The House Intelligence Committee declared earlier in the investigations into the sacking of the Benghazi consulate two years ago that the alleged “stand down” order to military responders never happened. Three members of the local security team in Benghazi who ended up defying orders to respond to the attack beg to differ — but there is a key difference between the earlier allegation and their testimony to Fox News’ Bret Baier, which airs in full tonight. The stand-down order they describe did not come from Washington, but from the local CIA chief, who was trying to get local militias to intervene instead:
Word of the attack on the diplomatic compound reached the CIA annex just after 9:30 p.m. Within five minutes, the security team at the annex was geared up for battle, and ready to move to the compound, a mile away.
“Five minutes, we’re ready,” said Paronto, a former Army Ranger. “It was thumbs up, thumbs up, we’re ready to go.”
But the team was held back. According to the security operators, they were delayed from responding to the attack by the top CIA officer in Benghazi, whom they refer to only as “Bob.”
“It had probably been 15 minutes I think, and … I just said, ‘Hey, you know, we gotta– we need to get over there, we’re losing the initiative,’” said Tiegen. “And Bob just looks straight at me and said, ‘Stand down, you need to wait.’”
“We’re starting to get calls from the State Department guys saying, ‘Hey, we’re taking fire, we need you guys here, we need help,’” said Paronto.
After a delay of nearly 30 minutes, the security team headed to the besieged consulate without orders. They asked their CIA superiors to call for armed air support, which never came.
This is different in two key aspects from the earlier allegations of a “stand down” order. The initial allegation dealt with the military response team in Tripoli, which supposedly were told to stand down on orders from the military chain of command, presumably from Washington. That allegation assumed that the stand-down order was a definitive decision not to respond at all. The House investigation could not turn up any evidence of such an order, although State Department whistleblowers testified to the reluctance and delay in coming up to speed on the attack.
This testimony deals with a different set of circumstances, and a different chain of command. The news that the security response took place in absence of orders isn’t new, but this is the first time we’re hearing that the local CIA commander ordered them to “stand down,” albeit temporarily, while he looked for militia support. Presumably “Bob” didn’t want to leave the CIA post undefended in order to avoid what ended up happening anyway, when the attack turned toward their compound. That decision sounds rather craven in retrospect, given what we know now about the loyalties of the militias (and what the CIA, of all organizations, should have known then), but not irrational in the broader sense of protecting the security apparatus. That was, after all, one of the key reasons for setting up the consulate in Benghazi and maintaining it even when all of the other Western nations had bugged out.
Could an earlier move to defend the consulate have saved Ambassador Stevens and Sean Smith? These three men think it would have, but that’s never going to be resolved to anyone’s satisfaction. What we do know is that we still don’t know the whole story on Benghazi, which is why we need to keep investigating it.
The full report will air on Fox tonight at 10 ET, and repeat on Saturday and Sunday.