This is a very interesting article by Sharyl Attkisson at CBS News. It’s very long and covers different topics surrounding Benghazi, from the decision not to deploy FEST to how the talking points came about.
The quote below talks about how certain anonymous White House officials say that the missteps in Benghazi was less about malice and more about incompetence. For instance, they claim that the reasoning behind not deploying the counterterrorism unit known as FEST stemmed from a misunderstanding of FEST’s role and ability. One official does pin the decision not to send in FEST on Under Secretary Patrick Kennedy, though the State Dept. would not admit to it.
If all of this is true in the report, the bottom line is whether it was incompetence or malice, it’s completely and utterly unacceptable and the truth should be made known to the American people.
CBS NEWS – Obama administration officials who were in key positions on Sept. 11, 2012 acknowledge that a range of mistakes were made the night of the attacks on the U.S. missions in Benghazi, and in messaging to Congress and the public in the aftermath.
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.”
The list of mea culpas by Obama administration officials involved in the Benghazi response and aftermath include: standing down the counterterrorism Foreign Emergency Support Team, failing to convene the Counterterrorism Security Group, failing to release the disputed Benghazi “talking points” when Congress asked for them, and using the word “spontaneous” while avoiding the word “terrorism.”
The emergency response: “I wish we’d sent FEST”
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.
Whoever made the decision, it came amid sharp disagreement over the FEST’s true capabilities. Kennedy and others at the State Department view the team as one that primarily restores communications at besieged embassies. However, the FEST’s own mission statement describes a seasoned team of counterterrorism professionals who can respond “quickly and effectively to terrorist attacks… providing the fastest assistance possible” including “hostage negotiating expertise” and “time-sensitive information and intelligence.” In fact, FEST 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. Those officials expressed the same limited view of FEST’s capabilities when CBS News asked on Nov. 1, 2012 why FEST hadn’t deployed. The officials argued that FEST teams were “used in the past to re-establish infrastructure, communications, etc. after a devastating attack…That wasn’t the need here.”
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. And officials familiar with FEST say it could have helped pave the way for the FBI to get into Benghazi much faster than the three weeks it ultimately took. 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.”