Someone's Wrong: CIA and State Dept. Accounts of Benghazi Contradict Gen. Dempsey’s Explanation for Why DOD Sent No Help

By Terence P. Jeffrey | February 3, 2013 | 3:03pm EST


Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta and Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (AP Photo)

( - The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff is telling a different story about Benghazi than the State Department and the Central Intelligence Agency.

If the story Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs, is telling is correct, then the story the State Department Accountability Review Board (ARB) and the Central Intelligence Agency have told is not. If the story the State Department and the CIA have told is correct, than Gen. Dempsey is telling an inaccurate story to explain why the Defense Department sent no help to the State Department and CIA personnel who were attacked by terrorists in Libya on the eleventh anniversary of 9/11.

On CNN’s “State of the Union” on Sunday, Dempsey said the reason the Defense Department sent no aid to the Americans under attack by terrorists in Benghazi on the night of Sept. 11-12, was because the attack did not last seven hours but was really two 20-minute attacks six hours apart.

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However, both a CIA timeline provided last fall by a senior U.S. intelligence official and the report published by the State Department ARB, published in December, contradict Gen. Dempsey’s claim that the Benghazi terrorist attack was two discrete 20-minute battles separated by six hours.

Additionally, an account presented by the Senate Homeland Security Committee in its report on Benghazi also does not comport with General Dempsey's version of events.

According to these accounts, the first phase of the battle against the Benghazi terrorists lasted roughly three hours and 20 minutes, during which time the terrorists fired at U.S. State Department and CIA personnel at the State Department's compound in Benghazi, on the road between the State Department compound and the CIA Annex, and at the CIA Annex itself.

The firing on the Annex during this first phase of the battle ceased at about 1:00 a.m. Benghazi time--which was about three hours and twenty minutes after the attack started at about 9:40 pm Benghazi time, and about two and a half hours after Gen. Dempsey and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta had been notified at 10:32 p.m Benghazi time that the attack was happening.

The second phase of the terrorist attack started at about 5:15 a.m. Benghazi time--or about four hours and fifteen minutes after the first phase ended. This second phase lasted about 11 minutes.

An accurate summation of the Sept. 11-12 event in Benghazi, based on the CIA and State Department accounts, is that it was a three hour and 20 minute series of attacks followed four hours and fifteen minutes later by an eleven minute attack. That is significantly different than Gen. Dempsey's claim--while trying to defend not sending any military assets to the rescue--that Benghazi was two 20 minute battles separated by six hours.

The Benghazi terrorists killed Amb. Chris Stevens and State Department Information Management Officer Sean Smith during the first phase of the attack by burning the building in which they were taking refuge. The terrorists killed former Navy SEALS Tyrone Woods and Glen Doherty, who worked for the CIA, and severely wounded a State Department security officer, in the second phase of the attack when they fired mortars into the CIA Annex.

Dempsey made his claim that the Benghazi event was really two discrete 20-minute attacks six hours apart in responding to CNN’s Candy Crowley, who had asked him why a U.S. military force could not have gone to help out in Benghazi if the terror attack was a seven-hour battle.

“You know, it wasn't a seven-hour battle,” Dempsey said. “It was two 20-minute battles separated by about six hours. The idea that this was one continuous event is just incorrect. 

“And the nearest, for example, the nearest aircraft, armed aircraft, happened to be in Djibouti, the distance from Djibouti to Benghazi is the distance from Washington, D.C., to Los Angeles,” Dempsey continued.

“There is some significant physics involved,” said Dempsey. “And the time available, given the intelligence available, I have great confidence in reporting to the American people that we were appropriately responsive given what we knew at the time.”

After the initial attack began at 9:42 p.m. in Benghazi, according to the ARB report, the State Department’s senior security officer at the Benghazi mission used his cell phone to immediately notify the deputy chief of mission at the U.S. Embassy in Tripoli and the CIA at their Benghazi Annex, which was about a half mile as the crow flies from the State Department mission.

Both the State Department deputy chief of mission in Tripoli and the CIA security chief in Benghazi moved immediately into action. The CIA security chief started mobilizing his personnel to go to the rescue of the State Department’s Benghazi compound and the deputy chief of mission in Tripoli first immediately notified Washington, D.C., and then began working for what turned out to be “hours” to charter a private plane—not a U.S. military aircraft--to fly a rescue team from Tripoli to Benghazi.

When that rescue team from Tripoli finally arrived at the Benghazi airport in its chartered private plane--again, a chartered private plane, not a plane provided by the U.S. military--it would be delayed for more than three hours before it could leave the airport and go to the CIA Annex in Benghazi.

According to the timeline released by Defense Secretary Panetta’s own office, Panetta and Dempsey did not even learn of the ongoing terrorist attack in Benghazi until it had been raging for far more than 20 minutes. Thus, if the first phase of the attack had only lasted 20 minutes, as Gen. Dempsey said on CNN, then it would have been over by the time Panetta and Dempsey were told of it. However, the attack was far from over when Panetta and Dempsey first learned of it.

