The 2012 attacks on a US diplomatic outpost and a nearby CIA base in Benghazi caused enormous controversy and political hostility. In this episode we take a journey through the Benghazi scandal, honing in on the book and film 13 Hours. We look at the pre-attack intelligence and security failings, as well as the CIA’s influence over the movie version of events.
On the evening of September 11th 2012, an armed militia attacked the American diplomatic compound in Benghazi, killing US ambassador Christopher Stevens and Foreign Service Officer Sean Smith. Several hours later, in the small hours of September 12th, a second string of attacks hit a nearby CIA annex, killing two former Navy SEALS – Glen Doherty and Tyrone Woods – who were working for the CIA as security operatives.
A lot of speculation surrounded this event, ranging from what the CIA were up to in Benghazi to whether there was a stand down that prevented the CIA security team from responding more quickly to the attack on the diplomatic post. The State Department initially claimed it was all just a protest against the internet video titled Innocence of Muslims, which had first started appearing on youtube in early July. As one email from deputy national security advisor for strategic communications Benjamin Rhodes said, on September 14th, ‘these protests are rooted in an Internet video, and not a broader failure of policy’.
The narrative was that protests against this anti-Islamic video, which did happen in a bunch of countries, spilled over into a riot at the diplomatic post which somehow spiralled into attacks on the CIA annex. This story fell apart quite quickly, and the new story was one of a 9/11 anniversary attack, planned in advance, though the attacks on the CIA annex may have involved people who weren’t part of the attack on the diplomatic compound.
However, the CIA were also saying they had no warning about the attacks ahead of time and couldn’t have done anything to stop them. How can you determine afterwards that a series of actions were premeditated, when you didn’t know anything about those actions before they happened? Especially when your relationship with the locals – whether involved in the attacks or not – is so bad that they’re burning down your diplomatic post and attacking the CIA?
You see, I’m sure, why a lot of people have not bought into this story and it remained the subject of controversy for several years afterwards. Indeed, my 2019 article for Shadowproof on the movie about Benghazi became their most-read piece that year, showing the enduring interest in these events.
An investigation by the Republican-controlled House Intel Committee found no evidence supporting the major accusations against the State Department. The false story about the internet video was based on 21 intelligence reports – mostly the Open Source Center, monitoring news coverage, with only four from the NSA, two from the DOD and one from the CIA. We can assume from this that some people in Benghazi being monitored through electronic surveillance were talking about a protest, and then when the attack on the State Department’s compound started being reported, they put two and two together.
The investigation found no evidence that Clinton or anyone else in the State Department ordered a stand down, or that the DOD failed to react quickly enough to the unfolding events. And frankly, I can’t find much evidence either. I think that bunch of accusations are largely politically motivated, by people who hate Clinton. I can understand that, but this is one case where I don’t think she really had anything to do with it.
The Committee also looked into the accusations – explored in Seymour Hersh’s reporting – that the CIA were using the post and the annex to smuggle weapons from Libya into Syria, to help the anti-Assad rebels. Once more, they found nothing. So, what were the CIA doing in Benghazi? What is the relationship between the video and the attacks? And what did the pre-attack intelligence actually say?
I think it’s important to mention here that 2012 was not the first time something like this happened. In June 1967 the US and UK embassies in Benghazi were attacked and burned down in response to a false story that the US had bombed Cairo at the start of the Six Day War. On the one hand, this proves that such attacks can be based on entirely false information, on the other it suggests that the initial narrative was partly based on the assumption that history was repeating itself.
After all, in the years since, some of the attackers have said they were motivated by the Innocence of Muslims video, but it’s unclear if they ever actually saw it. It seems to me that people often react to rumours because the sheer idea of something, especially in the absence of any real knowledge, is catnip for people looking for a fight. This is how you get paediatricians getting beaten up because people thought they were paedophiles.
The flipside is that, as the House’s report found, ‘significant intelligence gaps regarding the identities, affiliations and motivations of the attackers remain’.
Broadly, the attacks were blamed on Ansar al Sharia, a fundamentalist militia that first appeared during the war in Libya. Once Gaddafi was deposed and killed, the group set about trying to convert Libya to Sharia law, often using violence and terrorist tactics to try to bring this about. This failed, and the group formally announced its dissolution on May 27th 2017. Keep this in mind for later.
