Fox News is claiming that a Defense Department email highlighting “forces that could move to Benghazi” that were “spinning up” on the night of the September 11, 2012, attacks on U.S. diplomatic facilities contradicts then-Defense Secretary Leon Panetta's testimony that “time, distance, the lack of an adequate warning, events that moved very quickly on the ground prevented a more immediate response.” But during the same testimony, Panetta explained that forces had been deployed that night.
Fox Claims Defense Email On “Forces That Could Move To Benghazi” Contradicts Panetta Testimony
FoxNews.com: “Email Shows Pentagon Was Ready To Roll As Benghazi Attack Occurred.” In a December 8 article, FoxNews.com claimed that a new email obtained by Judicial Watch allegedly showed “that the Pentagon was ready to send military assets” to Benghazi on September 11, 2012, but the approval for deploying those assets never came from the State Department, which Fox claims contradicts testimony from former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta in 2013:
As the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi was unfolding, a high-ranking Pentagon official urgently messaged Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's top deputies to offer military help, according to an email obtained by Judicial Watch.
The revelation appears to contradict testimony Defense Secretary Leon Panetta gave lawmakers in 2013, when he said there was no time to get forces to the scene in Libya, where four Americans were killed, including U.S. Ambassador to Libya Christopher Stevens.
The email was sent out at 7:19 p.m. ET on Sept. 11, 2012, in the early stages of the eight-hour siege that also claimed the lives of Foreign Service Information Management Officer Sean Smith and two former Navy SEALs, Ty Woods and Glen Doherty, private CIA contractors who raced to the aid of embattled State Department workers.
Although the email came after the first wave of the attack at the consulate, it occurred before a mortar strike on the CIA annex killed Woods and Doherty. [FoxNews.com, 12/8/15]
Fox Is Parroting The Conclusions Of Right-Wing Organization Judicial Watch. Judicial Watch released the email earlier on December 8 and likewise claimed that it contradicted Panetta's testimony:
Judicial Watch today released a new Benghazi email from then-Department of Defense Chief of Staff Jeremy Bash to State Department leadership immediately offering “forces that could move to Benghazi” during the terrorist attack on the U.S. Special Mission Compound in Benghazi, Libya on September 11, 2012. In an email sent to top Department of State officials, at 7:19 p.m. ET, only hours after the attack had begun, Bash says, “we have identified the forces that could move to Benghazi. They are spinning up as we speak.” The Obama administration redacted the details of the military forces available, oddly citing a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) exemption that allows the withholding of “deliberative process” information.
Bash's email seems to directly contradict testimony given by then-Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta before the Senate Armed Services Committee in February 2013. Defending the Obama administration's lack of military response to the nearly six-hour-long attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Panetta claimed that “time, distance, the lack of an adequate warning, events that moved very quickly on the ground prevented a more immediate response.” [Judicial Watch, 12/8/15]
But During Same Testimony, Panetta Pointed To Forces That Had Been Deployed That Night
Panetta: Several Units Ordered To Prepare To Deploy To Libya In Response To Attack But Did Not Arrive In Time. During the same February 2013 hearing in which he stated that “time, distance, the lack of an adequate warning, events that moved very quickly on the ground prevented a more immediate response” to the Benghazi attacks, Panetta said that he had immediately ordered DOD assets to respond:
In the months since the tragedy at the temporary mission facility and the nearby annex in Benghazi, we've learned that there were actually two short-duration attacks that occurred some six hours apart. And again, there was no specific intelligence that indicated that a second attack would occur at the annex, which was located some two miles away.
The bottom line is this: that we were not dealing with a prolonged or continuous assault which could have been brought to an end by a U.S. military response. Very simply, although we had forces deployed to the region, time, distance, the lack of an adequate warning, events that moved very quickly on the ground prevented a more immediate response.
Despite the uncertainty at the time, the Department of Defense and the rest of the United States government spared no effort to do everything we could to try to save American lives. Before, during and after the attack, every request the Department of Defense received, we did, we accomplished. But again, four Americans' lives were lost, and we all have a responsibility to make sure that that does not happen again.
Soon after the initial reports about the attack in Benghazi were received, General Dempsey and I met with President Obama, and he ordered all available DOD assets to respond to the attack in Libya and to protect U.S. personnel and interests in the region. It's important to remember that in addition to responding to the situation in Benghazi, we were also concerned about potential threats to U.S. personnel in Tunis, Tripoli, Cairo, Sana'a and elsewhere that could potentially require a military response.
In consultation with General Dempsey and AFRICOM commander General Ham, I directed several specific actions. First, we ordered a Marine fleet anti-terrorism secure team, a FAST team, stationed in Spain to prepare to deploy to Benghazi. A second FAST platoon was ordered to prepare to deploy to the embassy in Tripoli. A special operations force, which was training in Central Europe, was ordered to prepare to deploy to an intermediate staging base in Southern Europe, Sigonella, and a special operations force based in the United States was ordered to deploy to an intermediate staging base in Southern Europe as well at Sigonella. [Hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee, 2/7/13, via Nexis, emphasis added]
During Testimony, Panetta Also Described How A “Tripoli-Based Security Team” Was Deployed And Arrived Before End Of Attacks. Later in the same testimony, Panetta explained:
The quickest response option available was a Tripoli-based security team that was located at the embassy in Tripoli. And to their credit, within hours, this six-man team, including two U.S. military personnel, chartered a private airplane, deployed to Benghazi. Within 15 minutes of arriving at the annex facility, they came under attack by mortar and rocket-propelled grenades.
Members of this team, along with others at the annex facility, provided emergency medical assistance and supported the evacuation of all personnel. Only 12 hours after the attacks had begun, all remaining U.S. government personnel had been safely evacuated from Benghazi. [Hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee, 2/7/13, via Nexis, emphasis added]