Unredacted Email Debunks Rehashed Conservative Conspiracy Theory
WASHINGTON – Today, the Select Committee on Benghazi Ranking Member released an email in unredacted form that debunks recent rehashed allegations from conservative news outlets about the Department of Defense's response on the night of the Benghazi attacks.
Conservative commentators have called the redacted email a “smoking gun” and claimed that it “seems to contradict testimony from former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta who in 2013 told lawmakers there was no time for an immediate response,” and that “[military assets] were awaiting sign off from the State Department and they never acted.”
However, the unredacted email confirms the previous testimony of Defense Department officials to Congress, supports the findings of previous Congressional Committees, and debunks these recent rehashed allegations.
The email in question is released in full here.
A Democratic Spokesman stated:
“This email is yet another example of how conservative conspiracy theorists use bits of information out of context to rehash baseless allegations that have been debunked time and again.”
“Separately, following the meeting in the White House, Secretary Panetta (in consultation with General Ham, General Dempsey, and others) verbally authorized three specific actions. First, two Marine FAST platoons in Rota, Spain were ordered to prepare to deploy; one bound for Benghazi and one destined for Tripoli. Second, a special operations unit assigned to the European Command, known as a Commander’s In-Extremis Force (CIF), which was training in Croatia was ordered to move to a U.S. Naval Air Station in Sigonella, Italy and await further instructions. Third, a special operations unit in the United States was also dispatched to the region. These orders were issued approximately two to four hours after the initial attack on the SMC.”
“Sometime between midnight and 2:00a.m. Benghazi time, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta verbally ordered two Marine Fleet Antiterrorism Security Teams (or ‘FAST platoons’) to deploy from their base in Rota, Spain, to Libya.
- • One team was to go to Benghazi to respond to the attack on the Temporary Mission Facility.
- • One team was to deploy to Tripoli to protect the Embassy if it was attacked.
- • The first FAST platoon would take [redacted] hours to be airborne. As Major General Roberson testified, ‘whenever they got the notification, [redacted] hours later they are supposed to be airborne and moving to wherever they need to.’ The second FAST platoon would have taken 96 hours to deploy, according to Roberson.
- • Because all Americans were evacuated from Benghazi before the first FAST platoon could arrive, it was diverted to protect the U.S. Embassy in Tripoli and arrived at 8:56p.m. Tripoli time, September 12, 2012.”
“Sometime between midnight and 2:00a.m. Benghazi time, Secretary Panetta also ordered two teams of special operations forces to Benghazi, but like the FAST platoons, neither made it to Libya before the Americans had already evacuated the next morning after the attack:
- • One special operations force-which was training in Croatia-was ordered to prepare to deploy to an intermediate NATO staging base in Sigonella, Italy.
- • The other special operations force-based in the United States--was ordered to deploy to the intermediate NATO staging base at Sigonella.
- • The first special operations force would take [redacted] hours to be airborne. As Major General Roberson testified: "The CIF [Commanders In-Extremis Force] in Croatia is on an [redacted]” meaning it would take [redacted] hours of preparation time before it could begin the flight from Croatia to Benghazi. The CIF from Croatia only made it to the staging base at Sigonella by 7:57p.m. Benghazi time, on September 12, almost 10 hours after all Americans were evacuated from Benghazi.
- • The other special operations force--from the United States—did not arrive at the staging base at Sigonella until 9:28p.m. Benghazi time, on September 12.”
Secretary Panetta testified:
“Again, the forces were moving. We had deployed these FASTs. They were moving. We did not in any way stop the movement forward. The problem was taking them then and deploying them to Benghazi. By the time we reached that point, the attack was over and we had evacuated all of the people out of Benghazi.”
Chairman Dempsey testified:
“I want to assure you, had we been able to—there’s been a whole bunch of speculation about we were risk-averse, we needed the country’s permission to come in. If we had been able to get there with anything, we’d have gone in there under the command of the Commander of AFRICOM.”
On September 3, 2015, the Select Committee on Benghazi interviewed State Department Chief of Staff Cheryl Mills, during which she described an interagency conference call (known as a SVTC) that occurred immediately following the email in question.