However, the nature of the attacks, particularly the riotous assault on the diplomatic compound, suggest a far less organised and less monolithic event took place. This is especially the case when we contrast the original attack with the more careful and sophisticated strikes against the CIA annex. To me, there isn’t one culprit here, we’re looking at a string of attacks involving different people, with some overlap. It’s entirely possible that Ansar Al Sharia had little to do with the original attack, but once they discovered the CIA annex they targeted it.
To try to get some answers, and explore all of this further, we’re going to look at Mitchell Zuckoff’s book 13 Hours, mostly based on first hand accounts from people who were there, and the Michael Bay film adaptation of that book, as well as CIA documents on the movie.
13 Hours: The Book
13 Hours: The Inside Account of What Really Happened in Benghazi was written by Mitchell Zuckoff, with members of the Annex Security Team, and came out in September 2014. While purporting to be a straightforward account of the men who were there and what they saw and did, without getting into the politics and geopolitical controversies, that branding is quite misleading.
For one thing, some of the Annex Security Team have been very anti-Obama, or at least very anti-Obama administration. Perhaps they have legitimate reasons, I’m not judging their views, simply noting that all of these guys are obviously conservative Republicans, so to claim their accounts and opinions are apolitical is a nonsense.
What amuses me about this video is how this big, tough guy is trying to weaponise ‘the feelings of the families’, rather than any facts. It reminds me of when, in the early days of the 9/11 movement, Penn and Teller did an episode of their show Bullshit which did the exact same thing. It was all about how they hope some of these conspiracy whackjobs meet some of the families of the victims of 9/11, because obviously a bereaved relative overrides any question or evidence. Fast forward 15 years and a CIA and military veteran is using the same emotional manipulation in defence of anti-government conspiracy theories, rather than to attack the people who believe in them. A curious inversion of rhetoric, but this kind of manipulation screams dishonesty to me, regardless of what it is being used to attack or defend.
Therefore, we have to see 13 Hours as a political text, as much as it likes to pretend that it isn’t. The same thing happened with the movie version, but we’ll get to that. I do think it’s a very readable book, well written, informative, rattles along quickly but clearly, doesn’t waste the reader’s time with eight chapters of backstory, unlike other similar books I’ve read.
There is a tendency in these lionisations of special forces operators – often written by themselves in true egotistical celebrity fashion – to spend a bunch of time on their personal history, their upbringing and so on. This is because the publishers want to play into the narrative that these people were born winners, born special, born to do this. Rather than signed up because Top Gun or because their father was in the military, which is usually what actually happened. Because this isn’t the story of one guy, unlike Lone Survivor or the Robert O’Neill book about how he supposedly killed Bin Laden, there isn’t time to go into six different backstories. This is a relief, because I couldn’t have stomached a hundred pages of diversionary nonsense about farming when they were kids or how their daddy taught them to shoot glass bottles in the back yard or whatever.
That being said, the absence of much context for the attacks is a problem for the book, because by avoiding the US-led war in Libya the year before it seems like the attacks come out of nowhere, and weren’t rooted in any kind of legitimate grievance or trauma response to having been through a war. It also means that the background of Islamic militancy in Benghazi is largely absent, when it is surely a key element in what happened.
Let us not forget, the Western involvement in Libya was characterised as a humanitarian response to Gaddafi killing his own people. The war began in Benghazi, when groups largely composed of Islamist militias started a violent uprising, which was met with force from troops commanded from Tripoli. The whole East Libya-West Libya divide, Tripoli vs Benghazi, is a long-running theme in Libyan history.
Rather than depict this as the government putting down religious fanatics, which is surely how this would be depicted if it happened in my country, the story was one of a brutal dictator needlessly murdering civilians. This turned out to be bullshit – no one ever produced evidence that the troops were targeting civilians, or that there was any particular risk to ordinary Libyans. By framing the fundamentalists in Benghazi as the victims, this emboldened them. By funding and arming them, they grew in strength. By removing Gaddafi and plunging Libya into post-war chaos, they created a power vacuum that was inevitably filled by these newly-armed and freshly organised lunatic militias.
A recipe for disaster, to be sure, and the Benghazi attacks were hardly the worst consequence of that disaster. But it’s important to frame things accurately, rather than take the softball, contextless, faux-apolitical framing offered by 13 Hours.