This Defense Department timeline says the National Military Command Center in the Pentagon notified Panetta and Dempsey of the ongoing attack at about 4:32 p.m. Washington, D.C. time or 10:32 p.m. Benghazi time—that, according to the State Department and CIA accounts, was about 50 minutes after the ongoing attack had started.

At that moment, Panetta and Dempsey were actually in the White House waiting for a pre-scheduled 5:00 p.m. Washington time (11:00 p.m. Benghazi time) meeting with President Barack Obama.

By the time Panetta, Dempsey and Obama started this meeting, the battle at the State Department’s Benghazi compound had been going on for about an hour and 18 minutes.  It would not be until two hours after Obama, Panetta and Dempsey started this meeting that the first phase of the attack ended when the terrorists took a break from shooting at the CIA’s Benghazi Annex. That was about 7:00 p.m. Washington time or 1:00 a.m. Benghazi time.

According to the CIA timeline, it was at about 11:30 pm Benghazi time, or 5:30 p.m. Washington time, that the State Department Diplomatic Security agents at the State Department compound in Benghazi—covered by the CIA security personnel who had come to their rescue and under fire from the terrorists—left that facility and headed toward the CIA Annex.

Thus, that movement-under-fire by the State Department security officers from their compound to the CIA Annex took place about 30 minutes after Panetta, Dempsey and Obama began their White House meeting--and, according to a report by the Senate Homeland Security Committee, about 20 minutes after an unarmed U.S. drone arrived over the State Department mission where the battle was unfolding.

That drone had been redirected to Benghazi by U.S. Africa Command at 3:59 p.m. D.C. time (9:59 p.m. Benghazi time)—or more than a half an hour before Panetta and Dempsey even learned about the ongoing terror attack in Benghazi. The drone actually arrived over the Benghazi mission at 5:10 p.m. Washington time, ten minutes after Panetta and Dempsey started their meeting with Obama.

According to the report published by the Senate Homeland Security Committee, Panetta and Dempsey were actually able to brief Obama in their 5:00 p.m. Washington-time meeting about the then-1-hour-and-20-minute-old-and-still-unfolding terrorist attack in Benghazi as that attack continued to unfold.

“As noted earlier, the U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) at the Department of Defense (DOD) directed an unarmed surveillance aircraft to the skies over the Benghazi compound at 3:59 p.m. EST,” said the Homeland Security Committee report. “It arrived there at 5:10 p.m. EST (11:10 p.m. Benghazi time). At 4:32 p.m., the National Military Command Center in the Pentagon alerted the Office of the Secretary of Defense and the Joint Staff, and the information was shared with Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Martin Dempsey. Secretary Panetta and General Dempsey were at the White House for a previously scheduled meeting at 5:00 p.m. and so were able to brief the President on the developments in Benghazi as they were occurring.”

Listing the incidents as they occurred in Benghazi time (which is six hours ahead of Washington, D.C. time), here is how the CIA timeline, provided by a senior U.S. intelligence official, described the series of events that Gen. Dempsey, this Sunday, told CNN was “two 20-minute battles separated by about six hours”:

“Around 9:40pm (local) the first call comes in to the Annex that the Mission is coming under attack. Fewer than 25 minutes later, a security team left the Annex for the Mission. Over the next 25 minutes, team members approach the compound, attempt to secure heavy weapons, and make their way onto the compound itself in the face of enemy fire. At 11:11pm, the requested ISR arrives over the Mission compound. By 11:30pm, all US personnel, except for the missing US Ambassador, depart the Mission. The exiting vehicles come under fire. Over the next roughly 90 minutes, the Annex receives sporadic small arms fire and RPG rounds; the security team returns fire, and the attackers disperse (approx 1am). At about the same time, a team of additional security personnel lands at the Benghazi airport, negotiates for transport into town, and upon learning the Ambassador was missing and that the situation at the Annex had calmed, focused on locating the Ambassador, and trying to secure information on the security situation at the hospital. Still pre-dawn timeframe, that team at the airport finally manages to secure transportation and armed escort and--having learned that the Ambassador was almost certainly dead and that the security situation at the hospital was uncertain--heads to the Annex to assist with the evacuation. They arrive with Libyan support at the Annex by 5:15am, just before the mortar rounds begin to hit the Annex. The two security officers were killed when they took direct mortar fire as they engaged the enemy. That attack lasted only 11 minutes then also dissipated. Less than an hour later, a heavily-armed Libyan military unit arrived to help evacuate the compound of all US.”

The State Department ARB report also reported the sequence of events in Benghazi in Benghazi time. It indicated: The CIA personnel at the Annex reacted immediately to go to rescue of their fellow Americans at the State Department compound. The embassy in Tripoli had to work for hours to charter a private plane. U.S. Africa Command immediately redirected a drone to Benghazi. Terrorists continued to fire at the State Department security officers when they fled their compound, under covering fire from their CIA colleagues, and headed for the Annex. Terrorists continued to fire on the Annex until an hour after midnight Benghazi time—or about 3 hours and 20 minutes after the attack had first started and after Washington, D.C. had first been notified that the Americans in Benghazi were fighting off a terrorist attack.

