Enough with opinions. Let’s go to the actual DOD manuals that explain in detail what the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Theater Combatant Commanders are supposed to do when a crisis, like the terrorist attack on Benghazi, erupts. The process is identified by the military as Crisis Action Planning. You can read the full details here (Joint Publication 5-0, JOINT OPERATION PLANNING)

Let me give you the bottomline up front–Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton failed completely to do their duty on 11 September 2012 when US diplomatic and intelligence personnel were attacked by radical Islamic terrorists in Benghazi, Libya.

The DOD Joint Publication 5-0 lays out in excruciating detail what should have and could have been done by the U.S. military. The first thing is to understand the purpose of this Pub:

This edition of Joint Publication (JP) 5-0, Joint Operation Planning, reflects the current doctrine for conducting joint, interagency, and multinational planning  activities across the full range of military operations. This keystone publication forms the core of joint warfighting doctrine and establishes the framework for our forces’ ability to fight as a joint team.

The fundamental purpose is to explain to the military and other interagency partners (e.g., State, FBI, DOJ, CIA, etc.) the policies and procedures for responding to a crisis.

The doctrine laid out in this publication is not just wishful thinking or helpful suggestions. According to page i of the Preface:

The guidance in this publication is authoritative; as such, this doctrine will be followed except when, in the judgment of the commander, exceptional circumstances dictate otherwise.

Those unfamiliar with how the U.S. military actually works need to understand that our forces–Army, Marines, Navy and Air Force–spend their time when they are not involved in a war training and planning. The planning activity involves a variety of tasks and include Strategic Planning, Deliberate Planning, Contingency Planning and Crisis Action Planning aka CAP.

Benghazi is the quintessential example of CAP:

Crisis action planning (CAP) provides the CJCS and CCDRs a process for getting vital decision-making information up the chain of command to the President and SecDef. It also outlines the mechanisms for monitoring the execution of the operation. CAP encompasses the activities associated with the time- sensitive development of OPORDs for the deployment, employment, and sustainment of assigned, attached, and allocated forces and capabilities in response to a situation that may result in actual military operations. CAP procedures provide for the rapid and effective exchange of information and analysis, the timely preparation of military COAs for consideration by the President or SecDef, and the prompt transmission of their decisions to the JPEC. (see p. xvii)

For the acronym challenged, CJCS stands for Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff and CCDR is shorthand for Combatant Commanders (i.e., the General or Admiral in charge of geographic commands, such as European Command aka EUCOM or CENTCOM aka Central Command).

The simple purpose of this entire process is to get life and death information to the Secretary of Defense and the President so that they can make informed decisions. This is especially true in the midst of a “crisis,” which DOD defines as:

. . . an incident or situation that typically develops rapidly and creates a condition of such diplomatic, economic, or military importance that the President or SecDef considers a commitment of US military forces and resources to achieve national objectives. It may occur with little or no warning. It is fast-breaking and requires accelerated decision making. (See p. II-28)

In theory a crisis, such as Benghazi, is managed as a “Six Phase” event. In practice, however, these phases are not necessarily distinct or separate. Sometimes they are jumbled together:


Using this as a guide, let’s look at what did and did not happen as the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2012 unfolded.


When the attackers showed up at the Special Diplomatic residence of Ambassador Chris Stevens on the evening of 11 September 2012, the ensuing attack met every DOD definition of “crisis.”

According to CBS News, the attack started 9:40 p.m. in Libya (which was 3:40 p.m. ET) with gunfire and an explosion. A Diplomatic Security agent in the Tactical Operations Centers sees dozens of armed people over security camera flowing through a pedestrian gate at the compound’s main entrance. It is not clear how the gate was opened.

The agent hits the alarm and alerts the CIA security team in the nearby annex and the Libyan 17th of February Brigade, one of several powerful militias serving as a de facto security presence in Benghazi. The embassy in Tripoli and the State Dept. command center were also alerted.

The initial notification of the Diplomatic Security Operations Center at the Department of State was followed by the immediate notification of the main Operations Center at State Department, a complex located on the 7th Floor of Main State just outside the Secretary of State’s Office Suite.

That news in turn prompted the ignition of a secure phone call to all Operations Centers in the Federal Government, known as a NOIWON, at 4:05pm EDT. A NOIWON aka  National Operational Intelligence Watch Officer’s Network is a secure telephone conference-call system between major Washington national security watch centers, which included:

The NOIWON was followed subsequently by an alert to the relevant U.S. military units. Known as an OPREP-3 PINNACLE , it is a message that describes an event of such importance that it needs to be brought to the immediate attention of the National Command AuthorityJoint Chiefs of Staff/National Military Command Center (NMCC), and other national-level leadership.