Nonetheless, there is some key material in this book that has never been properly examined in the government narratives, and which undermine those narratives on the basis of facts, rather than politics. That is where we should focus, because it’s where the most important revelations take place.
Intelligence and Security ‘Failures’ in Benghazi
We can divide the pre-attack ‘failings’ into two categories: the security of the compound and the annex, and the intelligence about the worsening situation on the ground. In both cases there were significant problems, but while some officials have got into trouble for failing to act on requests to make the compound more secure, no one has faced repercussions for the ‘intelligence failures’. Clinton supposedly took responsibility for the ‘security lapses’ but didn’t resign or face charges or anything like that.
While in the immediate aftermath of the fall of Gaddafi Benghazans were mostly grateful to the US, that quickly changed. Aware of the increased threat to their Special Mission Compound in the city, the State Department hired a local militia – the 17th February Martyrs Brigade – to help protect it. The group got their name from an incident in 2006 when Libyan security forces killed a dozen people during a protest at the Italian consulate in Benghazi. An Italian government minister had worn a t-shirt displaying cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed, so the protestors responded by setting fire to the consulate. Seems fair.
If it sounds like a stupid risk to hire a local militia who refer to themselves as a martyrs brigade to protect you from other Islamist militias, that’s because it is. But that was far from the only screw-up.
There were a series of attacks on or around the diplomatic mission in the months leading up to the September 11th-12th events. April 2nd, a British armoured vehicle from their consulate was attacked. April 6th, a homemade bomb was tossed over the wall of the US mission compound. April 10th, a bomb was thrown at the motorcade of Ian Martin, the UN Special Envoy. In May, an RPG hit the offices of the International Committee of the Red Cross. A group naming themselves after the Blind Sheikh, Omar Abdel Rahman, took credit. In June, another bomb blew a hole in the wall around the US mission compound. Later that month, some bright spark fired an RPG at a car carrying Sir Dominic Asquith, the UK’s ambassador to the country. This led to the British shutting down their consulate and getting out of Benghazi.
As you might expect, this led to US ambassador Stevens writing several cables asking for greater security at the mission compound. He warned of black Al Qaeda or ISIS flags being flown over government buildings, and that the situation was ‘unpredictable, volatile and violent’. Other warnings were sent by Diplomatic Security staff, but nothing changed.
Then there was the CIA annex, and the Global Response Staff who protected it – former Navy SEALs, an ex-Army Ranger and three Marines, all hired by the CIA as contractors. That summer there was an incident where two of them were driving a supply truck back from the airport (contents unclear) when they were roadblocked and threatened by a gang, likely members of Ansar Al Sharia. They called in to their boss at the Annex, known only as ‘Bob’, asking for backup. While the other GRS guys starting getting ready, Bob told them to stand down, and said he’d send some February 17th guys instead. They never showed up.
As Zuckoff puts it in the book:
Weeks later, the GRS operators were still fuming. Festering tensions with the CIA’s Benghazi chief became an ongoing issue. Some of the more vocal operators wrote Bob off as spineless, or as one put it, “a chickenshit careerist” focused on retirement and a cushy government pension. Another possibility was that Bob’s primary concern was not blowing the CIA’s cover, even if it meant leaving the operators to fend for themselves.
Naturally, no one from the CIA proper was interviewed for the book, so we can’t get their side, but the contractors did not get along well with or have much respect for the CIA officers they worked with and protected. The quotes from the GRS team members are exactly what you’d expect – a bunch of macho stuff about how the CIA officers were smart, but ‘smart doesn’t stop a bullet’. Well, nor does lifting weights, having lots of dumb tattoos or trying to grow a beardto look like Gerard Butler in 300. According to the book, the night before the attacks the GRS team were watching that film, they apparently loved the story of a small band of Spartan warriors getting massacred by a much larger force. One of them was so obsessed with the movie that he started growing and trimming his beard to try to look more like King Leonidas.
This isn’t just an illustration of the absurd egos of these men, but also of their underlying values. They see themselves as the elite, born to fight, up against the odds. In reality they all grew up in the richest country on the planet, and were part of the world’s most powerful military. This sort of deluded, alt right victim complex is very common, not just among military contractors of course. The propaganda is so strong that Americans have become convinced that they’re somehow outnumbered, they’re the plucky underdogs rather than the overwhelming, violent bullies of the world.