Q. And whether or not you knew at that point in time when you were in the conversation on the SVTCS that the Ambassador was missing versus still in the safe haven and the death of Mr. Smith, did you have any sense during the SVTCS that there was a lack of urgency about addressing the safety of our personnel in Benghazi from anyone in the interagency?
A. Quite the opposite. It was really a conversation about what else can be done, is anything being missed, is there any other opportunity, asset, avenue, information that we could take or deploy. And so it was very much almost -- I'm a military brat -- but almost Military, in terms of X, Y, Z. Have we done A, B, C in terms of trying to step through the different avenues.
Q. So, back to the night of the attacks, you had indicated, you know, the work that was being done and communications with regard to a military response. And we talked a little bit about the Secretary's engagement with the host nation and what she was doing with regard to trying to amass and cajole and wheedle, potentially, any support there. With regard to our own military assets, did you ever convey any message that indicated that the U.S. military should not fully engage and do whatever it could to assist our people on the ground?
Q. And what about the Secretary? To the extent you had any visibility on that, did she ever do anything to indicate that our military should not fully engage and do whatever it could to help our personnel?
A. No. She was pretty emphatic about wanting whatever to be done and whatever were assets that could be deployed, if that was both effective and possible to be done. Obviously, it was a challenging environment given that our compound had been overrun. And so you want to ensure that, as you also are thinking about who else might go in, how they are able to do that effectively. But my observation and impression and, obviously, engagements were around what can be done, what can be sent, and how can that be done best. There was not any notion of not doing that to the fullest amount that was practical, effective, and possible.
Q. So, understanding that that decision about military assets and when they're sent and which assets is not one to be made by the State Department, it was certainly your experience that, in every conversation and in every way, that both you and the Secretary did urge our military to do, certainly, whatever it could in their best judgment and with the resources that were available?
A. That is my impression. And it's also my impression that that's what they sought to do. I mean, we never felt unsupported by them.
Q. Did you ever get any sense that they were failing to also take into account, in addition to Benghazi, other potential problems -- the potential attack on the embassy in Tripoli, whether there would be further unrest in Egypt or anything throughout the region? Did they allow that to fall under the radar as they were focused on Benghazi?
A. Our military?
A. That's not my impression at all.
Q. Did Secretary Clinton request that military assets be deployed?
A. She actually on our SVTCS -- which obviously had the presence of a number of different agencies of which I believe DOD was one -- said we need to be taking whatever steps we can, to do whatever we can to secure our people. And I can remember that someone from the White House said that the President was 100 percent behind whatever needed to be done and we needed to do whatever needed to be done. And that's, you know, that's what he would expect, but it's also what was said.
Q. But in that timeframe
A. And so she was on that SVTCS and did speak to the need to see what assets could be deployed for our team. And I believe in that SVTCS, also DOD would have likely been a participant.
Q. Do you recall who from DOD was participating?
A. No. That's what I was trying to recall. But I don’t.
Q. Does the name Jeremy Bash ring a bell with you?
A. Jeremy Bash I believe was the chief of staff at DOD. It is quite plausible he might have been on the SVTCS, but I don't know that so I don’t want to make a misrepresentation.
Mr. Cummings. All right. I just have a few questions. Did you ever get the sense or impression that Secretary Clinton
was not fully engaged in the crisis response with regard to Benghazi?
Ms. Mills. No. Quite the contrary; she was very engaged. And I think, as I said maybe a little bit earlier, it took some people aback when she even decided to go to a staff-level SVTCS because she was deeply concerned about and engaged in what needed to be done to secure our team and hopefully bring them to safety.
The transcribed interview of the Defense Attaché by the Oversight and Government Reform Committee in January 2014:
Congress has already interviewed the Defense Attaché who was the senior Defense Official on the ground in Libya on the night of the attacks. He made clear that the Libyan government had approved the flight clearances. He said:
“[W]e had a green light from the Government of Libya to bring it in. It was just a question of when we’re going to know the specific information that goes into a standard flight clearance request.”