The events of 11 September 2012 are damning for the Presidential legacy of Barack Obama because of his failure to do basic crisis management. Thanks to testimony from SecDef Leon Panetta, Joint Chiefs Chairman Dempsey and CIA nominee John Brennan, the record of Obama’s failure to exercise his duty as Commander-in-Chief is shocking.

When a U.S. diplomat or U.S. Government facility comes under attack, regardless of the motive of the attackers, there is an U.S. Government warning and notification system that kicks into high gear. Advances in communication technology have enabled the U.S. Government bureaucracy to quickly identify attacks within moments of the first shot or bomb blast and, more importantly, monitor in real time what is happening halfway around the world.

In the old days we relied heavily on cable news. For example, I was working in the CIA operations center in September 1986 when we got word of the end of the hijacking drama surrounding Pan Am flight 73. Even though we were talking by phone with the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad, our actual understanding of what was happening came courtesy of CNN. (There was no FOX or MSNBC back in those days.)

Today we have the gift and the curse of instantaneous communication. Hell, commanders sitting in the cozy comfort of a Washington office can (and do) watch video feed of an attack as it unfolds. When you understand what Obama had at his disposal and failed to utilize, then you will understand the outrage felt by many in the intelligence and military community.

When the attack started on the U.S. “special diplomatic” facility in Benghazi around 4pm Washington time, Diplomatic Security officers on scene immediately notified the Diplomatic Security Command Center (which, is located in an Annex across the street from Main State). That command center immediately issued a NOIWON.


National Operational Intelligence Watch Officer’s Network (‘NOIWON) is a secure telephone conference-call system between major Washington national security watch centers:
National Military Command Center
National Military Joint Intelligence Center
State Department Operations Center
State Department Bureau of Intelligence and Research
CIA Operations Center
NSA Operations Center
The White House Situation Room
U.S. Navy Multiple Threat Alert Center
FBI (also multiple centers)

The dedicated phone line in each of the operations centers starts ringing–a steady, jarring jangle–and does not stop until the phone is picked up. In this case the Diplomatic Service ops center “convened” the NOIWON and informed the other Ops Centers about the events unfolding. That call then unleashes a flood of bureaucratic attention. Watch centers in every critical agency turned their focus, in this case, to Benghazi. The crisis management procedures for each department and agency vary.

For example, State Department is supposed to start evaluating whether or not to activate and deploy the FEST. Per the State Department’s own website:

The Foreign Emergency Support Team is the United States Government’s only interagency, on-call, short-notice team poised to respond to terrorist incidents worldwide. Led and trained by the Operations Directorate of the Office of the Coordinator for Counterterrorism, it assists U.S. missions and host governments in responding quickly and effectively to terrorist attacks. The FEST, which has deployed to over 20 countries since its inception in 1986, leaves for an incident site within four hours of notification, providing the fastest assistance possible.

The FEST provides round-the-clock advice and assistance to Ambassadors and foreign governments facing crisis. The Team is comprised of seasoned experts from the Department of State, FBI, Department of Defense, Department of Energy, and the Intelligence Community. Once on the scene, FEST members help Ambassadors assess the emergency, advise on how best to respond, and assist in managing consequent operations. FEST provides:

Seasoned crisis management expertise
Time-sensitive information and intelligence
Planning for contingency operations
Hostage negotiating expertise
Reach-back to Washington agencies

While the FEST would have been of no use in repelling the attack or helping arrange a rescue, it certainly would have helped facilitate the arrival of the FBI on the scene to investigate and managed the recovery of critical intelligence and diplomatic papers left in the ruins at both sites. But the FEST was not alerted nor activated. That was the decision of Hillary Clinton and her deputy, Pat Kennedy. They did not want to initiate a response to a terrorist incident while the Obama campaign was busy touting the end of terrorism. They also had no interest in highlighting the “off-the-books” intelligence activity being carried out at the Annex. That activity involved the shipment of weapons recovered/obtained in Libya (with the help of Saudi money) to Turkey for the ultimate benefit of Syria rebels.

