Terror, Security, and Hillary 2016: Making Sense of the Benghazi Hearings

A breakdown of the five key Benghazi plot lines, from the military response to Hillary's role.

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Yuri Gripas / REUTERS

From left: Mark Thompson, Gregory Hicks, and Eric Nordstrom are sworn in before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington D.C., on May 8, 2013.

To Republicans, the deadly September 11 attack on a U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya, was a huge, conscience-shocking security scandal, one that Democrats are shamelessly trying to cover up. To Democrats, the attack was the sort of tragedy that inevitably comes from practicing diplomacy in a dangerous world, one that Republicans are shamelessly exploiting for political gain. Those two views came no closer to agreement during a Wednesday House hearing on the subject.

The hearing by the Republican-led House Government Oversight & Reform Committee was not the first on the events surrounding the death of the U.S. Ambassador to Libya, Christopher Stevens, and three other Americans. Hillary Clinton, who was running the State Department at the time of the attack, testified for hours back in January. But the story was given fresh dramatic life and new narrative details through the testimony of two self-described whistle blowers who had not previously spoken in public: Mark Thompson, acting deputy assistant secretary for counterterrorism; Gregory Hicks, the former deputy of mission in Libya. Joining them was Eric Nordstrom, a former regional security officer in Libya, who had previously testified on the issue.

Virtually no one disputes the basic facts of that violent night, in which a group of militants stormed the compound and battled the Americans for hours. But the sharply different interpretations of why the attacks happened, and how the Obama administration responded, have left many people understandably confused. So has the way “Benghazi” has come to describe several different arguments related to the incident. Here’s a breakdown by TIME’s Washington staff of the key plot lines, and what we know about them:

Could the U.S. military have done more to help? Not according to the Pentagon – and the hearing’s key witness. Aircraft that might have buzzed the compound where the second pair of Americans died – and scared the militants away — were 900 miles north in Italy. “Time and distance are a tyranny of their own,” Admiral James Stavridis, who responded to the attacks as the NATO commander, told Congress earlier this year. Army General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, estimated it would take as long as 20 hours to get the planes above Benghazi. Hicks testified that he asked the U.S. defense attaché in Tripoli if planes could be scrambled to help those under attack in the CIA annex in Benghazi, a battle that unfolded hours after the initial assault on the nearby U.S. consulate, which killed Stevens, and led to two more American deaths. “He said that it would take two to three hours for them to get on site, but that there also were no tankers available for them to refuel,” Hicks said Wednesday. “And I said, ‘Thank you very much,’ and we went on with our work.” Hicks also testified that a four man team of Green Berets in Tripoli were denied a request to deploy to Benghazi the morning after the attack began, though officials doubt they could have arrived early enough to save lives at the CIA annex. “We continue to believe there was nothing this team could have done to assist during the second attack in Benghazi,” Pentagon spokesman George Little told reporters.

Did the Obama administration distort the truth? Hicks testified Wednesday that his “jaw dropped” when he saw United Nations Ambassador Susan Rice, appearing on multiple talk shows on September 16, largely blame the attack on demonstrations over an anti-Muslim YouTube video. Hicks says it was clear from the outset that what happened in Benghazi was premeditated terrorism. Rice has said she was simply working from talking points produced soon after the attacks by discussion between the CIA, White House and the State Department. New details revealed in a House Republican report show that the CIA’s initial assertion that “Islamic extremists with ties to al Qa’ida participated in the attack” was removed, leading to Republican charges that the language was struck to protect the Obama campaign’s boasts about success in the fight against al Qaeda. But the final version of the talking points did note “indications that extremists participated in the violent demonstrations,” and even the CIA’s original version had called the Benghazi attack “spontaneously inspired by the protests at the U.S. Embassy in Cairo” over the notorious YouTube video. Moreover, David Petraeus, who was then CIA director, testified last fall that he had urged the removal of any reference to al Qaeda to avoid tipping off suspects whom the U.S. was monitoring.

Was the State Department’s internal review legit? One target Wednesday was the independent Accountability Review Board formed to study the attacks. Co-chaired by former Ambassador Thomas Pickering and former joint chiefs of staff chairman Mike Mullen, the board reviewed 25,000 pages of documents and heard testimony from dozens of senior national security officials. The board issued a harsh report which led to the resignation of four State Department employees, but which pointed no specific fingers at senior personnel like Clinton and her top deputies. On Wednesday, Nordstrom called it “inexplicable” to him that the panel didn’t scrutinize the role of top State officials more carefully: “It is not what is contained within the report that I take exception to, but what is left unexamined,” Nordstrom testified. “Specifically, I’m concerned with the [board's] decision to focus its attention at the assistant secretary level and below.’” Democrats and the State Department challenged that assertion, and on MSNBC Tuesday Pickering likened charges of a cover-up to “Pulitzer Prize fiction.”

