Panetta: Benghazi intelligence too sketchy to send troops

Details released after pressure from Boehner

  • ** FILE ** Libyan military guards check one of the burned-out buildings at the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, on Saturday, Sept. 14, 2012, during a visit by Libyan President Mohammed el-Megarif to express sympathy for the death of J. Christopher Stevens, the U.S. ambassador to Libya, and his colleagues in the Sept. 11 attack on the consulate. (Associated Press)** FILE ** Libyan military guards check one of the burned-out buildings at the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, on Saturday, Sept. 14, 2012, during a visit by Libyan President Mohammed el-Megarif to express sympathy for the death of J. Christopher Stevens, the U.S. ambassador to Libya, and his colleagues in the Sept. 11 attack on the consulate. (Associated Press)
  • **FILE** Libyan civilians celebrate the raiding of Ansar al-Shariah Brigades compound in Benghazi, Libya, on Sept. 21, 2012, after hundreds of Libyans, military and police raided the Brigades base. (Associated Press)**FILE** Libyan civilians celebrate the raiding of Ansar al-Shariah Brigades compound in Benghazi, Libya, on Sept. 21, 2012, after hundreds of Libyans, military and police raided the Brigades base. (Associated Press)
  • **FILE** Ambassador Patrick Kennedy (right), under secretary for management at the State Department, answers questions Oct. 10, 2012, on Capitol Hill during the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing investigating the Sept. 11, 2012 attack on the American consulate in Benghazi, Libya. The attack resulted in the death of U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and other Americans. From left are Kennedy; Charlene Lamb, deputy assistant secretary for international programs at the State Department's Bureau of Diplomat Security; Eric Nordstrom, a regional security officer with the State Department; and Lt. Col. Andrew Wood, a Utah National Guard Army Green Beret who was the top security official at the consulate in Libya. (Associated Press)**FILE** Ambassador Patrick Kennedy (right), under secretary for management at the State Department, answers questions Oct. 10, 2012, on Capitol Hill during the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing investigating the Sept. 11, 2012 attack on the American consulate in Benghazi, Libya. The attack resulted in the death of U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and other Americans. From left are Kennedy; Charlene Lamb, deputy assistant secretary for international programs at the State Department's Bureau of Diplomat Security; Eric Nordstrom, a regional security officer with the State Department; and Lt. Col. Andrew Wood, a Utah National Guard Army Green Beret who was the top security official at the consulate in Libya. (Associated Press)
  • A Libyan man investigates the inside of the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, on Thursday, Sept. 13, 2012, after an attack that killed four Americans, including Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens, two days before. (Associated Press)A Libyan man investigates the inside of the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, on Thursday, Sept. 13, 2012, after an attack that killed four Americans, including Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens, two days before. (Associated Press)
  • **FILE** A man looks at documents Sept. 12, 2012, at the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, after an attack that killed four Americans, including Ambassador Chris Stevens. The graffiti reads, "no God but God," "God is great," and "Muhammad is the Prophet." (Associated Press)**FILE** A man looks at documents Sept. 12, 2012, at the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, after an attack that killed four Americans, including Ambassador Chris Stevens. The graffiti reads, "no God but God," "God is great," and "Muhammad is the Prophet." (Associated Press)
  • **FILE** President Mohammed el-Megarif (center) visits the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, on Sept. 14, 2012, to express sympathy for the death of U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens and his colleagues in the Sept. 11 attack on the consulate. (Associated Press)**FILE** President Mohammed el-Megarif (center) visits the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, on Sept. 14, 2012, to express sympathy for the death of U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens and his colleagues in the Sept. 11 attack on the consulate. (Associated Press)
  • Libyan and American children carry a wreath Sept. 17, 2012, with a photo of U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens on it as they gather in Benghazi, Libya, to pay their respect to the victims of the Sept. 11 attack on the U.S. consulate. Stevens and three other Americans were killed in the attack. (Associated Press)Libyan and American children carry a wreath Sept. 17, 2012, with a photo of U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens on it as they gather in Benghazi, Libya, to pay their respect to the victims of the Sept. 11 attack on the U.S. consulate. Stevens and three other Americans were killed in the attack. (Associated Press)
  • **FILE** White House workers walk on the roof of the White House on Sept. 12, 2012, after lowering the flag to half-staff for the death of U.S. ambassador to Libya Christopher Stevens. (Associated Press)**FILE** White House workers walk on the roof of the White House on Sept. 12, 2012, after lowering the flag to half-staff for the death of U.S. ambassador to Libya Christopher Stevens. (Associated Press)
  • **FILE** Tom Stevens (left), Anne Stevens Sullivan (center) and Hilary Stevens Koziol, siblings of slain U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens, speak Oct. 16, 2012, about their brother during a public memorial in the rotunda at City Hall in San Francisco. Stevens, 52, and three other Americans were killed Sept. 11 when gunmen attacked the United States Mission in Benghazi, Libya. (Associated Press**FILE** Tom Stevens (left), Anne Stevens Sullivan (center) and Hilary Stevens Koziol, siblings of slain U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens, speak Oct. 16, 2012, about their brother during a public memorial in the rotunda at City Hall in San Francisco. Stevens, 52, and three other Americans were killed Sept. 11 when gunmen attacked the United States Mission in Benghazi, Libya. (Associated Press
