Mystery of Benghazi mess deepens

Published: Wednesday, Oct. 31 2012 4:00 p.m. MDT

In this Sept. 13, 2012 file photo, a Libyan man investigates the inside of the U.S. Consulate, after an attack that killed four Americans, including Ambassador Chris Stevens on the night of Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2012, in Benghazi, Libya.

Associated Press

On Sept. 11, 2012, four Americans — including U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens — were killed in an attack at a U.S. mission in Benghazi, Libya.

Questions in the days following the assault centered on the public reaction of the Obama administration, which for two weeks treated the attack as a spontaneous response to an anti-Islamic YouTube video, even though, as Reuters reported, White House officials had been told within two hours that it was a planned terrorist attack.

Before long, attention turned to warning signs leading up to the attack and pleas for better security that were overridden in the weeks and months before the attack, as a House panel tried to figure out why American diplomats were left unprotected in a city the British consulate and the Red Cross had already fled.

Now some aggressive reporting by Fox News' Jennifer Griffin has expanded scrutiny to real-time events during the attack itself — the seven hours during which the doomed men battled for their lives.

As to whether damaging information is being suppressed by the media, ABC’s Jake Tapper — an aggressive honest broker who pulls no punches for the Obama White House — is skeptical.

On Wednesday, Tapper tweeted, “For those who want to know more about Benghazi — I do, too. But that doesn't mean repeating rumors or speculation or stories I (can't) prove. If you really think I would 'sit' on any scoop to protect any politician, you don't know me or my work very well."

Tapper was responding to an assertion by Newt Gingrich that a reliable U.S. senator had told him two networks have copies of an explosive email. “There is a rumor — I want to be clear, it’s a rumor — that at least two networks have emails from the National Security Adviser’s office telling a counterterrorism group to stand down,” Gingrich said.

On Tuesday, Washington Post columnist David Ignatius, a reliably measured foreign affairs voice, acknowledged Griffin’s work, adding that there are “some questions about the attack that deserve a clearer answer from the Obama administration” and that the “Obama administration needs to level with the country about why it made its decisions.”

Among the remaining questions are these: Who knew what during the attack? Were CIA operatives in the annex near the consulate ordered not to act? Were military options available, and if they were, who decided not to employ them?

Hovering drones

For some, the question of what military options were available leads to further questions. Did surveillance drones feed real-time video images to decision makers in Washington? If so, were these drones armed? Or were gunships available that could have put down suppressing fire?

Shortly after the attack began, Griffin reported, two U.S. surveillance drones were diverted to Benghazi. “Any U.S. official or agency with the proper clearance, including the White House Situation Room, State Department, CIA, Pentagon and others, could call up that video in real time on their computers,” she added.

It remains unclear who in the White House security team followed this feed, assuming it was available in real time.

It is also unclear whether the drones were armed, or whether airborne gunships were in the area. On Sunday, Fox News' Chris Wallace asked Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo., whether the drones were armed. "We're going to find that out ..." Udall began. But later when Wallace pressed the point, Udall said, "I can't comment on that at this point in time," leaving it unclear whether he did not know or was refusing to comment.

One detail in Griffin’s narrative involves a laser apparently used by Woods as he sought to get air support.

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