Tuesday, October 30, 2012

The Instructive Ignorance of Fox's Benghazi Sources

Fox's recent story on the Benghazi attacks has given the right wing blogosphere a case of the vapors, but I think it is misleading, both through omission and through its heavy reliance on unreliable anonymous sources.
Former Navy SEAL Tyrone Woods was part of a small team who was at the CIA annex about a mile from the U.S. consulate where Ambassador Chris Stevens and his team came under attack. When he and others heard the shots fired, they informed their higher-ups at the annex to tell them what they were hearing and requested permission to go to the consulate and help out. They were told to "stand down," according to sources familiar with the exchange. Soon after, they were again told to "stand down." 
Now who were the sources? They couldn't be the security team itself or its superiors, because none of the sources the author used knew how many men went to the "consulate" (actually a mission), later. The security team and its superiors would know this. It seems quite likely that the sources were giving a second hand account of the exchange. In this interview, Jennifer Griffin says that according to one of her sources the security team went to the mission on foot, but the State Department and several eyewitnesses agree that they drove.
Woods and at least two others ignored those orders and made their way to the consulate which at that point was on fire.
The initial stand down order should not be controversial. There seem to have been about 150 militants attacking the mission, so the six man team could have accomplished nothing useful until sufficient friendly Libyan forces, who quickly engaged the militants, arrived, and they would have risked much by a premature drive into the Benghazi night. I also doubt that Woods was grossly insubordinate: he probably received a later order to go to the mission that the sources didn't know about.

By a bit before 11 p.m. local time, about an hour after the attack began, the security team was able to enter the mission. By then Sean Smith was dead and Ambassador Stevens, who could not be found, was dying. The team returned to the annex with Smith's body and the five surviving Americans from the mission, coming under fire as they left. Fighting at the mission was over about 11:30.

The annex came under fire around midnight: quite possibly the militants followed the security team back to the annex.
At that point, they called again for military support and help because they were taking fire at the CIA safe house, or annex. The request was denied.
The source here, if correctly reported, seems to be wrong, disingenuous or both. An unarmed predator drone, already in the air elsewhere over Libya, was dispatched towards Benghazi around this time. Predators are built for endurance rather than speed. It was probably operating against holdouts from the old regime in western Libya. It would arrive for the final hours of the fighting.  A team of reinforcements from Tripoli must also have been dispatched around this time to arrive at Benghazi airport by 2 p.m. Technically,  they might have been security contractors rather than military, but they were sufficiently heavily armed that the Libyan that escorted them to the annex thought they were Marines.  Support and help was sent. By the time it arrived around 3 a.m. the first annex firefight had died out and things were quite if tense.

Around 4 a.m. there was another brief but intense firefight, lasting about a quarter of an hour, and two Americans were killed by a mortar round. Fox claims:
In fact, at least one member of the team was on the roof of the annex manning a heavy machine gun when mortars were fired at the CIA compound. The security officer had a laser on the target that was firing and repeatedly requested back-up support from a Spectre gunship, which is commonly used by U.S. Special Operations forces to provide support to Special Operations teams on the ground involved in intense firefights.
Given the sources' lack of first hand knowledge about the security team, their claim that support was denied when reinforcements were actually sent in time to be present for the final firefight, and the failure of anyone in Benghazi  to notice a four engine turboprop droning overhead, this is probably a distortion of what actually happened. It seems more plausible that a security officer had a laser target designator, was prepared to use, and asked for air support. However, even if dispatched at that time, the firefight would have been over long before it reached Libyan airspace.

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