Over at DOD the wheels too were spinning. Command centers for Africom and Eucom, both based in Stuttgart, Germany, were monitoring and prepping response options. The CIF-aka Counter Terrorist In Extremist Force–was still a part of EUCOM and was shared by Africom. (Note, AFRICOM now has its own CIF). The CIF at the time was in Croatia doing completing a previously planned counter terrorism exercise. They could have been re-directed to Benghazi and could have secured the compounds. The CIF probably would not have arrived in time to help beat back the attackers, but it sure as hell could have secured the perimeter at both sites and prevented the looting/disappearance of classified docs that subsequently ensued.

The CIA, the FBI and NSA also were scrambling. My point is simple–the rest of the U.S. Government recognized this was a serious event and were prepared to respond if called on by the President. But President Obama was asleep at the switch.

We know now, thanks to testimony by Secretary Panetta and General Dempsey that Obama had mentally checked out. Senator Ayotte elicited these key tidbits:

Secretary Panetta, you said you were in a briefing with the president of the United States, I believe it was about 5:00 our time. And you had just learned about the incident on the consulate.

What conversation did you have with the president? What did he ask you to do as a result of this attack? And throughout the night what communications were you having with him?


AYOTTE: And can you tell us on a — on a timeline as to who was calling the shots there, if it wasn’t him, another
member of the White House?

PANETTA: At the time we had — we were concerned about Cairo and demonstrations in Cairo, and then we had just picked up the information that — that something was happening, there was an apparent attack going on in Benghazi. And I informed the president of — of that fact. And he at that point directed both myself and General Dempsey to do everything we needed to do to try to protect lives there.

AYOTTE: Did he ask you how long it would take to deploy
assets, including armed…

PANETTA: No, he just…

AYOTTE: … aviation to the area?

PANETTA: He basically said do whatever — do whatever you need to do to be able to protect our people there.

AYOTTE: Did you have any — so he didn’t ask you what ability we had in the area and what we could do?

PANETTA: No. I think — I mean he — he relied on — on both myself as secretary and on General Dempsey’s capabilities. He knows generally what we’ve deployed into the region. We’ve presented that to him in other briefings. So he knew generally what was deployed out there. But as to specifics about time, et cetera, et cetera, no, he just left that up to us.

AYOTTE: Did you have any further communications with him that night?


AYOTTE: Did you have any other further communications? Did he ever call you that night to say, “How are things going? What’s going on? Where’s the consulate?”

PANETTA: No, but we were — we were aware that as we were getting information on what was taking place there, particularly when we got information that the ambassador, his life had been lost, we — we were aware that that information went to the White House.

AYOTTE: Did you communicate with anyone else at the White House that night?


AYOTTE: No one else called you to say, “What — How are things going?”


A competent Commander-in-Chief would have insisted on regular updates. An Ambassador was missing. Ambassador Stevens was possibly kidnapped by jihadists. And what did Obama do? Nothing. He left the bureaucracy to itself. He provided no direct guidance. He did not ask for a specific options brief. And, he did not press on being informed about what actually could be done to secure the site in Benghazi. He had more important fish to fry–a fundraiser in Las Vegas.

We received fuller insight yesterday into the complete absence of Obama during the Benghazi crisis in response to persistent questions from Senator Burr, who pressed Treasury nomineed and current Obama Chief of Staff to explain what the President was doing.

SEN. BURR: But who was — who was actually briefing the president? Were you?

MR. LEW: I was not — I was in the room when the president was briefed, but I was not briefing the president.

SEN. BURR: OK, because John Brennan testified yesterday that it wasn’t him. Secretary Panetta said it wasn’t him. In hearings, the ODNI Clapper said it wasn’t him. Acting DCI Mike Morell said it wasn’t him. Ambassador Kennedy said it wasn’t him. And the FBI said it wasn’t them. Now, we’ve eliminated a lot of people who had contacts within the intelligence community that knew firsthand what was going on in Benghazi. Let me ask you again: Who briefed the president on actually what was happening throughout this seven-hour period?

