February 3rd, 2013
09:23 AM ET
9 years ago

Panetta on U.S. response to Benghazi attack: ‘This is not 9-1-1’

(CNN) – Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said Sunday that lack of intelligence information and logistical challenges made it difficult to respond quickly to the attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, last year.

Panetta said the administration had no warning about the attack, despite requests for more security from U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens in the weeks leading up to the violence.

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“This is not 911. You cannot just simply call and expect within two minutes to have a team in place. It takes time,” Panetta said on CNN's "State of the Union."

“We deployed,” he said. “We knew there were problems there. We moved forces into place where we could deploy them quickly if we had to. They were ready to go.”

However, he added, by the time officials got the information about the raids on the U.S. compound - which killed four Americans, including Stevens - the distance “made it very difficult to respond quickly.”

“That's just the nature of dealing with the Middle East,” said Panetta. Others in the intelligence community have frequently made similar arguments, saying they had no way of knowing the attack would happen.

Panetta said he will "probably" testify before congressional committees before he steps down from his post in the coming weeks.

Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said that contrary to many accounts of the violence, the September 11 attack in Benghazi “wasn’t a seven-hour battle” but “two 20-minute battles separated by about six hours.”

“The idea that these were - was one continuous event is just incorrect,” he told CNN's chief political correspondent Candy Crowley.

The nearest armed U.S. aircraft, he continued, was in Djibouti, which is about the same distance from Benghazi as Washington is from Los Angeles.

“There's some significant physics involved and, in the time available, given the intelligence available, I have great confidence in reporting to the American people that we were appropriately responsive given what we knew at the time,” said Dempsey, who added he'll give testimony Thursday on Capitol Hill.

Dempsey said as soon as they knew something had happened, Panetta gave commanders “vocal instructions to begin moving forces to a higher alert posture and to meet them with aircraft necessary to move them.” They did exactly that, he added.

“But you can't be everyplace,” he argued. “And I might remind you, it was 9/11 elsewhere in the world, not just in Libya.”

Asked if the administration would have changed anything about the response, Dempsey said “no.”

“In these situations,” Panetta added, “you've got to look at what we we’re facing, what we knew, what intelligence we had in order to respond. Admittedly, better intelligence about what was taking place there would have given us a head start.”

Dempsey added, though, that they are "taking steps" to prevent a similar attack from happening in the future.

"We've taken the Accountability Review Board results. We've partnered with the secretary of state in her review of embassy security around - especially around that part of the world," he said.

Pressed further on why the intelligence wasn’t there, Panetta, who used to head the Central Intelligence Agency, said sometimes, “that’s the reality.”

“There are areas in the Middle East where we do not have the kind of intelligence we should have in order to give us a heads-up about these kinds of attacks,” he said. “We’ve got to do better than that.”

Watch State of the Union with Candy Crowley Sundays at 9am ET. For the latest from State of the Union click here.

soundoff (11 Responses)
  1. Thomas

    Darrell Issa / Louie Gohmert 2016

    The Truth and Nutin but the Truth .

    February 3, 2013 09:52 am at 9:52 am |
  2. ST

    I wish those senators/congress people who are blaming the inaction of Benghazi attack, they should also take blames from people who claim they are not performing their jobs as required. Is it ok to deny millions of people their right by voting no and still you think you have done your job properly? Some die and some continue to suffer. Are some lives less important than other lives?????

    February 3, 2013 10:14 am at 10:14 am |
  3. Randy, San Francisco

    If only these flag waving sun shine patriots in the Republican Party showed the same moral outrage and concern over the phony arguments about WMDs pushed by neoconservatives in the Bush administration, thousands of American soldiers would not have been killed or injured.

    February 3, 2013 10:29 am at 10:29 am |
  4. Pete

    This is where the republican extremist come in talking out their buttucks about Benghazi when they know they're ignorent on the subject,just blowing smoke that's all!!Stevens and others there knew what they were getting into as most embassy employees do so to all of Issas surrogates as well as these ignorent,illiterate posters here keep quiet unless you have some pertinent info..You speak with so many inaccuracies its disgusting but that's republicans,the racist, ignorent ones aren't yah!!While you're at it go back to your Reagans debacles while he was in office,over 310 killed and no body prosecuted ,now that's double sided isn't it,check it out in the "80's and Sec.of State George Schultz never was indicted was he....Republicans are just scared Hillary is going to run in 2016 and you have nobody of any character to run,nice isn't it,remember nitwits midterms are coming also,have fun!!

    February 3, 2013 10:30 am at 10:30 am |
  5. Claudia, Houston, Tx

    Over 3,000 Americans were killed on U.S. soil on 9-11 and that was the worst tradgedy in our history and we still don't know the truth. We understand that the possibility of Americans being killed in the Middle East such as Benghazi but it's hard to understand the failures that caused 9-11.

    February 3, 2013 10:50 am at 10:50 am |
  6. Larry L

    Benghazi is simply another attempt by Republicans to discredit the current administration. They never stop campaigning and never stop obstructing progress. Republicans are bought and paid for by fat cats from corporate America and have absolutely no motivation to support the best interest's of the American people.

    February 3, 2013 10:57 am at 10:57 am |
  7. revinger@nc.rr.com

    and where were these chicken hawks when bush and cheney were beating the war drums and sending thousands off to die in iraq?

    February 3, 2013 11:01 am at 11:01 am |
  8. Lorraine

    The current administration has done a very credible job at discrediting itself. It needs no help from the Republicans.

    February 3, 2013 11:04 am at 11:04 am |
  9. Mikey

    Apparently it made it hard to tell the truth too! Liars, one and all. If everything the Democrats did wasn't enshrouded in a huge cloud of smoke and mirrors perhaps people wouldn't be so skeptical!! But then again, maybe liberals are just too gullible!

    February 3, 2013 11:15 am at 11:15 am |
  10. Ibulena

    This stinks more than three day old fish. Smoke and mirrors big time cover up!!!!

    February 3, 2013 11:18 am at 11:18 am |
  11. mmilesll

    What a load of bs. This administration doesn't know how to tell the truth. After the billions we spend on defense and the "leaders" won't let them respond is outrage. The clown, Billary and this idiot all need to be in prison for murder.

    February 3, 2013 11:24 am at 11:24 am |