What could this mean for Hillary Clinton in 2016? Whether or not Republicans intended it, the shadow of national politics loomed over Wednesday’s hearing. Hillary Clinton completed a generally well-reviewed tenure of Secretary of State, as evidenced by her sky-high public approval ratings. But Benghazi is a clear black mark on her Foggy Bottom record, one that could haunt Clinton if she runs for president in 2016. Conservatives seized on Hicks’s testimony that, in a call with Clinton on the fateful night, he told her that a terrorist attack was underway–a fact that was slow to appear in the administration’s public rhetoric. Still, despite repeated discussion about what Clinton knew and when she knew it, no smoking gun emerged from Wednesday’s hearing, leading one Congressional Democrat to dismiss questions about her role as a “witch hunt.”

Are Our Diplomats Safe Enough? The one thing both parties agree on is that another Benghazi can’t be allowed to happen. But a 2012 Government Accountability Office report suggested that embassy security remains vulnerable so long as the State Department maintains missions in dangerous locations amid staffing shortages. President Obama’s new budget includes $4 billion to improve security at America’s more than 270 diplomatic posts worldwide. That includes a $2.2 billion boost–proposed by the Accountability Review Board–in State’s embassy security construction budget to fund new facilities in high-threat areas. (Congress has yet to approve the funding.) The Pentagon last month deployed the first of 500 Marines to Spain as part of a new rapid reaction force that can respond to emergencies in northern Africa. The Marines are also working with the State Department to add an additional 1,000 troops across the globe, nearly doubling the size of their current embassy guard force. Meanwhile, the threat remains: on February 1, a suicide bomber detonated an explosive device in Ankara, Turkey, outside the U.S. embassy, killing himself and a Turkish security guard.

With reporting by Zeke Miller, Jay Newton-Small, Alex Rogers, and Mark Thompson

355 comments
DonQuixotic
DonQuixotic

Nothing new at the hearing.  Nothing criminal has been unearthed.  Can the GOP and their base please find something else to pretend to be angry about now?

2NeverLookBack
2NeverLookBack

are you freakn kidding?? a 'scandal'?? a 'security scandal'?? the first sentences read like as though it does not even matter that 3 US diplomats were brutally murdered, callously killed by a mob of crazed lunatics. the whole article starts off as though this is secondary, and the most important thing is that 'republicans are trying to milk some situation'. first of all, the location is/was not a murderously dangerous location. this type of assault could never have been predicted.

jmac
jmac

Dana Milbank: " House Republicans cut the administration’s request for embassy security funding by $128 million in fiscal 2011 and $331 million in fiscal 2012....Last year, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton warned that Republicans’ proposed cuts to her department would be “detrimental to America’s national security” — a charge Republicans rejected.

Ryan, Issa and other House Republicans voted for an amendment in 2009 to cut $1.2 billion from State operations, including funds for 300 more diplomatic security positions. Under Ryan’s budget, non-defense discretionary spending, which includes State Department funding, would be slashed nearly 20 percent in 2014, which would translate to more than $400 million in additional cuts to embassy security."

gafromga
gafromga

It is interesting that in the apparent misleading of  the American people of what are clearly lies by Susan Rice on the Sunday talk shows, and President Obama's and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's false claims that these murders were a result of reaction to a video that a few hundred people had seen and that talking points were altered, that career diplomats are testifying before Congress that the administration lied to the American people, this article appears under the "politics" tab with two stories on the Arias trial under the "newsfeed" tab.  Whatever happened to journalism?

KarenMMckenna-Lyons
KarenMMckenna-Lyons

ITS horrible enough to lose someone you love but to know your own country did nothing to help them when they were under fire and covered it up after is apprehensable!!!

KarenMMckenna-Lyons
KarenMMckenna-Lyons

To all those who have closed thier minds to any fault possably being accountable to hillary or obama...would you all NOT want everyone to come forward to tell what they know ...TRUTHFULLY in regards to how one of YOUR loved ones came to an untimely death due to controversal circumstances? would ANY ONE of you NOT SCREAM for justice to be served!!??!!??