MR. LEW: Well, in the conversations that I was in, the National Security Staff was present and some of the people — (inaudible) –

SEN. BURR: Would John Brennan have been included in that?

MR. LEW: You know, you’re asking who did a briefing, and that’s different from who was in a conversation. I think if you ask people were they in conversations, there might have been a different answer.

SEN. BURR: Who was your primary point of contact in the intelligence community?

MR. LEW: As chief of staff, I didn’t usually reach out directly to the intelligence community. I worked through the National Security Staff.

SEN. BURR: Was there anybody from the intelligence community in that briefing session on a continual basis, to your knowledge?

MR. LEW: The intelligence community was in close touch with the White House, with the national security team on a near-constant basis.

The President was not in charge. He was absent in the midst of a crisis that cost American lives and exposed U.S. intelligence assets. Senators Ayotte, McCain and Graham are absolutely right to insist on getting full answers before moving a finger to even consider the nominations of Hagel and Brennan for the posts of SECDEF and CIA Director respectively.

Previous articleState of the Union--Open Thread
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Larry C. Johnson is a former analyst at the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency, who moved subsequently in 1989 to the U.S. Department of State, where he served four years as the deputy director for transportation security, antiterrorism assistance training, and special operations in the State Department's Office of Counterterrorism. He left government service in October 1993 and set up a consulting business. He currently is the co-owner and CEO of BERG Associates, LLC (Business Exposure Reduction Group) and is an expert in the fields of terrorism, aviation security, and crisis and risk management, and money laundering investigations. Johnson is the founder and main author of No Quarter, a weblog that addresses issues of terrorism and intelligence and politics. NoQuarterUSA was nominated as Best Political Blog of 2008.
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  • sowsear1

    Meanwhile over Guam, Russian bombers:

    • MG6

      Practice run?


    interesting theory.
    brennan blackmailing backtrack

  • MG6
    • MG6

      I got this interesting historical quotes from one of the comments.

      ~ Karl Marx, Communist Manifesto

      “One man with a gun can control 100 without one.”

      ~ Vladimir Lenin

      ” Firearms are second only to the Constitution in importance; they are the peoples’ liberty teeth.”
      ~ George Washington

    • HELENK2

      her braids are pulled too tight. affects the thinking part of the brain

    • getfitnow

      I guess the way you explain VPOTUS–right up there with his “ya’ll back in chains” remark.

  • Popsmoke

    OT… Just in case anyone of you is interested in a flying rock that can do more damage than Reagan, Bush, Clinton, Bush, Obama and to throw in Al Gore all together..


    stolen from a commenter at crawdad hole.

    arms company fights back in the state of New York

  • foxyladi14

    any other President especially a repub one would be impeached?

  • Popsmoke
  • getfitnow

    o/t —
    Congratulations to the Romneys – all of them. It would have been an honor and a great pleasure to have this family in The
    People´s House – the White House.

    • DianaLC

      I feel the same way. Now I will “preach” again. I was so furious when that person claimed Obama and Michelle as our daddy and momma–or whatever. No thank you. I don’t like their example entirely. I don’t like the example that Obama gives if you consider his family of origin.
      People always feel I’m a bit whacky that I continue to wear a ten commandments bracelet. But, I don’t think it’s wrong to follow those commandments. They are simple and cover everything you need to know about how to conduct your life.
      The one that often gets to people is the fourth, the one about honoring your father and mother that thy days mabe be long…..
      You know, if you take it too literally, to word for word, some people have a hard time of it since their parents may have been whacked out on drugs, abusive, greedy and too concerned about other things than their kids’ spiritual development.
      It’s a commandment about keeping families in the center of our lives. It follows the first three about keeping God in the center first.
      I have always been aware of how important my huge extended family was and still is for me, how proud I am of my family’s character.
      I am also sad that we don’t have Mitt and Ann as a family model in the WH.

