Abridged Senate Report
Flashing Red: A Special Report On The Terrorist Attack At Benghazi
By Joseph I. Lieberman, Chairman Susan M. Collins, Ranking Member December 30, 2012
Brief Overview of the Benghazi Attacks
About 40 minutes later, several agents
and guards heard loud shouting, noises coming from the gate, as well as gunfire, and an
explosion. A closed-circuit television monitor at the facility’s Tactical Operations Center
(“TOC”) showed a large number of armed people flowing unimpeded through the main gate.
One of the DS agents in the compound’s TOC triggered an audible alarm, and immediately
alerted the U.S. Embassy in Tripoli and DS headquarters in Washington.
were quickly transmitted from the Department of State to the Department of Defense. DS
headquarters maintained open phone lines with the DS personnel throughout the attack. \
T. On the way back, however, the DS agents
The attackers started to set several of the compound’s structures on fire, using diesel fuel found
on site, and groups of attackers tried to enter several buildings on the compound.
did not succeed in entering the TOC, but did succeed in entering the building where Ambassador
Stevens was staying and the building where the two DS agents were seeking refuge. No safe
havens were breached during the initial assault. The attackers spread the diesel fuel throughout
the building where the Ambassador was hiding, and ignited it, causing the building to fill with
The agent radioed the TOC, requesting assistance and returned
numerous times to the building to look for the Ambassador and Smith.
When the other agents
arrived, they also took turns entering and searching the building. Though they were able to find
and remove Smith’s body, they were unable to find Ambassador Stevens.
After being notified about the attack, Annex personnel had attempted to contact the February 17
Brigade, other militias, and the Libyan government to ask for assistance. After gathering
necessary weapons and gear,
at approximately 10:04 p.m., six security personnel and a translator
left the Annex en route to the facility.
Prior to reaching the facility, they again attempted to
contact and enlist assistance from the February 17 Brigade,
other militias, and the Libyan
government. By 10:25 p.m., the security personnel from the Annex had entered the compound
and engaged in a 15-minute firefight with the armed invaders.
The team reached the
Ambassador’s building at 10:40 p.m. but was unable to find him due to the intense fire and
At 11:15 p.m., the Annex security personnel sent the DS agents (who were all suffering from
smoke inhalation from their continuous search for Ambassador Stevens and Smith) to the Annex,
and followed there later, both groups taking fire while en route.
By this time, an unmanned,
unarmed surveillance aircraft began circling over the Benghazi compound, having been diverted
by the Department of Defense from its previous surveillance assignment over another location.
Soon after the Americans returned to the Annex, just before midnight, they were attacked by
rocket-propelled grenade (RPG) and small arms fire. The sporadic attacks stopped at
approximately 1:01 a.m.
The team from Tripoli finally cleared the airport and arrived at the Annex at approximately 5:04
a.m., about ten minutes before a new assault by the terrorist began, involving mortar rounds fired
at the Annex. The attack concluded at approximately 5:26 a.m., leaving Annex security team
members Tyrone Woods and Glen Doherty dead and two others wounded.
The decision was then
made to leave the Annex. Libyan forces, not militia, arrived around 6:00 a.m. with 50 vehicles
and escorted the Americans to the airport. Two planes carrying all remaining U.S. personnel then
left Benghazi. The first flight departed between 7:00 a.m. and 7:40 a.m. (agency timelines vary
on this point) and the second at 10:00 a.m.
x Hardening villas with safe rooms with a steel door. 56
But these physical security upgrades were insufficient to deter or repel the dozens of armed
attackers that swarmed the compound, unimpeded, on September 11, 2012.
Once the gate was
opened, there were no other physical impediments at that access point to keep anyone out of the
facility’s grounds or slow their assault.
For example, in
March 2012 the Tripoli Embassy had requested five full-time security positions for Benghazi.
However, a day after sending this request, Nordstrom was told that Washington had capped the
number of agents in Benghazi at three, even though the request for five agents was consistent
with the December 2011 action memo approved by Under Secretary Kennedy to extend the
duration of the Benghazi facility.