Jetstar99999
Jetstar99999

The cover up continues. Predictably the White House has begun the (post-whistle blower hearing) disinformation campaign, each point now dutifully being parroted by the MSM w/o any investigation, cross checking, or accountability: "well there were really no assets in theater or nearby" "nothing could have been done" "nor were refuelers even available" "hurry along" "no story here". Yet, meanwhile mid level commanders are not being allowed to speak, nor will they. As for Obama himself, still not a word of explanation about what he was actually doing the night of Sept 11, 2012.


This issues here in fact go far beyond Benghazi.

Connect the dots...... massive and dangerous national security leaks (Joint Israeli- USA Iranian nuke hacking program, Drone kill list, Operational details of Bin Laden raid, and other vital secrets and programs) 12 to 18 months back, with White House at the time repeatedly declining "story callback" offers from the NY Times and other media entities, with Obama disinterested in finding the leakers - all conveniently making Obama look like the strong Commander & Chief, such theme THE central theme at the early Sept 2012 Dem Natl Convention......... to slowing down or calling off an attack and leaving SEALS to die for a ("Al Qaeda is decimated") political narrative........to changed talking points and UN Ambassador Susan Rice letting her prestigious high office be used to lend credibility and authority words she absolutely knew were false, all to assist in continuing the cover up, and winning an election mere weeks away.

Note the following telltale comment by Senator Diane Feinstein (D-CA) on July 24, 2012 in regard to these large series of leaks: " I think the White House has to understand that some of this is coming from their ranks." While still trying to defend that Obama himself might be involved, she then says "The notion that the White House would purposely release classified national security information is offensive. Its wrong" Apparently now, Ms Feinstein, like the President, has no further interest in finding out the source of these leaks.

All of these things occurred at systemic levels having one purpose - re-election at any cost. High crimes? absolutely, and will make Watergate look like a parking ticket. After a series of National Security leaks last spring, left wing reporter Judith Miller (obviously tipped by vested parties) very oddly kept repeating the following talking point, (paraphrasing): "well if Obama FIRST declassified certain programs, and THEN the White House leaked" "its not a crime."

While a valiant effort by Ms Miller to try to clear the minefield, one is still looking at impeachable type offenses - sham "declassifications", massive and dangerous national security leaks to win an election, entire programs in shambles for political gain, field operatives exposed or perhaps killed, other (on the ground) current critical assets and potential future relationships permanently damaged going forward, for example Pakistani Dr Afridi (who helped established DNA evidence in the Bin Laden raid) tortured and given a 33 year prison sentence, all this just part of the damage - such systemic abuse and misuse of power precisely why there is an impeachment clause in the Constitution.

Put White House Natl Security Advisor Tom Donilon under oath and odds are he will plead the 5th. By the way, nothing Donilon does is ever done w/o the full approval of the President of the United States.....

paulejb
paulejb

"It shows an administration characterized ex ante by incompetence and ex post facto by panic and cold calculation, willing to subvert national security for campaign-season politics."

http://www.nationalreview.com/article/347811/difference-it-made

A perfect summary of Benghazigate. The politicos took over from the professionals and screwed up by the numbers. A perfect FUBAR situation.

jmac
jmac

John Podhoretz in the New York Post:   "We can speculate.  (on the cover-up)   We can guess it did so because it had developed a story line for the 2012 election in which al Qaeda was dead, and this muddied that story line." 

 He goes on to state what a hero Obama would have been to go into this African country  with guns blazing and hit al Qaeda hard.  It is beyond twisted thinking to think there was a cover up  but they can't quite pin point why there was this cover up - when he could have been a hero!   I guess kind of like the hero he is to the right-wing for getting Osama bin Laden.  That kind of hero?   If only he'd had Chaney at his side.  But then he might have had to invade another country and not get bin Laden in the first place.   

formerlyjames
formerlyjames

I look forward to the sequel: "Making Sense of Republicans". 

judefolly
judefolly

Big money interests are already lining up behind her candidacy for president in 2016. Big money does not represent your interests. The least you could do is converge with other voters to demand campaign finance accountability. Think about it.

http://signon.org/sign/hillary-in-16-pac-political

gafromga
gafromga

@jmac Didn't 149 House Democrats and 147 House Republicans vote for cutting embassy security fundsfunds?

jmac
jmac

@gafromga "Whatever happened to journalism?"   Is John Podhoretz's article in The New York Post titled "Failings of Bam and Hill Laid Bare" the kind of journalism you're looking for gafromga?  Apparently, Democrats and Republicans are as far apart on the definition of journalism as they are on science.  

mantisdragon91
mantisdragon91

@gafromga Journalism died the moment they didn't pursue Bush's lies of Iraq having nukes or being behind 9/11. It also died when it ignored the CIA memos that surfaced concerning warnings pre 9/11 that went unopened. And its still dying when the lies all these politicians say every day go unchallenged.