  • getfitnow

    I’m sure Ambassador Stevens and his staff appreciate being referred to as ‘THAT.”

  • Popsmoke
    • DianaLC

      For us who are not versed in the tools of warfare, you need to give some context to what you want us to watch.

  • HARP2

    The email clearly blamed Al-Qaeda linked group Ansar al-Sharia for the attack on the US consulate.

    This was before the lifeless body of Ambassador Stevens was dragged from the consulate ruins.

    This was at least the third email sent to the White House the evening of 9-11 on the Benghazi attack.

    President Obama didn’t make any phone calls the night of the Sept. 11 attacks on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, the White House said in a letter to Congress released Thursday.

  • Popsmoke

    Boy did SNL hit the nail on the head….

    To bad this did not air…..


    off topic

    the asteroid is coming tomorrow. NASA is covering the flyby


    this story says a lot about what backtrack has done to America’s standing in the world. bomber billy ayres must so proud

    • getfitnow

      Where the “eff” was he?

      Can’t congress demand an answer to the question?

      • HELENK2

        they demand , he refuses

  • Popsmoke

    While i do not disagee. The big problem I have is both McCain and Graham are fucking around with the weapons issue because they both support this bullshit. They cannot block shit while both are complicit in SMUGGLING weapons…..


    senate delays brennan confimation at least two weeks

    want answers from backtrack bunch on drones and Bengahzi

    • elizabethrc

      I read today that Ted Cruz of Texas is ruffling Democratic feathers (and a few Republican ones) with his directness and lack of ‘comity’, which is just another word for putting good manners ahead of any serious search for the truth, particularly if it might harm the party’s candidate. Instead of going after that truth hard, they’d rather criticize the new young guns for a lack of ‘decorum’. Much like the over the top criticisms of Marco Rubio for having the nerve to inceremoniously reach for a drink of water.
      As long as Form is more important than Content to these too long in office congresspeople, expect truth to not see the light of day.
      This isn’t your father’s Congress anymore, which has been rather like an elite private club instead of a place to create meaningful legislation.This is a new crop of legislators who are more in tune with the pulse of the voters, and understand the need to change a political value system that has run out of control. They know how to prosecute a case, and in this respect, Cruz is effective, a fact which frightens the Dems no end. When even Van Jones says that Democrats are frightened of Marco Rubio, that tells me they are hitting a chord. They haven’t the time to waste on addressing the hypocrisies rampant among Democrats (Harry Reid being a prime example) nor with their baseless accusations against anything Republican.
      Maybe a few of the old guard will even catch a clue!

  • buckeyeman

    Thanks, Larry, for this excellent description of how the wheels turn within and amongst the various security agencies. For those of us who have not travelled in these circles, this is very enlightening. That this outrage felt by many in the intelligence and military communities has not been transmitted to the public at large is testimony to the excellent job of shielding this administration done by our media. Just like Pravda of old, eh?

    It has seemed to me for some time that the administration’s main motive for not acting was to conceal probable criminal ‘projects’. So, this concealment cost four lives and compromised intelligence assets. “What difference does it make?”

    • getfitnow

      No difference to the media. They’re too busy covering Marco Rubio drinking water.

      • KenoshaMarge

        Yessiree because a man taking a sip of water when his mouth was dry is big news. WTF?

      • HELENK2
        • JohnnyTwoDog

          Madison Rising. I like it.

  • Ian McCloud

    If you recall there were protests at many many embassies all over the world on that day with the most serious in Cairo. You Larry Johnson said yourself that the consulate in Benghazi was hardly a consulate, but rather an outpost for the CIA, so it was not likely the highest priority. Not sure you can blame anyone for paying any more or less attention to what was going on in Benghazi in the context with everything that was going on that day. It was not clear at all for quite some time as to what actually was going on at Benghazi and whether it was any different to what was happening at other U.S. embassies around the world that day.

