Attack And The Fallout Benghazi
A look at the events surrounding the Sept. 11 attack on the
diplomatic post in U.S. ,
and the controversy that followed. Benghazi, Libya
Before The Attack: February 2011-Sept. 10, 2012
A few weeks after an uprising against Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi began in February 2011,
envoy Chris Stevens arrives
in Benghazi by cargo ship on April 5. He leads a team that makes
contacts with the Libyan rebels. Gadhafi is driven from the capital, U.S. ,
in August and is killed in October. Stevens is named ambassador to Libya, based in Tripoli ,
in May 2012. Tripoli
An armed man waves his rifle as buildings and cars are engulfed in flames after being set on fire inside the U.S. Consulate compound in
late on Sept. 11. Benghazi
consulate first reports being under attack at about 9:40 p.m. local time,
according to later State Department accounts. After gaining access to
the compound, the attackers set fire to a building where Stevens and
information management officer Sean Smith are sheltered in a fortified save
The building fills with smoke and flames. Smith's body is recovered by diplomatic security agents; Stevens cannot be found. A small
security team and Libyan forces arrive on the scene. After continued searching
for Stevens, the surviving Americans evacuate the compound and head to a nearby
U.S. CIA annex, which also comes under attack.
Two former Navy SEALs acting as
security contractors, Tyrone Woods and Glen Doherty, are killed in that attack.
Later, all of the Americans, including a team that has arrived from ,
leave Tripoli on two flights.
Stevens' body is returned to Benghazi
custody at the airport from a hospital where he had been taken by Libyans. U.S.
Initial Assessments: September
News of the attacks spreads against the backdrop of two other major stories: protests at the U.S. Embassy in
and the Cairo
presidential campaign. The U.S.
protests, which took place just hours before the attack in Cairo ,
were sparked by anger over an anti-Muslim video made in the Benghazi . In the following days, angry demonstrations
are held at United
diplomatic missions throughout the Muslim world. U.S.
Initial reports from journalists in Libya also link the
attack to the video, and remarks from Benghazi
officials seem to lay blame there as well. On Sept. 12, President Obama says in
his Rose Garden remarks about the attack: "We reject
all efforts to denigrate the religious beliefs of others. But there is
absolutely no justification to this type of senseless violence." He also
makes a general reference to terrorism, saying, "No acts of terror will
ever shake the resolve of this great nation." U.S.
In her remarks on the same day, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton says: "We are working to determine the precise motivations and methods of those who carried out this assault. Some have sought to justify this vicious behavior, along with the protest that took place at our embassy in
yesterday, as a response to inflammatory material posted on the Internet."
In a State Department briefing that day, however,
officials say they don't have information about whether there were protests
related to the video at the Cairo
compound at the time of the attack. Benghazi
In the following days, some witnesses tell NPR there was no protest before the attack, and Libyan government officials say the attack was planned.
"The idea that this criminal and cowardly act was a spontaneous protest that just spun out of control is completely unfounded and preposterous," Libyan President Mohammed el-Megarif tells NPR on Sept. 16. "We firmly believe that this was a pre-calculated, preplanned attack that was carried out specifically to attack the U.S. Consulate."
On the same day, Susan Rice, the
ambassador to the United Nations, appears on behalf of the Obama administration
on five Sunday talk shows and indicates the attack began as a
spontaneous protest over the video. She and other administration officials
later say her account was based on talking points provided by
the intelligence community. U.S.
According to Sen. Dianne Feinstein, who read from the talking points on Capitol Hill, the document said: "The currently available information suggests that the demonstrations in
spontaneously inspired by the protests at the Benghazi embassy in United
and evolved into a direct assault." Cairo
In the wake of the attack, lawmakers on Capitol Hill hold hearings to investigate. In his testimony at a hearing Sept. 19, Matthew Olsen, director of the
, refers to the violence as
"a terrorist attack" and allows that al-Qaida might have played some role. In the days after
Olsen's testimony, Clinton and White House spokesman Jay Carney also call the
assault "a terrorist attack." National Counterterrorism
Center also suggests a possible linkwith an al-Qaida affiliate in Clinton North
Capitol Hill Controversy: October
On Oct. 2, Republicans looking into the attack send a letter to
outlining previous threats and attacks in Clinton
and asking about security there. Ahead of a House hearing, the
State Department briefs reporters Oct. 9, laying out a narrative of
the attacks and saying there was "nothing unusual during the day at all
outside" the diplomatic post. When asked what led officials to initially
believe the attacks began with protests against the video, a senior official
says, "That was not our conclusion." Libya
During the Oct. 10 hearing, the leader of a
security team in U.S.
testifies that attacks against Westerners were increasing before the Sept. 11
strike. A State Department regional security officer says he recommended
additional guards, although he also says in his prepared testimony:
"Having an extra foot of wall, or an extra-half dozen guards or agents
would not have enabled us to respond to that kind of assault." Deputy
Assistant Secretary of State Charlene Lamb testifies: "We had the correct
number of assets in Libya at the
time of 9/11, for what had been agreed upon." Benghazi
At an Oct. 11 vice presidential debate, Joe Biden says of
"We weren't told they wanted more security." Clinton takes responsibility for the attack a few days later,
telling CNN, "I'm in charge of the State Department's 60,000-plus people
all over the world — 275 posts. The president and the vice president wouldn't
be knowledgeable about specific decisions that are made by security
Post-Election Wrangling: November
Following Obama's re-election, on Nov. 14 three Republican senators — John McCain, Lindsey Graham and Kelly Ayotte — call for a Watergate-style panel to investigate the
attack. They also pledge to block Rice if the president nominates her to
replace Benghazi as secretary of
state, criticizing the way Rice characterized the attack in her media
appearances Sept. 16. Clinton
Obama angrily defends Rice in a news conference later the same day, saying: "She made an appearance at the request of the White House in which she gave her best understanding of the intelligence that had been provided to her. If Sen. McCain and Sen. Graham and others want to go after somebody, they should go after me."
Two days later, former
Director David Petraeus, who stepped down days after the election because of an
extramarital affair, tells lawmakers in a closed-door hearing that he
always thought the attack was a terrorist strike. But he also says the White
House did not politicize the process of determining what could be said,
lawmakers report. And his testimony supports the view that Rice didn't
deliberately mislead with her remarks, they say.
Still, Republicans say they want answers about whether Rice tried to spin the account of the attack to avoid talking about terrorism during an election season. After a series of meetings with Rice during the week of Nov. 26, GOP senators say they're more concerned than ever about what she said after the attack.
On Dec. 13, Rice sends a letter to the president asking that he not consider her for the secretary of state post. She says she is "now convinced that the confirmation process would be lengthy, disruptive and costly — to you and to our most pressing national and international priorities."