mantisdragon91
mantisdragon91

@KarenMMckenna-Lyons Where does this the country did nothing to help them crap come from? Who do you think chased the attackers away from the compound during the first attack? CIA operatives. Care to guess which country they work for?

mantisdragon91
mantisdragon91

@KarenMMckenna-Lyons You do realize that all these hearings have nothing to do with whether or not the deaths could have been prevented. I have yet to here a single witness make that claim.

paulejb
paulejb

@judefolly 

Let's just keep the ChiCom cash out of the Hillary campaign and I will be satisfied. 

buffalo.barnes102
buffalo.barnes102

@paulejb You've really got your panties in a knot over this don't you? Funny how coverage in other news sites is minimal at best. No one else but a bunch of knotheads with too much free time and seriously biased sources seems to give a tinker's damn about it. Your obsessive shrieking and blustering is tiring and embarrassing. Lie down and put a cold cloth on your forehead. Maybe a cold shower, huh? I refuse to give this silly bit of theatre and obvious racism and fear any more of my time. 

gafromga
gafromga

@mantisdragon91 @gafromga I completely agree with your last sentence.  Republicans and Democrats are in Washington to represent US. They don't do a very good job and need to be held accountable.  I understand mistakes that are made in the heat of battle or with acting on intelligence that at present seems plausible and later is deemed fallible.  The press was all over President Bush, and the Valerie Plame incident.  They have pursued Benghazi with much less interest and fervor, as is evidenced by the Arias story, being a much higher priority.  We should all want to know what went wrong in the events leading up to and during the attack, not to place blame, but to learn what we could do better.  We should also know who purposely deceived the American people, so that the truth is known, and that they are accountable for their actions.  I am not asking for a partisan press, merely one that reports the facts.

texan5000
texan5000

@mantisdragon91 @Jetstar99999 One question, how did the state dept. know how long the second siege would last.  It was still ongoing when they told the tactical team in Tripoli to stand down. (just a thought) if Hillary's daughter was in Bengazi that night, would the outcome have been different?

mantisdragon91
mantisdragon91

@paulejb @judefolly Seeing at is was Mittens Bain Capital that had money in Chinese firms including one accused of spying on the US, perhaps you should revisit that statement.

mantisdragon91
mantisdragon91

@gafromga @mantisdragon91 The reason that they were all over the Valerie Plame incident was that because Treason was committed by deliberately outing an intelligence agent. There is no similar smoking gun here, unless of course you want to discuss the Treason committed by Darrel Issa when he deliberately posted unredacted State Department documents online and outed ever native security asset we have in Eastern Libya, a number of which have since been killed by our enemies. And yet where is the coverage and outrage over that?

mantisdragon91
mantisdragon91

@KarenMMckenna-Lyons I'm talking about the fact that you have no clue about what actually happened that night and are merely spouting idiocies spoon fed to you by some right wing conspiracy site.

Nowhere1111
Nowhere1111

Perhaps. We'll see. But there is NO QUESTION Bush's Iraq war was a travesty. Google PNAC. That's a 'think' tank with members including Cheney, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz and other Bush confidants. Their publicly stated GOAL was a war in the Middle East. I believe the group started in the late 90's ... Spare us the moral indignation! Your pals were worse than Benghazi!

Nowhere1111
Nowhere1111

That's wrong! Katrina is relevant. The conversations is about the governments ACTIONS and little to do with the actions of the people in the tragedy itself. Were you dumbfounded when Bush tried to tie the Iraq invasion to 911? Talk about BS (lying ) from our leaders!!! Hussein and bin Laden hated each other. Obviously, it was one guy or the other. And where are those WMD's? I'm far from a Hillary or BO fan, but your indignation I'd hypocritical!

mantisdragon91
mantisdragon91

@texan5000 @mantisdragon91 And if Reagan hadn't armed the Taliban in the first place they wouldn't have been a problem to begin with. And speaking of Travesties, so is the fact that we invaded a country that never attacked us. And yet here you are trying to blame Clinton for 9/11 while yelling about why won't Obama take responsibility. Any idea of how much of a hypocrite that makes you sound like?

texan5000
texan5000

@mantisdragon91 @texan5000 Clinton had a chance to get bin laden handed to him.  Well documented.   He declined and has regretted it ever since.  your shifting away from the real issue.  Bengazi is a travesty and a failure of our government.

mantisdragon91
mantisdragon91

@texan5000 @mantisdragon91 And what is Bush we lost 7000 in 9/11 and Iraq both of which could have been avoided if he had listened to the CIA. And yet the GOP is still trying to blame Bill Clinton for both.