Finding 9. Although the September 11, 2012 attack in Benghazi was recognized as a
terrorist attack by the Intelligence Community and personnel at the Department of State
from the beginning, Administration officials were inconsistent in stating publicly that the
deaths in Benghazi were the result of a terrorist attack.
The enemy is not a vague catchall of violent extremism, but a specific violent
Islamist extremism. It is unfair to the vast majority of law-abiding Muslims not to distinguish
between their peaceful religion and a twisted corruption of that religion used to justify violence.
There are related lessons to be learned from the Administration’s public comments about
Benghazi, which we believe contributed to the confusion in the public discourse after the attack
about exactly what happened.
spokesman also has publicly said, “The intelligence community assessed from the very
beginning that what happened in Benghazi was a terrorist attack.” 95
In short, regardless of questions about whether there had been a demonstration or protest outside
the Temporary Mission Facility in advance of the attack, the extent to which the attacks were
preplanned, or the role of an anti-Islamic video which had sparked protests at the U.S. embassy
in Cairo and elsewhere earlier on September 11th, there was never any doubt among key officials,
including officials in the IC and the Department of State, that the attack in Benghazi was an act
Indeed, how could there have been any
doubt in anyone’s mind that, when a large number of armed men break into a U.S. diplomatic
facility, set fire to its buildings, and fire mortars at Americans, that it is by definition a terrorist
However, the IC’s assessment was not reflected consistently in the public statements made by
Administration officials, several of whom cited the ongoing investigation, in the week following
In addition to the change deleting al-Qaeda, a reference to “attacks” in Benghazi was changed to
“demonstrations.” 110 Director of National Intelligence (DNI) James Clapper and representatives
from the CIA, the State Department, NCTC and the FBI told this Committee that the changes
characterizing the attacks as “demonstrations” and removing references to al-Qaeda or its
affiliates were made within the CIA and the IC,
while the change from “we know” to
“indications” was made in response to an FBI request. They also testified that no changes were
made for political reasons, that there was no attempt to mislead the American people about what
happened in Benghazi, and that the only change made by the White House was to change a
reference of “consulate” to “mission.”
To provide a full account of the changes made to the talking points, by whom they were made
and why, DNI Clapper offered to provide the Committee with a detailed timeline regarding the
development of the talking points. At the time of writing this report, despite repeated requests,
the Committee had yet to receive this timeline.
According to a senior IC official, the timeline has
not been delivered as promised because the Administration has spent weeks debating internally
whether or not it should turn over information considered “deliberative” to the Congress.
We anticipate that the ongoing investigation into these attacks by the FBI will provide important
new details about exactly which violent Islamist extremists carried out the attack, the extent to
which it was planned, and their precise motivations.
But as everyone now acknowledges, there is
no doubt that Benghazi was indeed a deliberate and organized terrorist attack on our nation. If
the fact that Benghazi was indeed a terrorist attack had been made clear from the outset by all
Administration and Executive Branch spokespeople, there would have been much less confusion
and division in the public response to what happened there on September 11, 2012.
Much of the public discussion about the Benghazi attack has focused on whether a protest took
place in Benghazi prior to the attack. While the IC worked feverishly in the days after the attack
to identify the perpetrators of the attack, they did not place a high priority on determining with
certainty whether a protest had in fact occurred.
The IC’s preliminary conclusion was that there
had been a protest outside of the mission prior to the attack, making this assessment based on
open source news reports and on other information available to intelligence agencies.
later revised its assessment and the Accountability Review Board has since “concluded that no
protest took place before the Special Mission and Annex attacks.”113
The unnecessary confusion in public statements about what happened that night with regards to
an alleged protest should have ended much earlier than it did. Key evidence suggesting the
absence of a protest was not widely shared as early as it could have been, creating or contributing
to confusion over whether this was a peaceful protest that evolved into something more violent
or a terrorist attack by an opportunistic enemy looking for the most advantageous moments to
As early as September 15th, the Annex team that had been in Benghazi during the attack
reported there had been no protest.114
This information was apparently not shared broadly, and to
the extent that it was shared, it apparently did not outweigh the evidence decribed above that
there was a protest.