I don’t understand the continued obsession with the “Talking Points,” which are now accepted to be a State Department rewrite of events to scrub their culpability from ignoring an obviously deteriorating security environment in Benghazi, resulting the killing of four Americans, including the first ambassador to die in the line of duty in thirty years. The paper trail of changes made to CIA’s talking points clearly shows State driving the whitewash through eleven versions before releasing it to Congress and Ambassador Rice. The administration’s blaming a video, and then claiming that CIA’s version had to be altered to protect the investigation are both clearly refuted in the eMails between participants. We now know the administration’s entire version of events was a fabrication.
Although it didn’t work out that way, Ockham’s Razor tells us that the plan was to walk back the fairy tale, with the aid of a compliant press, after the election.
More troubling than the administration misleading people during an election cycle is the willful abandonment of the Benghazi post to the wolves in the face of repeated pleas for more security during an increasingly dangerous environment and a Department drawdown. Assistant Secretary of State Eric Boswell, writing privately, noted, “I do not feel that we have ever been at a point where we sacrificed security due to a lack of funding … Typically, Congress has provided sufficient funding.” This is in accordance with Charlene Lamb, who testified, in response to a direct question whether funding ever led to security decisions regarding Benghazi, with a simple “No, Sir.”
That puts to rest a brief Democratic talking point – that Republican budget cuts to DoS were responsible for weakening security at Benghazi.
Equally troubling is Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta’s response to the press. First, it was, “But – but the basic principle here – basic principle is that you don’t deploy forces into harm’s way without knowing what’s going on; with having some real-time information … ” But that’s exactly what Special Operators do – go in, find out what’s going on, and rectify it. CIA calls theirs “Action Teams” now (the one I was on in 1968-69 was amusingly called a “Study and Observation Group”). The official DoD line then switched to not having assets close enough to have gotten there in time. But, of course, they didn’t know that as events were unfolding – that assumption is only valid in hindsight. But that’s not the problem. We had F-16s at NAS Sigonella [Sicily], less than an hour’s flight-time from Ambassador Stevens’ compound in Benghazi – “It would have taken seven or eight hours to put them in the air” we were told. Know what that means? The flight crews had to be mustered and briefed, the aircraft had to be fueled, armed and complete pre-flights performed – in other words, none of them were on alert status. Why not? AFRICOM (and therefore the Joint Chiefs) was kept updated on the deteriorating conditions in Benghazi by the DoD’s Security Support Team’s daily situation reports, and the National Security Council was aware of the State Department’s dwindling security footprint in Benghazi. Why did DoD not stand-up the Marine and Air Force assets to alert status just 400 miles away? Where were the 6th Fleet’s carrier strike groups if not in the Eastern Mediterranean?
I think Mr Panetta was trying to protect a CIA op that was collecting Russian-supplied SA-7 MANPADS (that had been looted from Qaddafi’s arsenals during the uprising) for transfer to Syrian rebels through Turkey, but that’s speculation (as to the reason for inaction, not the fact of the op). If not, we’re left with incompetence or administration suppression of ugliness during an election cycle. Pick one.
The fundamental problem with DoD’s inaction is the abandonment of the American precept of not leaving anyone behind. The visceral message of Benghazi is that if the administration places you in hazardous circumstances, it does not have your back. That’s new. It runs against an ethos that has become a part of the American way.
The Benghazi incident reveals a dysfunctional State Department – from beginning to the present day – and, once underway, a dysfunctional Defense Department. It also shows a disconnected Executive, in the same way that the Bush White House lost control of events in post-capitulation Iraq. In the case of Benghazi, the president told the SecDef and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs “to handle it,” knowing (or not) that they couldn’t put troops on the ground in a sovereign nation – only the president can do that. No one talked to the president after that meeting – he was out of the loop.
I don’t think there’s any doubt that politics drove the administration’s public reaction to the Benghazi debacle – nothing else explains the asinine cover story that was doggedly perpetuated by the White House and State Department far past anyone believing it. Secretary Clinton blamed the attack on “the video” while accepting the remains of Ambassador Stevens, Information Officer Sean Smith, CIA contract operator Tyrone Woods, and CIA contract operator Glen Doherty at Dover AFB [ME], on September 13, while her State Department was scrubbing “the Talking Points” of any mention of terrorism because “[Victoria Nuland’s] building was uncomfortable” with the implications. Read: it doesn’t fit the narrative the administration had settled upon.
I don’t think there’s any doubt that the Pentagon was caught flat-footed by Benghazi, notwithstanding the plethora of red flags being hoisted by everyone from State and Defense on the ground, and the common knowledge that Libya was a very dangerous and unstable area, demonstrably lacking the official capacity to protect foreign diplomats. It’s even worse if the reason for inaction was to protect a CIA op, because Mr Panetta came to Defense from being CIA Director, and should have been particularly sensitive to the predicament that produced in an instable Libya. That should have been gamed with contingencies in-place.
We’ve just lost sight of who we are.
 Title art by Lisa Benson/Washington Post Writers Group.
 Email exchange between Mr Boswell and Diplomatic Security Chief Financial Officer Robert Baldre, October 28 2012.
 Representative Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA-46): “Mrs Lamb, you made this decision personally [to reject the request for more security], was there any budget consideration, or lack of budget, that allowed you not to increase the people in the security force there?”
 Testimony of Deputy Assistant Secretary for International Programs in the Bureau of Diplomatic Security at the Department of State Charlene Lamb, before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee also testified: “We had the correct number of [security] assets in Benghazi at the time of 9/11 for what had been agreed upon,” October 11 2012.
 Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, CBS News, October 25 2012.
 The person to depose on this would be the Deputy Director of CIA for Operations (DDCIOPS) – the actual spy master in the agency – but that would have to be done in closed session, and I don’t how much could be disclosed to the public. We likely may never know the real answer to this one.
 In the case of Iraq, SecDef Rumsfeld didn’t have near enough troops ready to sweep in behind combat operations to take civil control of Iraq while a transitional government was formed. Chaos ensued.