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Wanted: Benghazi facts

| Monday, Nov. 5, 2012, 8:53 p.m.

It's now clear that the events surrounding the lethal Sept. 11 attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, qualifies as a defining moment for the president, his administration and this election.

The most recent developments center on the assault itself. Recently, Reuters reported that diplomatic officers sent emails during the Benghazi attack and that officials at the White House, the State Department, the Pentagon, intelligence agencies and the FBI were advised within two hours of the attack that an Islamic militant group, Ansar al-Sharia, had claimed credit for it.

This comes in the aftermath of the discovery that the CIA station chief in Libya told the State Department in a cable 24 hours after the attack that the evidence showed it was, in fact, a terrorist attack.

A second bombshell revelation comes to us courtesy of Jennifer Griffin of Fox News, who reports that she was told from sources on the ground that a small team housed at a CIA annex about a mile from the U.S. Consulate were twice told to “stand down” rather than help those under attack.

But former Navy SEAL Tyrone Woods and at least two others disobeyed orders and went to the aid of U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and his team. While Stevens and an aide were killed, others were saved by this extraordinary act of bravery.

Returning to the CIA annex, Woods and his colleagues were repeatedly denied armed backup and aerial support to defend them against attackers firing mortars at the annex. Woods and another former Navy SEAL, Glen Doherty, were killed during the four-hour battle. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta confirmed that backup was not sent, justifying that decision by saying we didn't have enough “real-time information” about what was taking place.

But we now know that two military surveillance drones had been redirected to Benghazi shortly after the attack began and both were capable of sending real-time visuals back to officials in Washington, D.C.

Panetta's statement reveals a complete breakdown in decision-making at the presidential level. President Obama has said that he issued a directive immediately upon hearing of the attacks to “make sure that we are securing our personnel and doing whatever we need to.”

But a refusal to grant military assistance to the CIA officers on the ground means that either the president's directive was ignored or the president did not, in fact, issue this directive immediately. Either scenario is unacceptable.

In addition, the Obama administration continued to insist that the lethal assault on the consulate was a spontaneous, unplanned mob attack that was the result of an anti-Islamic video long after we had received information indicating that the assault was preplanned, organized and carried out by terrorists and the video had nothing to do with the attack.

Based on what we know, the president and his administration failed in their elementary duty to protect American officials overseas, attempted to avoid responsibility for their failures, intentionally downplayed an ongoing global threat and forfeited the trust of the public on this vital issue.

Americans need a complete and candid accounting, and only the president can provide it.

Tom Ridge, the first director of Homeland Security, is the former governor of Pennsylvania.

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