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11.15.12

CIA: We Didn’t Ask for Help During Benghazi Attack

The agency’s acting director will tell Congress today that agents on the ground the night Ambassador Chris Stevens was killed never requested military assistance, Eli Lake reports.

When the CIA’s acting director, Michael Morell, testifies Thursday before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, he is expected to say that the agency never requested Europe-based special operations teams, specialized Marine platoons, or armed drones on the night of the Sept. 11 attack in Benghazi, Libya, according to a senior U.S. intelligence official.

The disclosure may put an end to one line of inquiry into the Benghazi affair about why reinforcements from the region were not sent on the night of the attack. “Assistance from the U.S. military was critical, and we got what we requested,” the senior U.S. intelligence official said.

According to a Pentagon timeline made public last week, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta prepared multiple military responses from the region at around midnight Benghazi time, more than two hours after the initial assault began. Those orders included mobilizing two special Marine platoons known as Fleet Antiterrorism Security Team (FAST) from Rota, Spain, to deploy to Tripoli and Benghazi. Panetta also ordered a special operations force, training in central Europe, to deploy at the Signonella Airbase in Italy. Another special operations team based in the United States also prepared to deploy to Libya.

The CIA, however, requested none of that assistance. Neither did the State Department. None of those teams ever arrived in Benghazi.

On the evening of the attack, the military provided two kinds of support to the CIA security officers who tried to fend off an attack at the U.S. diplomatic mission and then later stood guard at a CIA base less than a mile away, which was hit in a second wave at about 5 a.m. (A U.S. military team working for the CIA was sent that evening from Tripoli, but that team did not arrive at the CIA annex until after the U.S. diplomatic mission was overrun.)

The military support included an unarmed predator drone that recorded the dramatic rescue of U.S. personnel from the diplomatic mission to the CIA base at about midnight. (Timelines differ between the Pentagon and the CIA.) The U.S. military also provided medevac support to survivors of the attack that killed Ambassador Chris Stevens, State Department communications specialist Sean Smith, and two retired Navy SEALs, Tyrone Woods and Glenn Doherty.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the Democratic chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said Wednesday that Gen. David Petraeus, who resigned Friday after acknowledging an extramarital affair, would testify about the matter this week. CNN reported Wednesday evening that his testimony is now scheduled for Friday.

Congress is particularly interested in what Petraeus learned about Benghazi on his trip last month to Tripoli.

Morrell also is likely to be asked about the broiling scandal involving the Petraeus resignation and whether the CIA is examining any potential unauthorized disclosure of classified information because of the retired general’s relationship with his biographer, Paula Broadwell.

A U.S. official familiar with the investigation told The Daily Beast that Broadwell at this point is the main focus of the FBI investigation. The probe began in the spring after Jill Kelley, a Tampa woman who arranged parties for senior U.S. military officers at the MacDill Air Force Base, contacted a local FBI agent. She complained about harassing emails that may have bordered on threats.

The U.S. official said the emails in some cases claimed to know Kelley’s whereabouts. “It was something along the lines of, ‘I know this Friday where you are going to be,’” this official said. “Jill thought it spooked her, it was a threat. She wanted to check it out with law enforcement. It did not take long before there was some reference to high-ranking government officials.”

Congress is particularly interested in what Petraeus learned about Benghazi on his trip last month to Tripoli.

Two U.S. government officials told the Beast that the investigation at one point examined whether a foreign intelligence service may have been involved in the scandal, but that possibility was soon ruled this out. There remains, however, an investigation into whether Broadwell mishandled classified information.

Broadwell, a former military intelligence officer, at one point did hold high-level security clearances. On Monday, FBI agents went to her home and confiscated her computers. Already the bureau has found that some classified documents were in Broadwell’s possession. Her security clearance has been suspended.