ByÂ Kimberly Dozier-Associated Press
WASHINGTON â€”Â CIAÂ officers revealed a clash over how quickly they should go help the besieged U.S. ambassador during the 2012 attack on an outpost inÂ Libya, and a standing order for them to avoid violent encounters, according to a congressman and others who heard their private congressional testimony or were briefed on it.
TheÂ Obama administrationÂ has been dogged by complaints that theÂ White House,Â PentagonÂ andÂ State DepartmentÂ may not have done enough before and during the attack to save U.S. AmbassadorÂ Chris StevensÂ and three others, and by accusations that it later engaged in a cover-up.
The testimony from theÂ CIAÂ officers and contractors who were inÂ LibyaÂ on the night of Sept. 11, 2012, bolster those denials, but also shed light on what may have led to the delay of up to 30 minutes to respond, according to the varying accounts.
The seniorÂ CIAÂ officers in charge inÂ LibyaÂ that day toldÂ CongressÂ of a chaotic scramble to aidÂ StevensÂ and others who were in the outpost when it was attacked by militants on the 11th anniversary ofÂ the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
ThoseÂ CIAÂ leaders decided they and their security contractor team should wait before rushing from their annex into the violence roughly a mile away. They said they were trying to first gather intelligence and round upÂ Libyan militiaÂ allies armed with heavy weapons, according to the testimony by theÂ CIAÂ officers in charge.
SomeÂ CIAÂ security contractors disagreed with their bosses and wanted to move more quickly.
Rep. Lynn Westmoreland, who heads a House intelligence subcommittee that interviewed the employees, said he believes this disagreement was the source of allegations that theÂ CIAÂ ordered security personnel to â€œstand downâ€ and not help the people inside the diplomatic mission, and perhaps was the source of accusations theÂ administrationÂ failed to answer a call from theÂ CIAÂ security team for combat aircraft.
â€œThe team leader knew he was on his own,â€ saidÂ Westmoreland, R-Ga.
He explained that the lack of air support was clear to allÂ CIAÂ employees working inÂ LibyaÂ because of a 2011Â CIAÂ memorandum sent to employees afterÂ NATOÂ forces ended their mission in support of the Libyan revolution.
â€œIt basically told people in Benghazi â€¦ if you are attacked, you get your â€˜packageâ€™ (the personnel they are charged with protecting) and you get out,â€ he said in an interview with The Associated Press.
A senior intelligence official confirmed that theÂ CIAÂ officers on the ground in Benghazi responded to the diplomatsâ€™ call for help by trying â€œto rally local support for the rescue effort and secure heavier weapons.â€ When it became â€œclear that this additional support could not be rapidly obtained,â€ the team moved toward the diplomatic compound.
The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the attack publicly by name.
One contractor testified that he shouted repeatedly over the agencyâ€™s radio system to hisÂ CIAÂ security boss that they should request combat aircraft. But the security chief explained to lawmakers that he ignored his subordinateâ€™s demands because he said he knew that no combat aircraft were available for such a mission,Â WestmorelandÂ said.
heard the radio call for help from the diplomatic building. Some wanted to rush to the U.S. compound roughly a mile away, and their agitation grew as they heard increasing panic when the diplomats reported the militants were setting the compound on fire.
TheÂ CIAÂ team leader and theÂ CIAÂ chief at the Benghazi annex told committee members that they were trying to gather Libyan allies and intelligence before racing into the fray, worried that they might be sending their security team into an ambush with little or no backup.
At least one of those security contractors, a former U.S. Army Ranger, was told to â€œwaitâ€ at least twice, and he argued with his security team leader, according to his testimony, related byÂ Westmoreland.Â WestmorelandÂ declined to share the names of the officers who testified because they are stillÂ CIAÂ employees.
According to previous accounts by U.S. officials, the attacks began at approximately 9:40 p.m., and theÂ CIAÂ team arrived roughly 25 minutes into the attack.
None of those who testified would say they believed the ambassador or the others could have been saved had they arrived any faster, according to two officials, who also were briefed on the testimony. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the closed testimony publicly.
When the sevenÂ CIAÂ employees reached the diplomatic compound, they fought their way in and found the fiveÂ State DepartmentÂ security personnel who had taken shelter in various parts of the compound.
They found computer specialistÂ Smith, dead from smoke inhalation, but couldnâ€™t findÂ StevensÂ and decided to fall back to theÂ CIAÂ annex, because the crowd was building outside again,Â WestmorelandÂ and the other officials said.
StevensÂ was found in a safe room and taken by Libyan civilians to a nearby hospital, but he died from smoke inhalation.
TheÂ CIAÂ team believes their convoy was followed back to their compound, where they were first attacked by small arms fire around midnight local time, which quickly stopped when theÂ CIAÂ team returned fire,Â WestmorelandÂ said.
Roughly five hours later, theÂ CIAÂ team testified that mortars hit, killing former Navy SEAL Tyrone Woods, who had helped rescue the diplomats, and former SEAL Glenn Doherty, who had just arrived with a team from Tripoli.
The lawmakers wanted to hear directly from the contractors about their account before a book the contractors have written is published in September 2014, if it passes theÂ CIAâ€™s security review.