  • **FILE** A Marine honor guard stands during an Oct. 16, 2012, public memorial in the rotunda of City Hall in San Francisco to honor slain U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens. Stevens, 52, and three other Americans were killed Sept. 11 when gunmen attacked the United States Mission in Benghazi, Libya. (Associated Press)**FILE** A Marine honor guard stands during an Oct. 16, 2012, public memorial in the rotunda of City Hall in San Francisco to honor slain U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens. Stevens, 52, and three other Americans were killed Sept. 11 when gunmen attacked the United States Mission in Benghazi, Libya. (Associated Press)
  • **FILE** Two women hold each other Sept. 19, 2012, as they watch the hearse of former Navy SEAL Glen Doherty leave the Church of St. Eulalia in Winchester, Mass., after his funeral. Doherty, 42, and three others, including the U.S. ambassador to Libya, died in a Sept. 11 attack on the U.S. consulate in Libya. (Associated Press)**FILE** Two women hold each other Sept. 19, 2012, as they watch the hearse of former Navy SEAL Glen Doherty leave the Church of St. Eulalia in Winchester, Mass., after his funeral. Doherty, 42, and three others, including the U.S. ambassador to Libya, died in a Sept. 11 attack on the U.S. consulate in Libya. (Associated Press)
  • **FILE** Secretary of State Hillary Clinton looks on as President Obama delivers a statement Sept. 12, 2012, in the Rose Garden of the White House on the death of Christopher Stevens, U.S. ambassador to Libya. (Associated Press)**FILE** Secretary of State Hillary Clinton looks on as President Obama delivers a statement Sept. 12, 2012, in the Rose Garden of the White House on the death of Christopher Stevens, U.S. ambassador to Libya. (Associated Press)
  • **FILE** Libyans gather Sept. 12, 2012, at the gutted U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, after an attack the previous day that killed four Americans, including Ambassador Chris Stevens. (Associated Press)**FILE** Libyans gather Sept. 12, 2012, at the gutted U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, after an attack the previous day that killed four Americans, including Ambassador Chris Stevens. (Associated Press)
  • **FILE** U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton speaks Oct. 15, 2012, in Lima, Peru, after meeting Peru's President Ollanta Humala. Taking responsibility for security at the U.S. Consulate in Libya, where an attack by extremists last month killed the U.S. ambassador and three other Americans, Clinton said that security at all of America's diplomatic missions abroad is her job, not that of the White House. (Associated Press)**FILE** U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton speaks Oct. 15, 2012, in Lima, Peru, after meeting Peru's President Ollanta Humala. Taking responsibility for security at the U.S. Consulate in Libya, where an attack by extremists last month killed the U.S. ambassador and three other Americans, Clinton said that security at all of America's diplomatic missions abroad is her job, not that of the White House. (Associated Press)
  • **FILE** Charlene Lamb (center), deputy assistant secretary for international programs at the State Department's Bureau of Diplomat Security, testifies Oct. 10, 2012, on Capitol Hill before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing investigating the Sept. 11, 2012 attack on the American consulate in Benghazi, Libya, that resulted in the death of U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and other Americans. She is joined by Eric Nordstrom (left), a regional security officer with the State Department, and Amb. Patrick Kennedy, under secretary for management at the State Department. (Associated Press)**FILE** Charlene Lamb (center), deputy assistant secretary for international programs at the State Department's Bureau of Diplomat Security, testifies Oct. 10, 2012, on Capitol Hill before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing investigating the Sept. 11, 2012 attack on the American consulate in Benghazi, Libya, that resulted in the death of U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and other Americans. She is joined by Eric Nordstrom (left), a regional security officer with the State Department, and Amb. Patrick Kennedy, under secretary for management at the State Department. (Associated Press)
  • ** FILE ** House Oversight Committee Chairman Rep. Darrell Issa, California Republican, delivers his opening statement Oct. 10, 2012, on Capitol Hill during the committee's hearing on the Sept. 11 attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, that resulted in the death of U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens. (Associated Press)** FILE ** House Oversight Committee Chairman Rep. Darrell Issa, California Republican, delivers his opening statement Oct. 10, 2012, on Capitol Hill during the committee's hearing on the Sept. 11 attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, that resulted in the death of U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens. (Associated Press)
  • **FILE** Aides bearing armfuls of papers arrive Oct. 10, 2012, on Capitol Hill with witnesses from the State Department for the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing investigating the Sept. 11 attack on the American consulate in Benghazi, Libya, that resulted in the death of U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and other Americans. (Associated Press)**FILE** Aides bearing armfuls of papers arrive Oct. 10, 2012, on Capitol Hill with witnesses from the State Department for the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing investigating the Sept. 11 attack on the American consulate in Benghazi, Libya, that resulted in the death of U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and other Americans. (Associated Press)
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Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta said Thursday that the U.S. didn’t send troops to defend the consulate in Benghazi from a terrorist assault last month because the intelligence was too sketchy.

