The Truth Behind the Benghazi Attack

By Dettmer, Jamie; Dickey, Christopher et al. | Newsweek, October 29, 2012 | Go to article overview
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The Truth Behind the Benghazi Attack

Dettmer, Jamie, Dickey, Christopher, Lake, Eli, Newsweek

Byline: Jamie Dettmer, Christopher Dickey, And Eli Lake

The blow-by-blow of the killing of Ambassador Stevens.

Diplomatic Security special agent David Ubben waits silently, his M-4 assault rifle at the ready as he hides deep in the dark inside the villa that serves as the United States Consulate in Benghazi, Libya. Ubben's assignment is close protection for U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens, which isn't always easy. Stevens, a former Peace Corps volunteer, likes to get out among the people in the countries where he serves, especially Libya, which he helped to liberate from Muammar Gaddafi during the war last year. But even he has started to believe that al Qaeda is gunning for him, and on this day, the 11th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States, Stevens has let himself be persuaded to hold all his meetings behind the nine-foot walls and the coils of concertina wire that surround the Benghazi consulate.

That hasn't been enough. Now groups of armed men swarm through the compound, firing their AK-47s in staccato bursts, and every so often the air shakes with the concussion of a grenade. Behind Ubben, in a specially fortified suite called a safe haven, the ambassador and another diplomat, Sean Smith, should be well protected. There is a large closet, similar to a "panic room," with supplies of water and food to withstand a siege of hours or even days, and Ubben has radioed the four other American security men holed up in other consulate buildings that he and the ambassador and Smith are OK. This is what the safe haven and the safe room have been built for. And he is there with his M-4 at the ready. He will make sure nobody gets through the steel grilles that protect them.

But now, watching from the dark, Ubben sees some of the attackers coming into the other, open side of the villa. They are carrying jerrycans full of diesel used to fuel the embassy's electrical generators. They peer through the locked grate of the safe haven. They rattle it. They don't seem to see him. Ubben watches. He waits. They are spreading diesel over the floor, pouring it onto the overstuffed Arab-style furniture. The fire begins. The flames start to spread. The fumes--the fumes are everywhere. And there is nothing Ubben can do to stop them.

In Washington that morning of Sept. 11, 2012, the air had been crisp and clear and so much like the crisp, clear morning of 11 years before that President Obama mentioned the similarities at a 9/11 memorial service outside the Pentagon. But much else had changed, he said. "Al Qaeda's leadership has been devastated and Osama bin Laden will never threaten us again," he told the small audience of employees, their dark glasses glistening in the bright sun. "No single event can ever destroy who we are," Obama concluded. "No act of terrorism can ever change what we stand for."

But over the course of the next 24 hours, as the black banner of jihad flew over the United States Embassy in Cairo, and as the American Consulate and the nearby outpost of the CIA in Benghazi came under ferocious attack, all the assumptions on which the administration had founded its counterterrorism policies were called into question. And in the weeks since, the events of that day have come under enormous scrutiny in the close-fought race for the presidency.

The State Department, monitoring the phone calls from the consulate's operations center, knew virtually from the first minutes, as Ubben, Stevens, and Smith were hiding, that the attack on the consulate was no protest gone astray. And when a major CIA outpost nearby came under attack hours later, there was little doubt about that being an operation by well-trained terrorists. But the administration has sought to reveal as little as possible about the CIA presence and operations in Benghazi, not least because when Obama talks about bringing the killers to justice, those are the people who may be asked to do it.

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