13 Hours: Perhaps the ‘fog of war is finally lifting

RANCHO SANTA FE, Ca., September 11, 2014 – Two years have passed since the attacks on the diplomatic Mission and the CIA Annex in Benghazi during which Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens, U.S. Foreign Service Information Management Officer Sean Smith, and CIA Security Operators Tyrone “Rone” Woods and Glen “Bub” Doherty were killed. Yet, the details have been shrouded by the political “fog of war” that has filtered the facts… until now.

13 Hours: The Inside Account of What Really Happened in Benghazi is a new book that provides a fresh and unvarnished perspective of what transpired that fateful day. It is the story of the 13 hours of on-the-ground fighting in which its co-authors participated in trying to save the lives of those who came under attack in Benghazi.

Kris “Tanto” Paronto and John “Tig” Tiegen fought at both locations. Mark “Oz” Geist joined the fray at the Annex. Oz had been assigned to protect a Case Officer who was attending a dinner, and he was away from the Annex when the call for help came from the Mission.

Tanto, Tig and four others, including Rone, immediately prepped to respond to the Mission’s request for assistance that came with the words, “We’re under fire.” Rone contacted Oz and told him to terminate his operation and return to the Annex without delay.

After quickly gathering what they needed, Tanto told the Chief of Base, “We’re ready to go.” The Chief of Base looked past Tanto and told the Team Leader to tell his team “they need to wait.”

Ten minutes passed. This time, Tig was told to “stand down” and received a similar “wait” command like the one that had been given to Tanto.

About 10 more minutes passed when Tanto said, “We’ve got to go.” Again, the team was told to “wait.”

This time, Tanto and Rone decided to ignore the directive because of what they heard in the last transmission from the Mission: “They’re starting to light the buildings on fire. You need to get here.”

They recognized that time was of the essence. The book details what ensued thereafter at both the Mission and the Annex as well as during the escape to the airport.

Tanto, Tig, and Oz (the latter of whom was seriously wounded by the mortar rounds that killed Glen Doherty and Tyrone Woods at the Annex) have given testimony before closed Congressional Committees. Most recently, they have also been interviewed by Bret Baier of Fox News and Jake Tapper of CNN, and their stories have been seriously vetted by both networks.

As part of the vetting process and before he conducted his interview with these heroes, Jake Tapper queried the CIA about the delay in allowing forces to respond to the crisis at the Mission. The CIA responded as follows: “Although some members of the security team expressed frustration that they were unable to respond more quickly to the Mission compound, the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence found no evidence of intentional delay or obstruction by the Chief of Base or any other party.”

Notice that the CIA did not say that such orders weren’t given. Its statement only indicates that the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence “found no evidence of intentional delay or obstruction by the Chief of Base or any other party.”

State Department Spokesperson Jen Psaki also gave a statement concerning the same issue. She said, “The Chief of Base wasn’t telling the contractors to wait under malice or unwillingness to help those under attack. There’s a huge and fundamental difference between a short delay for security considerations and a stand-down order.”

It should be noted that neither Tanto nor Tig suggested that such orders were given with “malice” or that the instructions should ever be interpreted as an “unwillingness to help those under attack.” The men simply presented the fact that the “waits” were issued three separate times (twice to Tanto and once to Tig).

While Ms. Psaki highlighted that, “There’s a huge and fundamental difference between a short delay for security considerations and a stand down order,” she didn’t address the fact that there may also have been “a huge and fundamental difference” with respect to what happened to Ambassador Stevens and Sean Smith had the 20-25 minute delay not occurred. For those individuals, what constituted a “short delay” from Ms. Psaki’s viewpoint may have had eternal consequences for them.

But then, the world of politics often seems to operate in a different dimension than the real world. Apparently, what might appear to be a well-orchestrated attack to even the most casual observer can initially appear to be the spontaneous outgrowth of a protest over a video to seasoned political operatives who have the entire Intelligence community, DoD, and State Department at their disposal.

Here is the timeline concerning the political pronouncements of causation with respect to the attacks:

  • September 12, 2012 – President Obama gave a brief statement in the Rose Garden in which he cautiously stated, “… it’s too early to tell exactly how this came about” before leaving to attend a campaign fundraiser in Las Vegas and then heading toward another one in Colorado.
  • September 12, 2012 – Then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton suggested, “Some have sought to justify this vicious behavior, along with the protest that took place at our Embassy in Cairo yesterday, as a response to inflammatory material posted on the Internet.”
  • September 14, 2012 – Then-Press Secretary Jay Carney offered the following: “We don’t have and did not have concrete evidence to suggest that this (the Benghazi attack) was not in reaction to the film… We have no information to suggest that it was a preplanned attack. The unrest we’ve seen around the region has been in reaction to a video that Muslims, many Muslims find offensive. And while the violence is reprehensible and unjustified, it is not a reaction to the 9/11 anniversary that we know of, or to U.S. policy.”
  • September 14, 2012 – President Obama and Sec. Clinton attended a ceremony upon the return of the remains of the slain Americans.
  • September 16, 2012 –  Then-U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice made her infamous tour of the Sunday political shows reiterating that: “The information, the best information, and the best assessment we have today is that in fact this was not a preplanned, premeditated attack. What happened initially was that it was a spontaneous reaction to what had just transpired in Cairo as a consequence of the video. People gathered outside the embassy and then it grew very violent and those with extremist ties joined the fray and came with heavy weapons, which unfortunately are quite common in post-revolutionary Libya, and that then spun out of control.”
  • September 19, 2012 – National Counterterrorism Center Director Matt Olsen testified before the Senate that the attack was an act of terrorism.
  • September 19, 2012 – Citing Dir. Olsen’s testimony, President Obama began distancing himself from Ambassador Rice’s remarks and denying the existence of a cover-up saying: “If this was some effort on our part to try to downplay what had happened or tamp it down, that would be a pretty odd thing that three days later we end up putting out all the information. Who executes some sort of cover-up or effort to tamp things down for three days? So, the whole thing defies logic.”
  • September 20, 2012 – President Obama and Sec. Clinton released an ad on seven networks in Pakistan in which they denounced the anti-Islamic video that had initially been referenced as the potential source of the first attack in Benghazi.
  • September 20, 2012 – The President declines to call it a “terrorist attack” at a town hall meeting during his Presidential campaign.
    September 24, 2012 – The President again declines to refer to Benghazi as a “terrorist attack” while making a guest appearance on The View.
  • September 25, 2012 – The President mentions the anti-Islamic video six times in his speech to the United Nations: “There are no words that excuse the killing of innocents. There is no video that justifies an attack on an embassy.”

The confusion over the cause was most famously dismissed by then-Sec. Clinton, who chalked it off as “the fog of war.” Two years after the event, the fog hasn’t cleared in the political sense.

  • We still do not truly know why Ambassador Steven’s requests for additional security were not honored;
  • We still do not know why past attacks in Benghazi (including several on the Mission itself), which drove the Red Cross and British outposts from the city, did not serve as a sufficient warning to the State Department particularly in parallel with the significance of the September 11th date;
  • We do not specifically know why Ambassador Steven chose to be in Benghazi on that date (given that the Embassy in Tripoli would have been far more secure); and
  • We do not know what the President’s involvement was after he was initially informed of the attack at approximately 5:30 PM (EDT) by then-Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey (other than he made no appearance in the Situation Room that evening).

What we do know is that Former Secretary Panetta, Gen. Carter Ham, then-head of AFRICOM who broke the news to Panetta, and Marine Corps Col. George Bristol, commander of AFRICOM’s Joint Special Operations Task Force for the Trans Sahara region have all testified that they initially reported that the assault of the Mission to be a terrorist attack. Yet, many Americans characterize the vacillation of initially blaming the actions of September 11th on a video rather than a terrorist attack to be little more than a partisan witch hunt. After all: “What difference at this point does it make?”

The reason it might matter is because this Administration promised to be the most transparent in history; it promised to be non-partisan; and it promised to be far more reflective than the Bush Administration. It might also matter to the families of Chris Stevens, Sean Smith, Tyrone Woods, and Glen Doherty. It might also matter to Tanto, Tig, and Oz as well as several other individuals (who have chosen to remain anonymous); men who were there trying to save the victims and who fought side-by-side for 13 hours.

As Jack Nicholson said in his poignant portrayal of Col. Jessep in A Few Good Men when Tom Cruise, as Lt. Kaffee, demanded the truth: “Son, we live in a world that has walls, and those walls have to be guarded by men with guns. Who’s gonna do it? You? … I have a greater responsibility than you can possibly fathom … And my existence, while grotesque and incomprehensible to you, saves lives! You don’t want the truth, because deep down in places you don’t talk about at parties, you want me on that wall. You need me on that wall. We use words like “honor,” “code,” “loyalty.” We use these words as the backbone of a life spent defending something. You use them as a punchline. I have neither the time nor the inclination to explain myself to a man who rises and sleeps under the blanket of the very freedom that I provide, and then questions the manner in which I provide it! I would rather you just said, “Thank you,” and went on your way. Otherwise, I suggest you pick up a weapon and stand a post. Either way, I don’t give a damn what you think you are entitled to!”

Some of us don’t deserve the truth. Still others may not want it. For those who thirst for it and are willing to accept the consequences, pick up a copy of 13 Hours.  Find out what it’s like to “stand post” and be “on that wall.” Tanto, Tig, Oz, and their teammates were there. They courageously fought through the real “fog of war,” and their book, 13 Hours, offers the “truth” for those who want it.


T.J. O’Hara is an internationally recognized author, speaker, and strategic consultant in the private and public sectors. In 2012, he emerged as the leading independent candidate for the Office of President of the United States and the first nominee of the Whig Party in over 150 years.

This article first appeared in T.J. O’Hara’s recurring column, A Civil Assessment, in the Communities Digital News (CDN).