Benghazi: The Definitive Report?

With all of the political wrangling over events in Benghazi on September 11, 2012, attention in some conservative channels has focused on a well-hyped recently released e-book.  Benghazi: The Definitive Report claims in its prologue to "cut through the static and white noise generated by the media pundits, partisan politics, and unfounded conspiracy theories" to be "the definitive account of the Benghazi attack for years to come."  Unfortunately, the book fails to totally live up to its claims.

Written by Jack Murphy and Brandon Webb, two decorated Special Operations veterans who served in Iraq and Afghanistan and operate a website dedicated to special forces personnel, the  book relies on "consultations" with experts and Special Ops military members privy to details of events surrounding the Benghazi attack.  Accounts of valor shown by those who fought that day in Benghazi, especially CIA agents and former Navy SEALs Ty Woods and Glen Doherty (killed while protecting dozens of Americans), tell a tale of action-packed drama.

If Woods, Doherty, and other Intelligence Support Activity (ISA) agents provide the heroes of this book, the clear villain is John Brennan, President Obama's top counterterrorism adviser at the time of the Benghazi massacre and now his nominee to become CIA director.  The authors allege that Brennan received carte blanche from Obama to run totally covert operations in North Africa and the Middle East outside the traditional command structure, "provided he didn't do anything that ended up becoming an exposé in The New York Times and embarrassing the administration."

Closely associated with Brennan's clandestine war, the authors identify Admiral William McRaven, presently head of U.S. Special Operations Command and formerly of the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC).  Brennan, the authors allege, hatches the plans, while McRaven mobilizes the JSOC assets like ISA, Navy SEAL Team Six, or Delta Force troops to execute lethal "off the books" combat missions "not coordinated through the Pentagon or other governmental agencies, including the CIA."  It is one or more of these missions in Libya in the summer of 2012 targeting high-level al-Qaeda operatives which the authors say triggered the retaliatory September attack in Benghazi.

If that were not enough, the authors further allege that Brennan, seemingly in his spare time, runs another "highly compartmentalized program out of the White House" to transfer weapons from Libya to the "rebel fighters in Syria" -- an interesting way to identify a force known to be heavily populated by many of the same anti-American jihadists whom American forces have been fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Undercutting the authors' theory of a focused retaliatory attack is an extensive dissertation describing Libya as a longstanding haven for Islamic jihadists, a major source of military forces already fighting Americans in Iraq and Afghanistan, and an area riddled with caches of weapons.  They suggest that the CIA presence in Benghazi provided a headquarters to gather intelligence on local militias, hunt down WMD (including suspected stores of yellowcake uranium), and collect as much of Gaddafi's extensive arsenal as could be found before it ended up in jihadist hands.

In spite of a clear and growing danger to Americans in the area and a poor diplomatic facility in which to transact business, this "definitive account" makes no effort to explain why Ambassador Stevens, Sean Smith (a State Department information technology specialist), and two security agents chose the anniversary of the September 11, 2001 attack to travel to Benghazi, where only three other security personnel and four unarmed local militia guards awaited them.

The book speaks of a meeting between Stevens and a senior Turkish diplomat just before the attack.  While others have speculated about this meeting because of Turkey's well-known efforts to supply munitions to anti-Assad forces in Syria, the authors say nothing further.

The book does provide a riveting account of the attack, which began at the State Department compound shortly after 9:30 p.m.  Within minutes, militia fighters spread through the compound, driving Stevens and Smith to a recently constructed safe room, which is soon set afire.  At the nearby CIA Annex, Ty Woods, a 20-year Navy SEAL veteran and senior CIA paramilitary agent, formulates a rescue plan in response to frantic radio calls for help from the embattled compound. 

Within 30 minutes of the start of hostilities and in direct defiance of orders to stand down, Smith and six other CIA agents in heavily armed vehicles proceed to the compound and engage the attackers.  In a two-hour firefight, Woods and his team find Smith's body, search for Stevens without success, and rescue the State Department personnel.  With the element of surprise gone, ammunition running low, and the attacking militia massing for another assault, Woods orders everyone back to the annex with no combat casualties.

For the balance of the night, the fight shifts to the heavily fortified annex.  We're told that, about 2 a.m., a cell phone call to the CIA reports that Ambassador Stevens's body can be found at the local hospital.  They arrange for a trusted Libyan to confirm the report and transport the body to the airport

A little after 5 a.m., a seven-man paramilitary team from the main CIA base in Tripoli led by Doherty arrive via a commandeered Libyan jet aircraft (reportedly paying $30,000 cash to the crew) and break through to aid their comrades.  During the intense fight, both Woods and Doherty would die from a mortar attack about an hour later, and the base would be evacuated shortly thereafter.  Approximately twelve hours elapsed from the first attack until over thirty U.S. personnel, including the killed and wounded, evacuated Benghazi by aircraft for Tripoli.

