The Petraeus Barrage on Benghazi

As I noted yesterday, Jonah Goldberg was whining that not enough journalists were covering this story, which said that CIA had twice asked for help from DOD, only to be denied, and stated that several fo the security guards at the CIA annex were told to stand down rather than responding immediately to the attack on the mission.

Sadly for Jonah’s wishes for October-in-November, “senior intelligence officials”–which WaPo made clear were at the CIA–held what NYT and WaPo make clear was a formal briefing that set off a frenzy of coverage on Benghazi, all refuting the claims made in the Fox story.

You gotta hand it to David Petraeus. He still completely commands the media in this country. Neither WaPo nor NYT add much beyond refuting the Fox story–though the NYT does make clear that CIA had taken control of the DOD drone that surveilled the mission after the attack started.

An unarmed military drone that the C.I.A. took control of to map possible escape routes relayed reassuring images to Tripoli and Washington.

The WSJ, which clearly supplemented the CIA briefing with reporting from Congress, State, and the FBI, added far more. Of note, CIA and State are now telling Congress different stories about what role CIA was supposed to play that night.

Congressional investigators say it appears that the CIA and State Department weren’t on the same page about their respective roles on security, underlining the rift between agencies over taking responsibility and raising questions about whether the security arrangement in Benghazi was flawed.


At one point during the consulate siege, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton telephoned the CIA director directly to seek assistance. Real-time intelligence from the field was scarce and some officials at State and the Pentagon were largely in the dark about the CIA’s role.

And–as has been suggested before, even at the Darrell Issa hearing–CIA and FBI weren’t sharing information.

In ensuing weeks, tensions over the matter spread to the FBI and Capitol Hill. The FBI didn’t initially get to review surveillance footage taken at the compound because officials say it was being analyzed by the CIA. The CIA, in turn, wasn’t able to immediately get copies of FBI witness interviews, delaying the agency’s analysis of what happened outside the consulate and at the annex.

Perhaps most damning, though, are the gripes about how Petraeus responded to the attack, staying at the movie Argo the the night of the Issa hearing, and not attending the funeral of the two former SEAL contractors who died providing security to CIA. One of WSJ’s sources compared how Panetta responded to the Khost killings with Petraeus’ actions. Panetta lifted the cover of those who died and attended funerals. Petraeus stayed away–he claims in this article–to hide CIA’s role in Benghazi.

Officials close to Mr. Petraeus say he stayed away in an effort to conceal the agency’s role in collecting intelligence and providing security in Benghazi. Two of the four men who died that day, Tyrone Woods and Glen Doherty, were former Navy SEAL commandos who were publicly identified as State Department contract security officers, but who actually worked as Central Intelligence Agency contractors, U.S. officials say.

This is of course a totally bullshit answer. Libyans made it clear right away that they had not been told about the personnel at the annex, making it clear they were spooks. By not attending the funeral, Petraeus was keeping no secrets from the Libyans, though he may have thought he was keeping them from us (and making Hillary take the fall for this attack).

Ah well, Petraeus can still get the media to report his barrage, even if he can’t offer credible explanations for his actions.

Marcy has been blogging full time since 2007. She’s known for her live-blogging of the Scooter Libby trial, her discovery of the number of times Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded, and generally for her weedy analysis of document dumps.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including the Guardian, Salon, and the Progressive, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse and dog in Grand Rapids, MI.

12 replies
  1. Frank33 says:

    The Ambassador should have had actual security protection, The private contractors protecting an Ambassador were really CIA spies. Was their job to spy on Stevens? Of course that suggests “private security contractors” may not be that private.

    The CIA immediately assumed control of this attack, and failed. The CIA agents, 20 or 30 of them, ran away leaving documents and weapons, and a dead Ambassador who they lost in the “chaos”. Now, the CIA and its sympathizers are making this a campaign issue.

    Of course, the major failure is Petraeus, who always fails.

    One of the major war planners who has kept the Secret Government in power, is John McCain. He compares Benghzi to Watergate . McCain is a great liar once again. Watergate was COINTELPRO against American citizens, and also covert operations against an anti-war candidate George McGovern. McCain is part of this newest CIA coverup.