All notifications (i.e. NOIWON and OPREP3-PINNACLE) regarding the attack in Benghazi were completed by 4:15pm Eastern Daylight Time and this produced an immediate reaction at the Department of Defense and at the military headquarters responsible for Libya–AFRICOM, which is based in Stuttgart, Germany.

Comm MapMeanwhile, on the ground in Benghazi, the attack on the Ambassador and the State Department personnel continued until a six-member CIA team (aka GRS aka Global Response Staff) arrived from the CIA annex with 40 to 60 members of 17th of February Brigade. They attempted to secure the compound, located the body of the State Department Communicator (Sean Smith) and searched in vain for Ambassador Chris Stevens.
Once informed of this crisis event, the relevant military command–in this case AFRICOM–is designated as the “Supported Command.” Essentially this means that it has the lead responsibility for dealing with the crisis from the military standpoint and can call on other military commands to provide “Support.” Under CAP the “Supported Command” was expected to do the following:

Supported Command

  • Report significant event to National Military Command Center aka NMCC

Publishes CINC’s assessment:

  • nature of crisis
  • forces available
  • major constraints
  • action being taken
  • COAs being considered

According to the CAP, there was supposed to be extensive communication between the Pentagon and the AFRICOM Commander, General Carter Ham. Ham, however, was in Washington, DC and not Stuttgart. Therefore the task of communicating with the Pentagon from the Joint Operations Center in Stuttgart fell to his second in Command, a Navy Admiral.

In theory there is a demarcation between the “Situational Development” phase of the CAP and the “Crisis Assessment” phase. The Crisis Assessment phase, according to the DOD states that:

. . . the NCA and Joint Chiefs of Staff analyze the situation to determine whether a military option should be prepared to deal with the evolving problem. The phase is characterized by increased information gathering and review of available options by the NCA.

“NCA” is DOD speak for the President. So we need to ask the question–when was the President informed of the attack and what, if any, decisions were made?  According to the CBS News timeline, Panetta was notified about the attack at 4:30pm EDT.  President Obama reportedly was not notified until 5 p.m. EDT (11 p.m. Libya) by White House National Security Advisor Tom Donilon.  The President got the news about Benghazi just before starting a previously scheduled meeting with Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Chairman of Joint Chiefs Martin Dempsey. It is reported in multiple sources that the President, the SECDEF and General Dempsey discussed possible responses to the situation.

While they were meeting here was the situation status:

  1. Ambassador Stevens was missing.
  2. An unarmed U.S. military drone was about to arrive over Benghazi (it had been diverted from another mission and arrived at 11:10 p.m. Libyan time.
  3. The CIA contractors, accompanied by  the surviving State Department officers, returned to the CIA Annex around 11:30 p.m. Libyan time.

During the meeting with the President, the SECDEF and General Mullen were unable to state whether the attack was a one-time event or the start of a sustained attack to eradicate the American presence in Benghazi. Normal military planning is to assume the worst and prepare for the worst. That means anticipating more attacks and putting in motion plans to remove U.S. personnel. Getting U.S. personnel out of what is effectively a combat zone means that U.S. military forces must be on the ground to secure the exit routes, whether by ground or air.

The meeting with the President ended around 6:00 p.m EDT. Coming out of that meeting Secretary of Defense Panetta told Congressional investigators that he ordered three assets to deploy:

  1. Marine Fleet Anti-Terrorism Support Team or “FAST” team,
  2. Commanders In Extremis Force or “CIF,” and
  3. A hostage rescue team based in the United States.

Panetta stated, “My orders were to deploy those forces, period.”

The decision coming out of that meeting represented a compression of Phases II, III, IV and V. Here is what we do not know? Was a Deployment Order aka DEPORD actually issued? These orders are not done verbally. They are put “on paper” so that there is a record. At a minimum there should be at least three emails–one directing the Commander of AFRICO to deploy the CIF (i.e. Commander’s In-Extremist Force), one to the Commander of EUCOM to deploy the FAST based at Rota, Spain, and one to the U.S. based hostage rescue force (a unit that cannot be named).

So far, so good. This is how the military side of the house is supposed to work. The JOPES process stipulates:

CJCS assesses the situation from the military point of view including operations, logistics, and command and control implications, and reviews current strategy and existing OPLAN data in JOPES. The Joint Staff reviews and evaluates reports from the CINC. CJCS may recommend to the NCA that orders be published to prepare to deploy or to deploy forces, and may establish or direct the establishment of a crisis GCCS TLCF (aka Global Command and Control System Teleconference) if the CINC has not already done so.