texan5000
texan5000

@mantisdragon91 @texan5000 your surely an intelligent person.  Comparing Katrina to Bengazi is ludicrous.  You are obviously conversing with several at the same time in this post.   Get a grip...the reality is; Obama and Hillary are failures...get a grip.

mantisdragon91
mantisdragon91

@texan5000 @mantisdragon91 And Bush had more warning of the Hurricane and did nothing than Obama had of the Benghazi attack. I love conservatives and their selective memory and reasoning.

texan5000
texan5000

@mantisdragon91 @texan5000 Katrina was a hurricane...it didn't bring guns to the party. IT wasn't selective...and those people were told to leave well ahead of the storm.   They chose not to.  If you were in New Orleans and stayed during the storm...you were on your own...

mantisdragon91
mantisdragon91

@texan5000 @mantisdragon91 So then when will we be having the hearing on Katrina. If the Bush twins were in New Orleans Bush would not have been saying "You're doing a heck of a job Brownie" as hundreds of Americans were dying with no help in sight.

texan5000
texan5000

@mantisdragon91 just trying to keep it short snap dragon...First of all Hillary wouldn't have rolled over and gone back to sleep if her daughter had been over there...she would have exhausted all resources to protect our ambassador and dead warriors.  Second, the "siege" went on for many hours, at the consulate, in the street leaving the consulate, and at the CIA's fortified location.  You have a problem...follow the news...our government let those people down...and they are dead.............

mantisdragon91
mantisdragon91

Was siege was that exactly? There was no siege. Just a mortar attack hours after the initial attack. How about you start a conversation with knowledge of what actually happened that night and then we can have an intelligent conversation. And why the crack about  Hillary's daughter? Should I be claiming that if the Bush twins where in New Orleans, all those people would  not have died in Katrina?



mantisdragon91
mantisdragon91

@paulejb@mantisdragon91@judefollyThe Bain-owned company, Uniview Technologies, produces what it calls “infrared antiriot” cameras and software that enable police officials in different jurisdictions to share images in real time through the Internet. Previous projects have included an emergency command center in Tibet that “provides a solid foundation for the maintenance of social stability and the protection of people’s peaceful life,” according to Uniview’s Web site.

mantisdragon91
mantisdragon91

@gafromga@mantisdragon91@terrier89@paulejb@buffalo.barnes102

On September 10 and 11, ABC will air a “docudrama” called “The Path to 9/11.” It was written by Cyrus Nowrasteh, who describes himself as “more of a libertarian than a strict conservative,” and is giving interviews to hard-right sites like FrontPageMag to promote the film.

What will it say about President Clinton? Here’s Rush Limbaugh with a preview:

A friend of mine [Cyrus Nowrasteh] out in California has produced and filmed — I think it’s a two-part mini-series on 9/11 that ABC is going to run in prime-time over two nights, close to or on 9/11. It’s sort of surprising that ABC’s picked it up, to me. I’ve had a lot of people tell me about it, my friends told me about it…And from what I have been told, the film really zeros in on the shortcomings of the Clinton administration in doing anything about militant Islamofascism or terrorism during its administration. It cites failures of Bill Clinton and Madeleine Albright and Sandy Burglar.

 http://thinkprogress.org/media/2006/09/01/7230/abc-blame-clinton/

mantisdragon91
mantisdragon91

@gafromga@mantisdragon91@terrier89@paulejb@buffalo.barnes102

WASHINGTON, July 20 - The political haggling over the conclusions of the Sept. 11 commission began in earnest on Tuesday, with the leaders of the commission traveling to Capitol Hill for the first of a series of private briefings for members of Congress about the panel's final report.

After their briefing, Speaker J. Dennis Hastert and other House Republican leaders held a news conference at which they suggested that the report, which is scheduled to be made public on Thursday, would show that intelligence and law enforcement failures before the Sept. 11 attacks were more the responsibility of the Clinton administration than of the Bush administration. 

http://www.nytimes.com/2004/07/21/politics/21panel.html

terrier89
terrier89

@paulejb @buffalo.barnes102 That whole Hillary "performance" was just that -a performance.  It was obvious that after dodging questions for 4 months, her handlers had instructed her to come off as a decisive, combatant woman and that act was the way she interpreted it.  


What difference, Hillary?  Well, how about trying to figure out ACCOUNTABILITY?  Of course, you wouldn't know what that is - since you have ducked accountability thorughout this whole ordeal (and for that matter thorughout your career).