In early November 2012 Jennifer Griffin and David Ignatius each reported the events of the two attacks on American embassy personnel in Benghazi during the evening of September 11 and the early morning hours of September 12. Below is an attempt to harmonize the two accounts and establish a clearer, complete timeline.
Jennifer Griffin’s and David Ignatius’ time lines agree on significant details. Even so, the confluence between testimonies does little to mitigate many unanswered questions. Indeed, even more serious questions arise.
Of course, it is not the reporters themselves that are contradicting each other. Each reporter’s unnamed sources are giving differing stories. David Ignatius’ primary source, directly or indirectly, is the “base chief” in his article. It is likely that the Jennifer Griffin’s timeline is based on testimony from one member of the six member rescue squad. Fox, also, it seems, relied on sources on the ground related to the February 17th Brigade. As the CIA discovered, that crowd is a little treacherous. What follows is a scene by scene comparison of each testimony.
Both Ingatious’ and Jennifer Griffin’s sources agree that the Annex became aware of the assault on the Benghazi embassy at 9:40 (3:40 Washington time). This time is confirmed by the first leaked email that arrives in the Situation Room twenty-five minutes later. However, assuming the senior intelligence official of Ignatious’ report is indeed the Annex Security chief, this aspect of his report to the Post is refuted in Adam Housley’s report of 11/3/2012. Housely’s “sources on the ground” in Benghazi claim the security chief received requests for assistance at least an hour before Woods received the radio call and “agitated” for permission to aid the embassy.
After this the testimonies diverge. The Washington Post sources say an alarm of some sort sounded and that a call requesting assistance came in from the embassy. The Fox sources claim to have heard gunfire, and Hannity reports that the call was a radio call, begging, not casually requesting help.
It is reasonable to assume that men stationed towards the perimeter of the Annex heard shots, but no alarm and that a commander within the Annex, perhaps in the rear, heard the alarm, but not the shots. It is plain that the calls from the embassy were filled with emotion. Perhaps the radio call occurred while Sean Smith was dying.
Jennifer Griffin’s sources said that Tyrone Woods and at least two others ignored orders to stand down and rushed to help the ambassador. In contrast, according to the Post’s source, twenty minutes passed in which Tyrone Woods and others “agitated” to go to Ambassador Stephens’ aid while the base chief sought help from a Libyan militia group. It is very likely that during these twenty minutes Ambassador Stephens inhaled the smoke that ultimately killed him. Of course, despite the assertion in the first email, the February 17th militia never came. It strains credulity to even imply anyone really thought they’d show.
Ignatius’ source says, however, that no one ignored orders because, by 10:04 exactly, the base chief and the leader of Tyrone Wood’s team both agreed that they could wait no longer. After all, what kind of leader would be so weak that an independent contractor and a CIA GRS team would ignore his order? Anyhow, as it happened, two cars left the Annex by 10:04 exactly.
It took six minutes, under heavy fire, to return to the Annex, but it took an extra fifteen minutes, a total of twenty-one minutes, to arrive at the Annex. This was because of, oddly, a traffic jam caused by Libyan militia groups not
coming to help at the embassy. By 10:20 the GRS team was ten agents strong. Five of these, including Woods, if according to Jennifer Griffith’s source, retook the embassy. If Griffith’s source is correct, Woods and the others did not really notice whether there was any leadership bringing up the rear. According to Ignatius’ source, the firefight, or the exchange of fire, took fifteen minutes making the time at the Libyan compound 10:35. The second of the leaked emails arrived in Washington DC about twenty-five minutes later (10:54 Benghazi time), confirming this timeline.
After a search and rescue of about another thirty minutes, at 11:15 the first car with embassy personnel returned to the Annex. There are unanswered questions here. Two cars left the Annex but were there more now returning from the diplomatic mission compound? Who returned and in which cars? How long did it take for enemy fire to develop? Did the enemy discover the location of the Annex by following the CIA rescue team, or did they already have that information? All accounts agree, however, that by about Midnight Benghazi time [6:00 Washington DC time] the Annex itself came under attack. Very importantly, the Washington Post’s source establishes that an unarmed Predator Drone had begun to make available real time visuals of the events unfolding in Benghazi.
Here the sources differ. Fox’s sources say, starting at Midnight, additional calls for backup went out. The enemy fire was significant enough to warrant these requests. Ignatius’ source calls enemy fire sporadic and suggests that at 1:01 AM, exactly, some (we are not told who) felt the attack might be over. If there were a few dozen marines on the ground or a single attack helicopter, it would have been over.
After this, the Post’s timeline seems much more plausible than the one developed by Fox.
Ignatious’ source states that a charter plane from Tripoli, organized by Tripoli’s CIA station chief, arrived at 1:15 AM with another 5 CIA guys including a “case officer” and two G.I.’s.
Some have speculated that General Ham was relieved of command by a junior officer for attempting to ignore an order from perhaps as high up as Leon Panetta. The CIA flight, authorized in response to the original attack on the mission compound, was preferred over other options.
Whatever the background of this “charter flight,” the new team arrives at the Annex without the Libyan militia and before the mortar attacks began. But they don’t get there until after 5:00 AM. This is when Doherty arrives to support Woods. Fox’s sources have this support arriving a little before 3:00 AM and the Libyan militia arriving just after them at about 3:00. Fox’s sources say that Tyrone Woods died at 4:00 AM; the Post’s source says he died after support arrived at 5:00 AM.
Ignatious’ source says that the mortar attack began at 5:15. This corresponds to a fourth leaked email that arrived in Washington D.C. about 25 minutes later at 11:57 PM (5:57 AM Benghazi time).
Finally, the Post’s source says the entire attack was over at 5:25, just ten minutes after it began. Within half an hour, the Libyan militia arrived and escorted the Americans to their planes.
It sounds like a surrender. The enemy’s attack let up when word of the flight from Tripoli reached the Benghazi airport around 1:00. The Ansar al-Sharia/Al Qaeda group, stood off and let the Americans reach the Annex. When they saw how pitiful the American response had been [paragraph 12], they re-engaged. Then someone surrendered. The choices were surrender or take on all of Benghazi. It would have been Somalia all over again. Only this time it was only a month before a presidential election. Instead, someone surrendered.
Significantly, Fox and the Post differ on the second drone. Much more significantly, they differ on whether or not Tyrone Woods and Glenn Doherty painted the mortar placement. Most significantly, they differ on whether or not, with the first drone in place, the CIA Annex requested assistance. Was the flight from Tripoli in response to a request for help from the Annex at midnight? If no one will admit that there was a request for help, then perhaps the flight wasn’t sanctioned, and perhaps someone else’s conscience, besides Tyrone Woods,’ led him to ignore an order .