To some extent we knew this already — Leon Panetta said so in open testimony, to which I’ll return later — but James Rosen at Fox confirms this understanding at the highest levels of the Obama administration within minutes of the attack. No one seriously thought it was a demonstration that had turned into a riot, despite the spin offered in the days after the attack left four Americans dead. And that leaves a lot of questions as to the lack of response:
Minutes after the American consulate in Benghazi came under assault on Sept. 11, 2012, the nation’s top civilian and uniformed defense officials — headed for a previously scheduled Oval Office session with President Obama — were informed that the event was a “terrorist attack,” declassified documents show. The new evidence raises the question of why the top military men, one of whom was a member of the president’s Cabinet, allowed him and other senior Obama administration officials to press a false narrative of the Benghazi attacks for two weeks afterward.
Gen. Carter Ham, who at the time was head of AFRICOM, the Defense Department combatant command with jurisdiction over Libya, told the House in classified testimony last year that it was him who broke the news about the unfolding situation in Benghazi to then-Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Gen. Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The tense briefing — in which it was already known that U.S. Ambassador to Libya Christopher Stevens had been targeted and had gone missing — occurred just before the two senior officials departed the Pentagon for their session with the commander in chief.
According to declassified testimony obtained by Fox News, Ham — who was working out of his Pentagon office on the afternoon of Sept. 11 — said he learned about the assault on the consulate compound within 15 minutes of its commencement, at 9:42 p.m. Libya time, through a call he received from the AFRICOM Command Center. …
Rep. Brad Wenstrup, R-Ohio, a first-term lawmaker with experience as an Iraq war veteran and Army reserve officer, pressed Ham further on the point, prodding the 29-year Army veteran to admit that “the nature of the conversation” he had with Panetta and Dempsey was that “this was a terrorist attack.”
The transcript reads as follows:
WENSTRUP: “As a military person, I am concerned that someone in the military would be advising that this was a demonstration. I would hope that our military leadership would be advising that this was a terrorist attack.”
HAM: “Again, sir, I think, you know, there was some preliminary discussion about, you know, maybe there was a demonstration. But I think at the command, I personally and I think the command very quickly got to the point that this was not a demonstration, this was a terrorist attack.”
WENSTRUP: “And you would have advised as such if asked. Would that be correct?”
HAM: “Well, and with General Dempsey and Secretary Panetta, that is the nature of the conversation we had, yes, sir.”
Panetta told the Senate Armed Services Committee in February of last year that it was him who informed the president that “there was an apparent attack going on in Benghazi.” “Secretary Panetta, do you believe that unequivocally at that time we knew that this was a terrorist attack?” asked Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla. “There was no question in my mind that this was a terrorist attack,” Panetta replied.
Furthermore, the communication from the US military in Libya made clear from the start that this was a an attack, not a riot:
WESTRUP: “So no one from the military was ever advising, that you are aware of, that this was a demonstration gone out of control, it was always considered an attack -”
BRISTOL: “Yes, sir.”
WENSTRUP: “– on the United States?”
BRISTOL: “Yes, sir. … We referred to it as the attack.”
We have already known that Panetta got briefed from the start that this was a terrorist attack, from Panetta’s own lips. Presumably, that’s what he then told Barack Obama. What happened in between to cause them to claim it was a demonstration that got out of control? One charitable possibility is that the State Department or CIA might have claimed otherwise based on faulty intel — it happens, especially in the fog of war — or it could be that someone concocted that story to give them political cover for the lack of preparedness that this event demonstrated.
The Fox report also debunks the rumor that General Carter Ham received a stand-down order that night. As the classified testimony confirms, the American military was completely unprepared to deal with a terrorist attack in the region that night:
This is mind-blowing. This wasn’t just some random night; it occurred on the anniversary of the 9/11 attack. It took place in what Qaddafi’s fall had turned into Terrorist Central in North Africa, in a city where escalating terrorist attacks against Western targets had forced every other Western nation but the US to retreat. As this also states, a visit by Panetta in December 2011, ten months before the attack, led the DoD to offer a Marine unit for security, which State refused.
Both agencies knew that Benghazi was a sitting duck, and yet the State Department did nothing to bolster security and the DoD did nothing to bolster readiness on the anniversary of 9/11. This is sheer incompetence stacked on more incompetence. That’s the scandal.
Addendum: Let’s not forget that whatever Panetta told Obama about the attack, Obama didn’t take enough of an interest to ask for a follow-up from his Secretary of Defense.
Update: In a loosely-related note, Dianne Feinstein isn’t buying what the New York Times is shilling on Benghazi, either:
Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) rejected the Times’s conclusion that al Qaeda wasn’t responsible for the attack that killed Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans. She also took issue with the notion that the Libya strike was sparked by a U.S.-made anti-Islam video online.ADVERTISEMENT
“I believe that groups loosely associated with al Qaeda were” involved in the attack, she told The Hill last week. “That’s my understanding.”
She also disputed the notion that the Sept. 11, 2012, assault evolved from a protest against the video, which was widely disseminated by Islamic clerics shortly before the attack.
“It doesn’t jibe with me,” she said.
Given that the US formally accused Abu Sufian bin Qumu of participating in the attack just days after David Kirkpatrick claimed that the US didn’t think he was involved, I’d call the NYT version a bit of a dead letter.