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BOOK REVIEW: ‘Benghazi: The Definitive Report’

- - Monday, February 25, 2013

BENGHAZI: THE DEFINITIVE REPORT
By Jack Murphy and Brandon Webb
William Morrow, $2 (Kindle Edition), 75 pages

This is a "first report" e-book that was obviously rushed to publication. The definitive book on the Benghazi debacle still needs to be written, and this isn't it. "Benghazi: The Definitive Report" has problems.

The authors are former special operations soldiers and work for an on-line publication called SOFREP.com. The book contains some startling revelations, and for that, it is worth reading. However, the first part of the book wanders from Libya to Mali to Syria, making it hard for the reader to see where it is going and why. This is too bad because the second half is a gripping account of the attack on the American consulate and the CIA compound in Benghazi that reads like a thriller, but its lack of footnotes renders its credibility suspect at best. The book makes some dynamite accusations, but the lack of citations makes it impossible to verify their credibility.

The authors claim that the attacks that killed Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans were probably premeditated and not a result of a reaction to a movie portraying Islam in a bad light. They also state that President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton learned of the situation too late to do anything about it. I've dealt with the State Department and Department of Defense bureaucracies long enough to believe that. They also point out that the consulate in Benghazi was not a true consulate, but a temporary facility. Again, I buy that at face value. In addition, the unselfish heroism of CIA contractors in giving their lives to attempt to save other Americans is not disputable. They were true American heroes. The controversy is that the contractors initiated the rescue mission from the CIA compound despite the guidance of the CIA boss.

Another allegation is that officials in the CIA conspired to discredit Gen. David Petraeus, their director, because they did not like his management style. Gen. Petraeus has admitted his affair with Paula Broadwell, but was reportedly on his way out of the administration. If the book's allegations are correct, some CIA staffers found out about his affair with the lady from his security detail and instigated the investigation by the FBI out of pure spite. That is not a criminal offense, but it brings discredit on the agency if it is true.

There is also an allegation here that John Brennan, the White House national security advisor, was a leading cause of the Benghazi debacle because of his formulating rogue special operations in cooperation with Defense Department officials, of the type that Oliver North allegedly cooked up under President Reagan. This needs some real documentation to be believable; particularly because Mr. Brennan allegedly did not coordinate them with the CIA. The allegation is that these operations inflamed the attackers. Since Mr. Brennan has been nominated to head the CIA, this is a serious charge, and it may draw questions as his confirmation process continues.

One other problem with the book is that the authors resort to hyperbole that detracts from the professionalism of their presentation. One example is referring to John Brennan as a "windbag." I don't know the man, and he may like the sound of his own voice, but that is not relevant to issues being discussed.

The authors also charge that although the Diplomatic Security agents in Libya were brave, they were unprepared for the task at hand. They blame the State Department bureaucracy in Washington for poor planning. My experience with the State Department security folks is that they are very cautious and risk adverse. I had conflicts with them occasionally as I sometimes wanted to do things as a team leader at the Regional Security Office that the embassy opposed. As a team leader on the ground, I believed I knew better than they did what our situation was. However, while strongly disagreeing with their calls, I always believed they had my best interest at heart. I don't question the authors' integrity, but I would feel better if they could at least have said, "We queried the department involved, and they declined to comment." After all, it took the National Enquirer to break the John Edwards scandal.

The authors give a minute-by-minute reconstruction of events in Benghazi; if true, it presents a gripping account of the tragedy. My advice to the authors next time is, find a professional editor.

Gary Anderson, a retired Marine Corps officer, is an adjunct professor at George Washington University's Elliott School of International Affairs and a civilian adviser in Iraq and Afghanistan.