CIA Denies Calling Off Backup in Benghazi

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Update (5:31 p.m.): In response to a Fox News story claiming CIA operatives in Benghazi were prevented from aiding U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens during his time of need, the CIA says it never instructed any of its personnel from helping the four Americans who died on Sept. 11. In an e-mailed statement, CIA spokeswoman Jennifer Youngblood says "no one at any level in the CIA" told operatives at a local CIA annex in Benghazi not to help Amb. Stevens:

“We can say with confidence that the Agency reacted quickly to aid our colleagues during that terrible evening in Benghazi.  Moreover, no one at any level in the CIA told anybody not to help those in need; claims to the contrary are simply inaccurate.  In fact, it is important to remember how many lives were saved by courageous Americans who put their own safety at risk that night—and that some of those selfless Americans gave their lives in the effort to rescue their comrades.”

The blanket statement is in response to a range of allegations brought up by Fox News's national security correspondent Jennifer Griffin. Among the allegations, Griffin said "sources who were on the ground in Benghazi" said CIA operatives about a mile away from Amb. Stevens' compound were told twice to "stand down" after hearing gunshots during the night of the assault. (The gunshots were heard at approximately 9:40 p.m.) Additionally, Griffin's report says that former Navy SEAL Tyrone Woods disobeyed orders to "stand down" and rushed to the U.S. compound housing Amb. Stevens alongside at least two other personnel. After receiving fire from militants near the compound, the team reportedly evacuated everyone they could find and returned to the CIA annex to call for more backup. "At that point, they called again for military support and help because they were taking fire at the CIA safe house, or annex. The request was denied," reported Griffin. There are a number of details in Griffin's story that will likely raise more questions, such as an extended account of a security officer manning a "heavy machine gun" on the roof of the CIA annex who couldn't receive assistance from higher ups. For now, the CIA isn't saying no one was ever prevented from assisting the U.S. compound but it is vowing that the agency itself never played a role in denying those requests.

Original article: Here's something that could alter the discussion on the attacks in Benghazi: According to Fox News national security correspondent Jennifer Griffin, CIA operators on the scene repeatedly transmitted requests for military backup but were denied by U.S. officials. Not only that but the CIA operatives were also told twice to "stand down" rather than assist U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens after shots were heard at about 9:40 p.m. in Benghazi on Sept. 11. 

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If true, the report would dramatically change the perception of the CIA operatives on the ground there, who've come under fire for the inadequate security provided to State Department officials. According to Griffin's report, "sources who were on the ground in Benghazi," say that former Navy SEAL Tyrone Woods and other security officials at a nearby CIA annex were told twice to "stand down" after hearing gunshots the night of the attacks. Refusing to follow orders, Woods and at least two others rushed at midnight to the besieged U.S. compound where Amb. Stevens resided and evacuated everyone they could find. They took fire from militants and retreated back to the compound. But when they returned to the CIA annex, their requests for backup to U.S. officials were again denied, as Griffin explains:

At that point, they called again for military support and help because they were taking fire at the CIA safe house, or annex. The request was denied. There were no communications problems at the annex, according those present at the compound. The team was in constant radio contact with their headquarters. In fact, at least one member of the team was on the roof of the annex manning a heavy machine gun when mortars were fired at the CIA compound. The security officer had a laser on the target that was firing and repeatedly requested back-up support from a Spectre gunship, which is commonly used by U.S. Special Operations forces to provide support to Special Operations teams on the ground involved in intense firefights. The fighting at the CIA annex went on for more than four hours -- enough time for any planes based in Sigonella Air base, just 480 miles away, to arrive. Fox News has also learned that two separate Tier One Special operations forces were told to wait, among them Delta Force operators. 

We asked the National Security Council about the story but a spokesperson declined to comment. We've not yet heard back from the CIA.

But here's how the story could change the overall narrative of the security failures in Libya: If you recall, the House Oversight Committee's hearings on Libya earlier this month inadvertently drew attention to the fact that about a dozen CIA operatives and contractors were present near the U.S. compound in Benghazi while the attack was happening. Taking this into account, The Washington Post's Dana Milbank emphasized that blaming the State Department for security failures lodges complaints at the wrong door. "If the CIA was playing such a major role in these events, which was the unmistakable impression left by Wednesday’s hearing ... the victims may have been let down not by the State Department but by the CIA."

In light of today's report, it appears that blaming the CIA operatives doesn't make much sense at all given their repeated efforts to help out in the matter. What the Fox News report leaves out is who denied the requests to the CIA operatives. The only detail it mentions about the operatives' communication is that they were "in constant radio contact with their headquarters." Was the CIA denying those requests? Was the Pentagon? State Department? We've sent out questions to each agency and will update if we hear back. 

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.