“Just prior to receiving the TDY RSO’s [State Department temporary duty regional security officer's] distress call shortly after 2142 local , the head of [CIA] Annex security heard multiple explosions coming from the north in the direction of the SMC,” said the ARB report.

“The Annex security head immediately began to organize his team’s departure and notified his superiors, who began to contact local security elements to request support," said the ARB report. "The Annex response team departed its compound in two vehicles at approximately 2205 local . The departure of the Annex team was not delayed by orders from superiors; the team leader decided on his own to depart the Annex compound once it was apparent, despite a brief delay to permit their continuing efforts, that rapid support from local security elements was not forthcoming.”

“At the urging of the [CIA] Annex security team and friendly militia members, who warned that the compound was at risk of being overrun, the TDY RSO and four ARSOs [State Department assistant regional security officers] departed for the Annex without having found Ambassador Stevens,” said the ARB report. “As the Annex team provided cover fire, the five DS agents’ fully armored vehicle departed and took hostile fire as they left the SMC and turned right out of the C1 entrance. The driver, ARSO 1, reversed direction to avoid a crowd farther down the street, then reverted back to the original easterly route towards the crowd after a man whom the DS agents [State Department Diplomatic Security agents] believed to be with February 17 signaled them to do so. Farther ahead, another man in a small group of individuals then motioned to them to enter a neighboring compound, some 300 meters to the east of the C1 entrance of the Special Mission compound. The DS agents suspected a trap, ignored this signal, and continued past.

"The group along the route then opened fire at the vehicle’s side, shattering and almost penetrating the armored glass and blowing out two tires," said the ARB report. "While the identities of the individuals who fired upon the DS agents is unknown, they may have been part of the initial wave of attackers who swarmed the SMC earlier that night. A roadblock was present outside this compound and groups of attackers were seen entering it at about the time this vehicle movement was taking place.”

“Just before midnight, shortly after the [State Department] DS and [CIA] Annex security teams arrived from the SMC, the Annex began to be targeted by gunfire and RPGs, which continued intermittently for an hour,” said the ARB report. “Annex security personnel engaged from their defensive positions, which were reinforced by DS agents. Other personnel remained in contact with Embassy Tripoli from the Annex.”

Within hours [emphasis added], Embassy Tripoli chartered a private airplane and deployed a seven-person security team, which included two U.S. military personnel, to Benghazi,” said the ARB report. “At the direction of the U.S. military’s Africa Command (AFRICOM), DoD moved a remotely piloted, unarmed surveillance aircraft which arrived over the SMC shortly before the DS team departed.”

Thhe Senate Homeland Security Committee's report, released on Dec. 31, presents the sequence of events in Benghazi that generally mirrors the accounts in the CIA timeline and the State Department ARB report.

"Soon after the Americans returned to the Annex, just before midnight, they were attacked by rocket-propelled grenade (RPG) and small arms fire," says the committee report. "The sporadic attacks stopped at approximately 1:01 a.m."

Thus, according to this committee in the Democrat-controlled Senate, this one part of the first phase of the Benghazi attack began at the CIA Annex about midnight Benghazi time--or 6:00 p.m. Washington time. That was an hour after Panetta, Dempsey and Obama began their meeting at the White House, and after Panetta and Dempsey, according to the committee, were able to brief Obama "on the developments in Benghazi as they were occurring"

As this committee in the Democrat-controlled Senate tells the story, this one phase of the Benghazi terrorist attack--which occurred after the terrorists had attacked the State Department compound, and after they had attacked the State Department security personnel enroute from the State Department compound to the CIA Annex, and before the attack on the Annex that would kill Woods and Doherty--lasted about an hour. Thus, this one part of the Benghazi terror attack lasted three times as long as either of the two 20 minute attacks Gen. Dempsey described in his CNN interview.

"U.S. government security personnel who were based in Tripoli had deployed to Benghazi by chartered aircraft after receiving word of the attack, arriving at the Benghazi airport at 1:15 a.m," added the Senate committee report. "They were held at the airport for at least three hours while they negotiated with Libyan authorities about logistics. The exact cause of this hours-long delay, and its relationship to the rescue effort, remains unclear and merits further inquiry. Was it simply the result of a difficult Libyan bureaucracy and a chaotic environment or was it part of a plot to keep American help from reaching the Americans under siege in Benghazi?"

Why did this rescue team from Tripoli have to charter a plane to Benghazi? Why couldn't the Defense Department send these Americans a plane in the "hours" they were working to get one? No one in the government has explained this.

"The team from Tripoli finally cleared the airport and arrived at the Annex at approximately 5:04 a.m., about ten minutes before a new assault by the terrorist began, involving mortar rounds fired at the Annex," said the Senate committee report. "The attack concluded at approximately 5:26 a.m., leaving Annex security team members Tyrone Woods and Glen Doherty dead and two others wounded."

Thus Woods and Doherty died less than four and a half hours after the earlier hour-long fight at the CIA Annex, which, in turn, had followed two hours and 20 minutes of fighting at the State Department's Benghazi compound and on the road between that compound and the CIA Annex.

But Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff has a different story. “It was two 20-minute battles separated by about six hours,” he told CNN.

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