Administration knew within minutes that Benghazi attack was terrorism
This is pretty straightforward and it opens the door to further inquiries regarding the nature of our response to the attacks on our diplomats in Benghazi.
As much as liberals and the White House would like Benghazi to be seen as a conservative obsession bordering on the pathological, the simple facts keep getting in the way. And this report by Fox News' James Rosen that our top military leadership knew 15 minutes after the attack, and just prior to a meeting with the president that it wasn't a protest, or had anything at all to do with a video, suggests a purely political motivation for trying to hide the truth.
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.
"My first call was to General Dempsey, General Dempsey's office, to say, 'Hey, I am headed down the hall. I need to see him right away,'" Ham told lawmakers on the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigation on June 26 of last year. "I told him what I knew. We immediately walked upstairs to meet with Secretary Panetta."
Ham's account of that fateful day was included in some 450 pages of testimony given by senior Pentagon officials in classified, closed-door hearings conducted last year by the Armed Services subcommittee. The testimony, given under "Top Secret" clearance and only declassified this month, presents a rare glimpse into how information during a crisis travels at the top echelons of America's national security apparatus, all the way up to the president.
Also among those whose secret testimony was declassified was Dempsey, the first person Ham briefed about Benghazi. Ham told lawmakers he considered it a fortuitous "happenstance" that he was able to rope Dempsey and Panetta into one meeting, so that, as Ham put it, "they had the basic information as they headed across for the meeting at the White House." Ham also told lawmakers he met with Panetta and Dempsey when they returned from their 30-minute session with President Obama on Sept. 11.
The White House continues to insist that the "fog of war" prevented them from confirming the reason and the nature of the attack in the hours and even days following. They even released selected emails to prove their point.
But the military apparently had no issues with the nature and reason for the attack. General Ham's testimony is only the latest in a series of confirmations that just about everybody in the American government believed it was a terrorist attack underway:
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.
Senior State Department officials who were in direct, real-time contact with the Americans under assault in Benghazi have also made clear they, too, knew immediately -- from surveillance video and eyewitness accounts -- that the incident was a terrorist attack. After providing the first substantive "tick-tock" of the events in Benghazi, during a background briefing conducted on the evening of Oct. 9, 2012, a reporter asked two top aides to then-Secretary Clinton: "What in all of these events that you've described led officials to believe for the first several days that this was prompted by protests against the video?"
"That is a question that you would have to ask others," replied one of the senior officials. "That was not our conclusion."
The career officers and diplomats at defense and state had no illusions about Benghazi. They knew what it was from the outset and Secretary Panetta and JCS Chairman Dempsey told the president within minutes what was going on.
So what happened? It seems likely that the political pros in the White House took over the issue and began to massage the narrative to 1) deflect blame from the administration for inadequate security at the Benghazi mission; and 2) hide the fact that terrorism was still a threat despite the killing of bin Laden.These two issues have nothing whatsoever to do with the discredited "60 Minutes" report and everything to do with allowing political considerations to override national security concerns. Hiding the truth from the voters became paramount and helped explain the White House inaction on ordering a military rescue (which may or may not have been feasible at the time).
Rep. Issa isn't finished with his investigation yet and the White House continues to stonewall on the matter of eye witnesses. But the release of these transcripts gives us a fairly complete picture of what the professionals believed and what they told the president within minutes of the attack.