The details emerged as House Speaker John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican, demanded that President Obama explain why his administration failed to heed security warnings ahead of the Sept. 11 attack in Libya, and why it has struggled to explain the matter in the weeks since.

In a letter to Mr. Obama, Mr. Boehner told the president that he must answer questions including why it took the administration two weeks to acknowledge that the assault was a terrorist attack rather than a spontaneous protest against an anti-Islamic video.

“Our country will not be able to move on from the tragedy of September 11, 2012 until the public better understands the answers,” Mr. Boehner wrote.

His letter puts him at the head of a fight that his party’s presidential nominee, Mitt Romney, has shied away from. At Monday’s foreign policy debate, Mr. Romney didn’t raise any questions about the White House’s handling of Benghazi, and instead repeatedly praised Mr. Obama’s decision-making.

But House Republicans have pushed the issue, including using their control of the House oversight committee to release internal administration emails that indicate some in the administration should have been quicker to identify the attack, which killed Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other Americans, as a terrorist action.

At the Pentagon, Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, pleaded Thursday for time for reviewers at the Defense and State departments to finish their work.

“It’s not helpful, in my view, to provide partial answers,” he said.

Mr. Panetta decried “a lot of Monday-morning quarterbacking” in the questions his department has faced about why it didn’t send help in the middle of an hours-long assault on the U.S. Consulate.

Mr. Panetta said the military had forces positioned to respond, but the situation was too uncertain to send them in.

“The basic principle is that you don’t deploy forces into harm’s way without knowing what’s going on, without having some real-time information about what’s taking place,” he said. “It was really over before, you know, we had the opportunity to really know what was happening.”

A defense official told The Washington Times that an elite commando team called the Commander’s In-Extremis Force had been deployed to a U.S. air base in Sicily, about an hour’s flight from Benghazi, “within hours” of the start of the attack.

The assault, by dozens of heavily armed extremists supported by mortar fire and rocket-propelled grenades, unfolded in two stages over about seven hours.

“The attack was over before any forces were in position,” said the official, who was authorized to speak only on the condition of anonymity.

But the official added that diplomatic concerns also were at play, saying Libya is “a sovereign nation, a sovereign government. That was a consideration.”

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About the Author
Shaun Waterman

Shaun Waterman

Shaun Waterman is an award-winning reporter for The Washington Times, covering foreign affairs, defense and cybersecurity. He was a senior editor and correspondent for United Press International for nearly a decade, and has covered the Department of Homeland Security since 2003. His reporting on the Sept. 11 Commission and the tortuous process by which some of its recommendations finally became ...

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