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They were seeking to acquire the classified communications codes used by the intelligence teams at the annex and the diplomatic cipher used at the Special Mission Compound.

They initially planned to kidnap the ambassador and exchange him for convicted Egyptian terrorist Omar Abdul Rahman, the so-called “blind sheik” imprisoned in the United States since 1994 for plotting to blow up the Lincoln and Holland tunnels in New York. In this theory, the attack got out of hand and the ambassador died.

The simplest explanation for the cover-up is the most familiar: President Obama was determined to cling to the fiction that he had defeated al Qaeda, in the hopes this would pull the rug out from under his Republican challenger, Mitt Romney, in November. If the cover-up unraveled after the elections, so be it.

However, from what I have uncovered so far, I think this story goes much deeper, and gets much darker.

Former Navy SEAL Tyrone Woods was ready to “run to the gun,” but his request to rescue Mr. Stevens was denied three times that night. When he ultimately disregarded the stand-down order and reached the Special Mission Compound an hour after the attack began, it was too late.

“This is the first time in our history that the military hasn’t come to the rescue when called,” his father, retired lawyer Charles Woods, told a Citizens Commission on Benghazi on Monday. “There are only two people who can issue an order to stand down, to not rescue. It would have to be either the secretary of defense, or the president. Only one of those two.”

So who was it? Americans — starting with the families of the four brave souls who perished that night — deserve the answer.

Kenneth R. Timmerman is the author of “Shadow Warriors: Traitors, Saboteurs and the Party of Surrender” (Three Rivers Press, 2008).