    “This tragedy turned into a debacle and massive cover-up or massive incompetence in Libya is having an impact on the voters because of their view of the commander-in-chief,” Mr. McCain told CBS recently. “It is now the worst cover-up or incompetence I have ever observed in my life. Somebody the other day said to me, ‘Well, this is as bad as Watergate.’ Nobody died in Watergate.”

    Most of all Watergate was about the Vietnam War. Watergate was a covert operation, with the CIA helping, to keep the Vietnam war going. So some people did die, in Vietnam, because the war continued. Also, the “Plumbers” did plan to assassinate Daniel Ellsberg. Watergate was a successful coverup for at least a year. Petraeus is repeating the Watergate coverup, with a Secret Government concealing its dirty tricks. It does seem that President Obama is the target of this New Watergate Operation. So McCain is partially correct.

  2. Jim White says:

    What stands out to me is that CIA put a very large amount of effort into pushing back against the Fox “stand down” accusation. What was missing, though, was any push-back against the accusations that the CIA knew within 24 hours that it was a planned attack and yet continued to brief Congress and Obama on it being a spontaneous protest. As I mentioned in my post on October 19 (, this behavior by Petraeus and the CIA comes off as political maneuvering calculated to undermine Obama’s election chances. As Marcy pointed out in comments there, by sticking with the spontaneous protest story, the CIA and Petraeus also were hiding their abject failure in human intelligence gathering.

    That failure in intelligence gathering is all the more glaring now, since all doubt has been removed that there was a very large contingent of CIA spies at the annex. There are references in some of the stories from yesterday’s briefings suggesting the various things these CIA folks were doing, but it seems to me that basic mission security is a responsibility for any agent in the field, so missing a coordinated attack on such a large group is a huge failing.

    Petraeus staying away from meeting the bodies or going to the funerals is nothing more than his usual behavior of running away from his failures while blaming anyone else he can.

  3. JTMinIA says:

    I’m not sure if I agree with you, Jim, about the CIA’s reasons for trying to stick with the “spontaneous protest” story. I think that it’s possible that the CIA was trying to avoid providing evidence that our constant use of drones is really p*ss*ng people off, because the CIA loves drones as much as Obama.

  4. emptywheel says:

    @Frank33: First, Stevens had 2 security guards traveling with him, plus the 3 at the mission. And the CIA officers at the annex destroyed the CIA docs before the evacuated. In fact, one of the stories suggests that’s why the mission was left as it was–bc the CIA was concentrating on destroying the more sensitive stuff at the annex.

  5. John B. says:

    If Petraeus at the CIA really is undermining the President, the question becomes will the President do anything about that…

  6. Frank33 says:

    Breaking Top Secret spy news has been leaked to the FOX Neo-Con Network, by Senior military and Intelligence blabbermouths. They have revealed FEST was not deployed by the President. FEST coordinates and facilitates. The President symied the response to the attack.

    According to senior military officials, the administration also did not deploy the interagency team made up of Department of Defense, FBI, CIA and State Department: the Foreign Emergency Support Team (FEST). It was decided that FEST was not to be sent to coordinate an on-the-ground response and help facilitate the FBI’s interests into Benghazi. It took 24 days for the FBI team in Libya to gain access to the compound.

    First, the spymasters lied to Congress and the White House about the Benghazi attack. Now the “Senior Officials” are trying to meddle in a Presidential campaign, with more lies. I cannot imagine how this Soap Opera will end.

  7. karenjj2 says:

    i continue to find it sooo peculiar that the cia has become a world military force instead of its original mandate as a “central intelligence agency” gathering information on foreign affairs for the federal government.

    And i recall a time when the fbi was a domestic “federal bureau of investigation” gathering information for domestic and federal law enforcement agencies to prosecute. and they were all paid by the federal gov’t and had alligence to the u.s.

    now, everything has morphed into a privatized, corporatized Project for a New American Century.

    what a strange Orwellian world we now inhabit.

  8. Brindle says:

    I think an important aspect not mentioned much by MSM outlets is that the attack in Benghazi was a reaction to U.S policies and behaviors in the ME and North Africa—that the increasing U.S. footprint in the area does have consequences.

  9. Jim White says:

    @Frank33: Heh. I was “helping” Greta to realize the error in her earlier post via the Twitter machine. The erroneous post was up for over three hours and had hundreds of FoxNews followers railing about how awful it was for Petraeus to go the movies while the attack was going down.

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