CBS News' Sharyl Attkisson -- last heard from explaining that although her bosses have been supportive of her Benghazi reporting, her network's shows and producers don't seem interested -- has chased down another major scoop. This time, she quotes unnamed White House officials admitting that administration leaders determined they would not deploy a counterterror response team to Benghazi from the get-go:
The Foreign Emergency Support Team known as "FEST" is described as "the US Government's only interagency, on-call, short-notice team poised to respond to terrorist incidents worldwide." It even boasts hostage-negotiating expertise. With U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens reported missing shortly after the Benghazi attacks began, Washington officials were operating under a possible hostage scenario at the outset. Yet deployment of the counterterrorism experts on the FEST was ruled out from the start. That decision became a source of great internal dissent and the cause of puzzlement to some outsiders.
Thursday, an administration official who was part of the Benghazi response told CBS News: "I wish we'd sent it." The official said Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's deputy, Patrick Kennedy, quickly dispensed with the idea. A senior State Department official Thursday told CBS News, "Under Secretary Kennedy is not in the decision chain on FEST deployment" but would not directly confirm whether Kennedy or somebody else dismissed the FEST. [FEST leader] leader Mark Thompson says Benghazi was precisely the sort of crisis to which his team is trained to respond. While it was the State Department that's said to have taken FEST off the table, the team is directed by the White House National Security Council.
So someone high up in the administration decided "from the start" that a FEST crew wouldn't be sent to Benghazi, even though the team's leader says his group was designed to handle exactly that sort of emergency. We don't know who made the decision to shut down the FEST option, or why. These questions must be answered. The FEST chain of command resides inside the State Department and the White House. Attkisson reports that much like the Tripoli response team that was ordered to stand down twice, FEST members were shocked when their services weren't required in Benghazi:
As soon as word of the Benghazi attack reached Washington, FEST members "instinctively started packing," said an official involved in the response. "They were told they were not deploying by Patrick Kennedy's front office... In hindsight... I probably would've pushed the button." It's unclear what assistance FEST might have provided on site in the hours and days after the Benghazi attacks. In the end, Obama administration officials argue that its quick deployment would not have saved lives because, while the U.S.-based team might have made it to Tripoli, Libya, before the attacks ended, they most certainly wouldn't have made it to Benghazi in time...Still, nobody knew at the outset how long the crisis was going to last. Said one source, "I don't see a downside to sending FEST...if for no other reason than so no one could ask why we didn't."
The officials spoke to CBS News in a series of interviews and communications under the condition of anonymity so that they could be more frank in their assessments. They do not all agree on the list of mistakes and it's important to note that they universally claim that any errors or missteps did not cost lives and reflect "incompetence rather than malice or cover up." Nonetheless, in the eight months since the attacks, this is the most sweeping and detailed discussion by key players of what might have been done differently. "We're portrayed by Republicans as either being lying or idiots," said one Obama administration official who was part of the Benghazi response. "It's actually closer to us being idiots."
I'll leave you with Charles Krauthammer's typically excellent column on Benghazi. It entails a clear summary of the subject, and some sage advice for Republican investigators.
Guy Benson is Townhall.com's Political Editor. Follow him on Twitter @guypbenson. He is co-authors with Mary Katharine Ham for their new book End of Discussion: How the Left's Outrage Industry Shuts Down Debate, Manipulates Voters, and Makes America Less Free (and Fun).
Author Photo credit: Jensen Sutta Photography
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