It is important to emphasize that there was no possible U.S. military response that could have saved lives at the U.S. diplomatic compound. The only thing that could have saved the lives of Ambassador Stevens and his communicator, Mr. Smith, was having a proper security team in place at the facility. But the decisions to not have proper security had been made months earlier with the final authority of the State Department’s Under Secretary for Management, Pat Kennedy. And he made those decisions with the full backing of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

The failure to get U.S. forces to Benghazi in time to save lives falls more with Hillary Clinton than with the Department of Defense. According to the Deputy Director of Intelligence for AFRICOM that night, Brigadier General Robert Lovell, the military was waiting on State:

U.S. military personnel knew early on that the Benghazi attack was a “hostile action” and not a protest gone awry, according to a retired general who served at U.S. Africa Command’s headquarters in Germany during the attack.

While the exact nature of the attack was not clear from the start, “what we did know early on was that this was a hostile action,” retired Air Force brigadier general Robert Lovell said in his prepared statement Thursday morning to members of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. “This was no demonstration gone terribly awry.” . . .

“As the attack was ongoing, it was unclear whether it was an attempted kidnapping, rescue, recovery, protracted hostile engagement or any or all of the above,” Lovell said.

While people on the ground were fighting for their lives, discussions among U.S. leaders outside Libya “churned on about what we should do,” but the military waited for a request for assistance from the State Department, Lovell said.

The only ground force that could have arrived on scene at the Annex and presented the possibility of helping secure the site and ultimately save lives was the CIF–the counter terrorism response force that is part of AFRICOM. I do not want to leave you with the impression that they could have been on the ground by 5am Libya time. It is possible but could have been touch and go. There also is the possibility that the in-bound force could have been attacked once on the ground and casualties would have been far greater than the four lives lost that night.

However, AFRICOM also had some air assets at its disposal–to be specific, jet fighters based at Aviano Air Force base in Italy. Those planes could have done a fly over of the Annex, which would have bolstered the ability of that beleaguered outpost to fend off the terrorists. They also could have provide some close air support. That means dropping bombs or firing their on board guns at enemy positions. Keeping the terrorists at bay could have bought time and kept the bad guys from setting up the mortar that killed Glen Doherty and Ty Woods.

But it was not just the military carping about foot dragging at the Department of State. Hillary Clinton also ignored the advice and recommendations of the Bureau of Counter Terrorism that night. Despite claims to the contrary by Daniel Benjamin, who was the Ambassador in charge of that office at the time, Hillary and her staff excluded the senior CT military experts in the bureau from all deliberations. Daniel Benjamin was not in the country at the time and was not in a position to participate in classified telephone and video conferences. His claim to have been fully in the loop is at best disingenuous and at worst, a lie.

The Deputy Assistant Secretary of State in the Bureau of Counter Terrorism that was supposed to handle all Crisis Response operations was shut out of the process by Hillary and her staff. Mark Thompson was introduced to a hearing of the Government Operations Committee by Congressman Issa as follows:

Mr. Mark Thompson, a 20-year career United States Marine, who 2 years before his retirement from the Marine Corps was assigned to the State Department, where he brought his experience in serving in all four Marine divisions and in numerous amphibious forces to the State Department. For 17 years he has used that military experience and his accumulated knowledge of counterterrorism well. He has served and led teams in Baghdad, Iraq, in Latin America, in Southeast Asia, and in Africa.

When in 1996 he joined the State Department as a U.S. Marine, he was brought there because of what he knew and what they needed to know. In 1998, when as he retired from the Marine Corps, he was transitioned at their request into civil service and was then assigned to what was then the Office of the Coordinator of Counterterrorism, its successor he serves and runs today. In 2004 he served with the Coalition Provisional Authority; in other words, with our forces in Baghdad. In 2006 he assumed his current position where he advises senior leadership on operational counterterrorism matters and ensures the United States can rapidly respond to global terrorism crises. That is his job.

In addition to his responsibilities, he has led the NSC’s direct Foreign Emergency Support Team, or FEST, in support of U.S. chiefs of mission in response to terrorism events, including his expertise was used in that capacity when he was deployed in response to the 1998 East African bombings of our two embassies, the 2000 bombing of the USS Cole, and hostage and recovery efforts in Latin America, Southeast Asia, Africa, and the Middle East.

