Petraeus replacement to testify CIA never requested military assistance in Benghazi

posted at 8:51 am on November 15, 2012 by Ed Morrissey

So says Eli Lake of The Daily Beast, getting tips from his sources within the intelligence community.  Michael Morell, who became acting Director of Central Intelligence following the surprise resignation of David Petraeus, will appear before the Senate Intelligence Committee today to discuss the agency’s response to the attack on the Benghazi consulate.  Morell will testify that no one at the agency requested military assistance during the seven hours of the terrorist attack that killed four Americans, including two CIA operatives:

When the CIA’s acting director, Michael Morell, testifies Thursday before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, he is expected to say that the agency never requested Europe-based special operations teams, specialized Marine platoons, or armed drones on the night of the Sept. 11 attack in Benghazi, Libya, according to a senior U.S. intelligence official.

The disclosure may put an end to one line of inquiry into the Benghazi affair about why reinforcements from the region were not sent on the night of the attack. “Assistance from the U.S. military was critical, and we got what we requested,” the senior U.S. intelligence official said.

According to a Pentagon timeline made public last week, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta prepared multiple military responses from the region at around midnight Benghazi time, more than two hours after the initial assault began. Those orders included mobilizing two special Marine platoons known as Fleet Antiterrorism Security Team (FAST) from Rota, Spain, to deploy to Tripoli and Benghazi. Panetta also ordered a special operations force, training in central Europe, to deploy at the Signonella Airbase in Italy. Another special operations team based in the United States also prepared to deploy to Libya.

The CIA, however, requested none of that assistance. Neither did the State Department. None of those teams ever arrived in Benghazi.

That differs from what Fox News reported almost three weeks ago, and which has gone virtually unchallenged in the vacuum of official explanations about Benghazi since.  Jennifer Griffin reported on October 26th, citing sources that were actually “on the ground” in Benghazi during the attack, that the CIA contingent repeatedly requested assistance — but were told to “stand down” twice by officials in the CIA chain of command:

Fox News has learned from sources who were on the ground in Benghazi that three urgent requests from the CIA annex for military back-up during the attack on the U.S. Consulate and subsequent attack nearly seven hours later were denied by officials in the CIA chain of command — who also told the CIA operators to “stand down” rather than help the ambassador’s team when shots were heard at approximately 9:40 p.m. in Benghazi on Sept. 11.

Former Navy SEALs Tyrone Woods and Glen Doherty were part of a small team who were at the CIA annex about a mile from the U.S. Consulate where Ambassador Chris Stevens and his team came under attack. When they heard the shots fired, they radioed to inform their higher-ups to tell them what they were hearing. They were told to “stand down,” according to sources familiar with the exchange. An hour later, they called again to headquarters and were again told to “stand down.”

Woods, Doherty and at least two others ignored those orders and made their way to the Consulate which at that point was on fire. Shots were exchanged. The quick reaction force from the CIA annex evacuated those who remained at the Consulate and Sean Smith, who had been killed in the initial attack. They could not find the ambassador and returned to the CIA annex at about midnight.

At that point, they called again for military support and help because they were taking fire at the CIA safe house, or annex. The request was denied. There were no communications problems at the annex, according those present at the compound. The team was in constant radio contact with their headquarters. In fact, at least one member of the team was on the roof of the annex manning a heavy machine gun when mortars were fired at the CIA compound. The security officer had a laser on the target that was firing and repeatedly requested back-up support from a Specter gunship, which is commonly used by U.S. Special Operations forces to provide support to Special Operations teams on the ground involved in intense firefights. The fighting at the CIA annex went on for more than four hours — enough time for any planes based in Sigonella Air base, just 480 miles away, to arrive. Fox News has also learned that two separate Tier One Special operations forces were told to wait, among them Delta Force operators.

Morell will testify that the CIA team received two forms of military assistance, apparently on the CIA’s request, although that’s not clear — an unarmed surveillance drone and a medevac team when the CIA squad on the ground was able to extract the remaining Americans to the airport.  It’s certainly possible that this is true, and that Griffin got it wrong, even though Griffin claimed multiple sources who were on the ground during the attack.

But Morell’s explanation, as related by Lake, doesn’t make a lot of sense.  If the consulate and the CIA annex was under heavy and deliberate attack by forces using mortars and RPGs, why wouldn’t they ask for the military assistance that they knew was on standby for just this sort of contingency?  Why just ask for an unarmed surveillance drone rather than something that could potentially offer a diversion for the extraction of personnel from the consulate?  It’s difficult to imagine that the intelligence unit under fire off an on for seven hours would never have requested military assistance to save the lives of the people in the compound — not impossible, perhaps, but certainly implausible.


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