As the authors make clear, "[t]he CIA did an exemplary job with virtually no outside support."  Except for two unarmed Predator drones redirected to the scene by the DOD's AFRICOM (Africa Command) at the request of an onsite JSOC operator, no other assistance came.  The book, in its detailed action timeline, fails to support claims appearing in American Thinker and other sources that Woods and Doherty died as they painted laser targets on jihadist mortar nests expecting  assistance from overhead aircraft.  Instead, the authors flatly reject rumors of any nearby AC-130 gunship or armed drone and tell how the attackers' "skilled mortar team" used a common trial-and-error tactic of "bracketing" to find their mark.

The authors also reject stories that General Carter Ham, AFRICOM commander at the time of the attack, had "gone rogue" and was attempting to provide help to Benghazi when he was relieved of command.  "Great story, but completely false," the authors say, citing a flat denial of the story by General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.  Though the Pentagon announced the retirement of General Ham the following month, the official explanation is accepted in the book.  Still, confusion remains.  Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta said that he, General Dempsey, and General Ham had agreed that night that any assistance would be too risky.  However, Ham later told a congressman that no order came down to act and made no mention of any consensus discussion.

Authors Murphy and Webb deal sympathetically with collateral damage from the Benghazi attack involving the forced retirement of General David Petraeus from the CIA.  The book details how Petraeus soon realized that he had not been informed of Brennan's compartmentalized JSOC operations, which blindsided the CIA's Benghazi personnel.  "[F]urious about being left in the lurch by the Obama administration," Petraeus concluded that "he was a perpetual outsider in the administration" and began preparations to resign after the election.

According to the Murphy-Webb account, Petraeus's well-laid plans were upset by high-ranking officers in the CIA who opposed his policies and leadership style within the agency.  We're told that, aware of the poorly suppressed extramarital affair involving the general and a female staffer, these officers initiated and kept alive an FBI investigation which finally forced Petraeus's resignation on their terms, not his -- an act which, the authors say, "seems purely vindictive, and perhaps was meant to sabotage any future possibility of a presidential campaign."

The book drops little nuggets, such as claiming that "SEAL Team Six had to liquidate Osama Bin Laden in Abbotabad, Pakistan" lest his capture reveal an association with the CIA during the Mujahidin's war against the Soviets.  Yet it ignores major issues, such as reaction within the White House to the real-time Predator sensor data available there and why special forces, which the authors must know exist at the ready within a couple hours' flight time from Benghazi, were not activated to assist.

The account states that "contrary to the many media myths about Benghazi, requests for help were not denied by the Obama administration."  This comes just two sentences before we're told that Ty Woods's request to render assistance to personnel under attack was denied by his CIA chief of base.

In fact, the authors seem to go out of their way to help President Obama and high-ranking DOD officials evade accountability.  Calling Obama "an aloof and rather ineffectual leader," they claim that the Benghazi attack "really doesn't involve the President all that much one way or the other."  How odd is that?  We've been repeatedly told that Obama pores over kill lists to pick targets for assassination, was deeply engaged in a Navy SEAL operation against Somali pirates, and led the effort to kill Osama bin Laden.  Yet this time, Obama chooses not to get involved when a classic setback to American interests is occurring?  Why do these special forces veterans believe that the commander-in-chief gets to make that choice without any hint at dereliction of duty?

The book does address the infamous internet video, claiming that it was a fabricated cover story by the administration intended to distract attention, both nationally and internationally, from paramilitary attacks going on in Libya, secret weapons transfers from Libya to Syria, and other clandestine operations -- the "true motivations" behind the jihadist assault.

Murphy and Webb begin their narrative with a promise to "name names and hold accountable those who acted cowardly and those who erred by seeking to protect their political careers at the expense of human lives."  However, we're left with little to chew on after that claim.  Clearly, they have no love for John Brennan, calling him an "ambitious bureaucrat" and "world-class windbag" who must be "reined in or fired" if the post-Afghanistan war on terror is to be successful.  If not, they say, "we'll see plenty more Benghazis happen."  However, until better investigation of other players in this drama, from President Obama on down, reaches the Brennan scrutiny level, we must await a further definitive report.