I belabor Mark’s bio in order to emphasis the fact that he was and is a career professional and is not some political hack serving any partisan interests. His only concern was doing everything in his power to save American lives. Mark testified about the attack on Benghazi and told Issa and the committee:

The night that I was involved in this incident I was at my desk at the end of the day when the first reports came in that indicated that we had an attack going on at our diplomatic facility in Benghazi. In that facility we knew we had our Ambassador and we had his security personnel. Later when I heard that the situation had evolved to them going to a safe haven and then the fact that we could not find the Ambassador, I alerted my leadership, indicating that we needed to go forward and consider the deployment of the Foreign Emergency Support Team. That particular team is an interagency team. It’s been represented as something that the State Department deploys. It does not. The Deputies Committee of the National Security Council deploys that organization. But I wanted that considered. I notified the White House of my idea. They indicated that meetings had already taken place that evening, that had taken FEST out of the menu of options. I called the office within the State Department that had been represented there, asking them why it had been taken off the table, and was told that it was not the right time and it was not the team that needed to go right then.

Let me explain the team a little more. It is comprised of the leadership from my office, it is comprised of professionals from Special Operations Command, from Diplomatic Security, from the Intelligence Community, from FBI. It is a holistic comprehensive organization that is designed to go forward to embassies, just as we did, as indicated in 1998 in East Africa, as we’ve done in the other places indicated, the USS Cole and other hostage situations. It is designed to be the glue and the connective tissue that gets all the options on the table for the decision-makers. The decision-makers in my line of work are the Chief of Mission and the authorities back here in Washington that make the decisions of where we send people into harm’s way. It doesn’t mean it has an irreversibility to it.

The other thing that I pointed out was that with the tyranny of distance, at least 8 or 9 hours to get to the middle of the Mediterranean, we needed to act now and not wait. There is sometimes the hesitancy to not deploy because we don’t know what’s going on. One definition of a crisis is you don’t know what’s going to happen in 2 hours, so you need to help develop that situation early. We have a robust communications suite on the airplane that we are transported on. It is ably flown by my SOCOM colleagues, it is on alert to do just this mission, and it’s designed to carry a comprehensive team to a conflict or a crisis and to help the Ambassador and work for the Ambassador and/or the Chief of Mission to handle that crisis and to make sure he or she has the best information possible to make decisions and to make recommendations back to Washington, and those same representatives make their views known back to their parent organizations so that when we do have deputies committees and principals committee meetings at the White House, we have a situation in which everyone is using the most up-to-date information, and so that we can figure out what we have to do security wise, what we have to do intelligence wise, what we have to do with the military, what we have to do diplomatic wise, what we have to do on the public affairs front.

The point here is not to suggest that the FEST could have changed the situation on the ground. No. Rather it illustrates clearly the cavalier and disconnected management of the incident by Hillary Clinton. The military was ready to go and could have launched as early as 7 p.m. EDT. Instead, according to timeline provided by DOD to media, the National Military Command Center aka NMCC gaves formal authorization for the deployment of the two special operations force teams from Croatia and the United States between 2:39 a.m. to 2:53 a.m. That represented a delay of at least an hour and a half.

The power and influence of the Secretary of State in a crisis incident cannot be underestimated. Hillary Clinton and her staff had the wherewithal to push the acting Government of Libya to green light the deployment of relevant U.S. military forces and the FEST. She drug her feet.

President Obama shares culpability here. He should have been more engaged. He should have been down in the Sit Room monitoring events. Remember, it was not until eight hours after the attack started that the fate of Ambassador Stevens became clear. Obama was not staying awake sweating bullets about the life of his Ambassador, he was not lighting a fire under Hillary pushing her to move quicker and act comprehensively. Nope. Obama went to bed.

I have been involved in Crisis Response Operations and exercises for the Crisis Response Plans since 1989. I know firsthand there is no such thing as perfect. That includes no perfect information, no perfect response and no perfect outcome. I continue to harp on Benghazi for one key reason–Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama not only ignored the Crisis Action Planning process that was first put in place in the aftermath of the terrorist attack on the Achille Lauro in 1985, but they circumvented it as the attack in Benghazi spread from the diplomatic residence to the CIA Annex.

Both Clinton and Obama knew by 6:30 p.m. EDT that the attack was not a spontaneous protest. It was an organized attack and directly tied to an Al Qaeda group. This information came from U.S. intelligence assets and was beyond dispute. Yet, despite that knowledge, the President and the Secretary of State subsequently helped push the lie that this had nothing to do with terrorism and was simply the outgrowth of a protest inspired by an anti-Mohammed video. It was a lie, but they happily told it and did so to help ensure the re-election of Barack Obama.

It is this incident alone that disqualifies Hillary from being considered as a legitimate candidate for President. I believe that her inaction and foot-dragging during the attack in Benghazi in 2012 cost the lives of Americans because she put politics above national security interests.

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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.