Right-wing media are seizing on news that the State Department will not release some of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's emails after the Intelligence Community said they contained Top Secret information to baselessly claim that the emails in question include a non-existent “stand down order” issued by Clinton during the 2012 attacks on diplomatic facilities in Benghazi, Libya.
State Department Withholds Clinton Emails At Request Of Intelligence Community
State Department: Seven Email Chains Will Be Withheld From FOIA Production, No Emails Marked Classified At Time They Were Sent. In a January 29 statement, State Department Spokesperson John Kirby said that seven email chains would be held from the Department's regular production of Clinton emails for public viewing after they were “upgraded at the request of the Intelligence Community because they contain a category of Top Secret information.” Kirby added that “These documents were not marked classified at the time they were sent.” [Kirby statement, 1/29/16, via Twitter]
Clinton Campaign: This Is “Over-Classification Run Amok.” The Clinton presidential campaign responded to the news by stating that they “firmly oppose the complete blocking of therelease of these emails,” calling their withholding the result of “over-classification run amok.” [Clinton campaign statement, 1/29/16, via Twitter]
Right-Wing Media Conspiracy Theory: Withheld Emails Contain Benghazi “Stand Down Order”
Conservatives Suggest Clinton-Issued Benghazi Stand Down Order Is In Withheld Emails. Breitbart News editor-at-large John Nolte reacted to the State Department's statement by claiming, “We all know the Benghazi STAND DOWN order is in those Hillary emails we'll never see. Can't hide that in a redaction.” Fox News host Andrea Tantaros added, “She would've had the authority to give it.”
Numerous Investigations Have Debunked Right-Wing Claims Of A Stand Down Order
Conservatives Claimed Americans Were “Sacrificed” By Obama Administration When Military Told To “Stand Down.” For years, conservatives have pushed the myth that military personnel were ordered to “stand down” by higher-ups or someone in the Obama administration, theoretically hindering their ability to save the Americans who were killed during the attacks.Some commentators have claimed that this alleged order was part of a deliberate effort by the administration to “sacrifice Americans” as a “political calculation.” [Media Matters, 9/16/14]
Republican-Led House Armed Services Committee Report Concluded No Stand-Down Order Issued To Military. On February 11, 2014, the House Armed Services Committee released a report on its investigation into the Benghazi attacks, which concluded that “There was no 'stand down' order issued to U.S. military personnel in Tripoli who sought to join the fight in Benghazi.” As The Washington Post explained, the report further determined that “no U.S. military assets could have arrived in Benghazi in time to affect the outcome of the attack, according to committee staff members who briefed reporters on the report.” [Media Matters, 2/11/14]
House Permanent Select Committee On Intelligence: Evidence Provides “No Support For The Allegations That There Was Any Stand-Down Order.” On November 21, 2014, the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence (HPSCI) released the findings of its investigation into the Benghazi attacks, which found “no evidence that there was either a stand down order or a denial of available air support.” The report further explained that there was no “stand down order from CIA headquarters or from Tripoli Station,” and citing the House Armed Services Committee report, found that “the CIA received all military support that was available.” From the HPSCI report:
The evidence from eyewitness testimony, ISR video footage, closed-circuit television recordings, and other sources provides no support for the allegation that there was any stand-down order. Rather, there were mere tactical disagreements about the speed with which the team should depart prior to securing additional security assets.
The 21-minute period between the time the Annex personnel first learned of the attack and when they departed reflects the time the Team needed to put on gear and the time during which the Chief of base in Benghazi tried to secure local militias to assist in the mission. Annex leadership also considered the impact of the departure of the security officers on the security of the Annex. The Annex has minimal security forces available for the 93 minutes that the team was gone, and there was neither a requirement not an expectation for the CIA security personnel to defend the State Department's facility in Benghazi. Nonetheless, some Annex team members wanted urgently to depart the Annex for the TMF to save their State Department colleagues. The Chief of Base in Benghazi, however, ordered the team to wait so that the seniors on the ground could ascertain the situation at the TMF and whether they could secure heavy weaponry support from local militias.
Based on all of the available evidence, the Committee concludes that the Annex team left in a timely and appropriate manner. None of the officials who testified believed that the 21-minute delay was due to a stand down order from CIA headquarters or from Tripoli Station. [House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, 11/21/14]
Senate Select Committee On Intelligence: Allegation That U.S. Personnel “Prevented The Mounting Of Any Military Relief Effort” Is Unsubstantiated. A Senate Committee on Intelligence review of the Benghazi attacks found no evidence of a “stand down” order given to responding units during the attacks, and that the allegations that intelligence or military officials “prevented the mounting of any military relief effort during the attacks” were unsubstantiated:
The Committee explored claims that there was a “stand down” order given to the security team at the Annex. Although some members of the security team expressed frustration that they were unable to respond more quickly to the Mission compound, the Committee found no evidence of intentional delay or obstruction by the Chief of Base or any other party. The Committee has reviewed the allegations that U.S. personnel, including in the IC (Intelligence Community) or DoD, prevented the mounting of any military relief effort during the attacks, but the Committee has not found any of these allegations to be substantiated. [U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, 1/15/14]
Reinforcements Were Scrambled To Aid The Diplomatic Post. A six-member quick-reaction team and 60 Libyan militiamen in Benghazi responded to the initial distress calls from the diplomatic post, and reinforcements from the embassy in Tripoli arrived the same night, before the second round of attacks on the CIA annex. In fact, one of the four Americans who were killed that night, Glen Doherty, was part of the rescue effort. Additional special operations teams were ordered to deploy from Croatia and the United States, but did not arrive in Libya until long after the attack had concluded. Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates has accused critics who believe more U.S. forces should have responded of having a “cartoonish impression of military capabilities.” [Media Matters, 7/10/14; Media Matters, 11/4/12; Media Matters, 10/28/13]
Pentagon, CIA, Numerous Military Officers Say No “Stand Down Order” Was Given. CIA personnel, the Pentagon, the House Armed Services Committee, the Senate Intelligence Committee, Tripoli commander Lt. Col. S.E. Gibson, then-Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey, then-Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, and nine other military officershave denied the claim that forces were ordered to “stand down.” [Media Matters, 9/16/14; Media Matters, 1/7/16]