    You are reaching to try and blame the President for something. What exactly are you complaining about? You do not make much sense. What exactly were you expecting the U.S. government or Obama to do? Again, your complaining is all political. All bullshit. There is nothing in the comments above that suggests that Obama was not paying attention to what was going on and monitoring the situation.

    • getfitnow

      Ambassador Stevens made it clear. Let’s ask him…oh, wait…..

    • Larry Johnson

      Ah, Ian. you Moron. You write, “that day with the most serious in Cairo.”
      Really? How many Americans died in Cairo? ZERO YOU TOOL.
      The most serious incident of the day was Benghazi where Americans were feared taken hostage and where the deaths actually occurred.
      Then there is the fact that Special Ops forces were alerted and subsequently deployed off the coast. They did not go for Cairo or any other country. Only Benghazi.
      So, pull your head out of your ass and wake up.

      • Retired_from_SPOnaj

        You’re both wrong. The most serious issue that day was Las Vegas. That’s where the attention was focused. The question should be: “How many briefings/telephone calls on Las Vegas was the President involved in that day?”
        And by the way, Larry Johnson, why are you so impolite to Ian McCloud as to not address him by his full name, but merely as “Ian?” Don’t you realize that here in America, we address people by their full name, instead of by just their first name, when conversing with them? What are, you, some kind of culturally ignorant foreigner?

        • Larry Johnson

          Good point. My latino roots are showing.

        • Popsmoke

          All three of you are wrong. The real issue in Las Vegas was, at what golf course were those briefings conducted at?
          By the way, Retired_from_SPOnaj… Ian is lucky he ain”t in Brooklyn. They would have a few full names to call him by and none of them would sound like Ian McCloud…..

      • Ian McCloud

        It only became apparent hours later that the Benghazi was an actual organized attack and that the Ambassador was threated and dead. The President did not got to bed or to a fund-raiser with the knowledge that the Ambassador was threatened. When it started the biggest threat was to the Embassy in Cairo. It only became apparent hours later that the Benghazi “consulate” was and had been under actual attack and the Ambassador life was in danger. Pull your head out of your own ass, as Obama did not go to bed or to a fund-raiser with the knowledge that Benghazi was under attack or the Ambassador’s life was threatened. There is absolutely no evidence of that.

        • Crystallite

          Has it ever occurred to you, Mr. McCloud, that Cairo might have been “staged” to cover for the goings-on in Benghazi? Not only was Ansar al Sharia (sp?) there in Benghazi, but so were Morsi’s men. An Arab American translated an Arab language video of the attack and posted it on his site. In it, Morsi’s men were heard telling the other group, “Don’t shoot. We were sent by Morsi.” The video has since been removed from the internet. Allegedly (according to Lame Cherry), Morsi’s men were there to “kidnap” the ambassador to negotiate the release of the blind sheik.

        • buzzlatte3

          Gee John, If you’re so smart and know everything maybe YOU should tell congress why Barry O was a no-show.

        • DianaLC

          Romney made a point of saying that he did not like the administration’s making excuses against our freedom of speech by putting blame on a person who made a bad video about the Islamic prophet. You don’t, as the leader of the free world, apologize for our freedoms, you dim wit.
          As the leader of the free world, you also do things according to the law of the land and so aren’t put into a position of not sending help for Americans dying because of your Iran/Contra-like deals for Syria that you lie to the American public about while claiming that nothing was happening in that regard.

  • Retired_from_SPOnaj

    Perhaps the de facto POTUS, Valerie Jarrett, was briefed. She may have decided that there was nothing happening in Libya that was more important than the Las Vegas fundraiser.

  • sowsear1

    BO and MO: Happy Valentine’s Day

  • elizabethrc

    Not that I expect any actions against the President, but what would this dereliction lead to for any other President?

  • HARP2

    Just like we thought.