapses in security planning beforehand. "The interagency response was timely and appropriate," the report concludes," noting that there "simply was not enough time for armed U.S. military assets to have made a difference. … The Board found no evidence of any undue delays in decision making or denial of support from Washington or military combatant commanders."

That said, the report is focused by design on the State Department. At least in the unclassifed version released Tuesday evening, it doesn’t have much to say about the intelligence community’s failures or the White House’s role in the response to the attack. It doesn’t name names, or make clear at what level certain key decisions were made. But it makes a pretty strong case that the conspiracy theorists got this one badly wrong.

As a side note, the report also confirms Foreign Policy‘s story on the Benghazi mission’s concerns about "troubling" surveillance of the compound by a local police officer:

At approximately 0645 local that morning, a BML contract guard saw an unknown individual in a Libyan Supreme Security Council (SSC) police uniform apparently taking photos of the compound villas with a cell phone from the second floor of a building under construction across the street to the north of the SMC. The individual was reportedly stopped by BML [the British contractor’s] guards, denied any wrongdoing, and departed in a police car with two others. This was reported to ARSOs [regional security officers] 1 and 2. Later that morning they inspected the area where the individual was seen standing and informed the Annex of the incident. There had not been any related threat reporting. The local February 17 militia headquarters was informed of the incident and reportedly complained to the local SSC on the Special Mission’s behalf. The Ambassador reviewed a Special Mission-drafted complaint to local authorities on the surveillance incident; however, it was not submitted due to the typically early closure of Libyan government offices. Later on September 11, the Ambassador was informed by his Deputy Chief of Mission (DCM) in Tripoli of the breach of the Embassy Cairo compound that had occurred that day and briefly discussed the news with ARSO 3. The TDY RSO [regional security officer on temporary assignment] was also informed of the Cairo compound breach by his Regional Security Officer counterpart in Tripoli and shared the information with colleagues at the Annex.