This is highlighted in a quote from one of the other members of the team, who said (referring to his tattoos) “I don’t wish the Crusades would come back, but I sometimes feel that they should come back. The tattoo is more or less a Christian warrior emblem, which a lot of us think that we are and believe that we are. We believe that we’re warriors for the US, warriors for each other, but also warriors for God.”
Tell me you’re a religious supremacist idiot, without telling me.
So, the two groups responsible for protecting both the mission and the annex were a bunch of military veterans who thought they were both Christians and Spartans, fighting the Arab hordes, and an Islamic, possibly Islamist, militia who were so reliable that they vandalised the diplomatic mission they’d been hired to protect. What could go wrong?
As it turns out, quite a lot. Over that summer ambassador Stevens made several requests to the State Dept to keep extra security teams in the country to protect diplomatic staff, but each time was turned down. The DOD were willing to keep a Site Security Team, made up of 16 special forces guys, in Libya to help protect Stevens and his staff, but the State Department decided their own tiny handful of in house security staff, along with the hired local militia, could handle everything. The Annex chief, Bob, at one point suggested moving Stevens’ visit to Benghazi to the Annex, rather than the Compound, because it would be safer for him to stay at the Annex. This request was also turned down.
On the morning of the attacks, Steven sent another cable back to HQ describing the deteriorating situation and the local Libyans’ ‘growing frustration with police and security forces’. He explained that two friendly militias might turn against the US if parliamentary votes went the wrong way, and that the leaders of the groups had warned that they ‘would not continue to guarantee security in Benghazi, a critical function they asserted they were currently providing.’
Finally, the GRS team received an intelligence warning in the days before September 11th saying ‘Be advised, we have reports from locals that a Western facility or US Embassy/Consulate/Government target will be attacked in the next week.’
The Attacks in Benghazi
Having created the perfect shitshow of weak infrastructure, understaffed security teams and hiring apathetic if not antagonistic locals as guards, the set was ready. At around 9:42 pm, or possibly 9:32 if one of the GRS team is to be believed, the attack on the mission compound began. Grenades were tossed over the walls, there were gunshots, then a mob stormed over the walls and through the gates.
It’s unclear if the local guards, either from the February 17th group or other, unarmed locals hired by a British firm operating in Libya were somehow in league with the attackers. Certainly, they provided little or no resistance, didn’t function as the first line of defence, didn’t sound the alarm, didn’t alert the Diplomatic Security agents. They basically ran off and let the rioters do as they pleased, which initially involved setting fire to vehicles and to the small barracks that housed the local guards. Around twenty attackers took the compound almost instantly, facing no opposition.
The DS agents located the ambassador and Sean Smith and locked them away in the ‘safe haven’ area of the villa. This may have proved to be a mistake, because it wasn’t long before the rampaging mob come organised terrorists set fire to the villa. One DS agent called Bob at the CIA annex, to tell him that around 20 people were attacking the mission compound. Bob said he was sending help. They agreed to mobilise a reaction team out of Tripoli, on the other side of the country.
Meanwhile, the GRS team were loading up and getting ready to go, but Bob told them to stand down, and let the February 17th guys handle the situation. They demanded to be allowed to leave, but Bob refused. According to the book such stand downs were fairly common practice when the GRS operators got into confrontations with local militias, as Bob worried about revealing the CIA’s secret presence in Benghazi.
The House Select Committee on Intelligence concluded that this stand down order never took place, though the appendices to the report make clear that the GRS operators all agree that there was such an order. The report concedes that when the operators left the Annex they did so without Bob’s permission, which strongly suggests that there was a stand down order and the operators got sick of waiting and eventually decided to disobey Bob’s orders.
By the time they arrived, the compound was ablaze but there wasn’t much else going on. This section of the book describes very little by way of exchanging gunfire and other fighting. A Diplomatic Security agent found Sean Smith’s body, but none of them could find the ambassador. They eventually decided to return to the Annex, the initial attackers having fled the scene. As they prepared to leave they were subject to some rifle fire and the odd RPG, signalling a second wave that was about to re-take the diplomatic post.
So they left, and one of the cars turned the wrong way, towards a street known to be a hangout for Ansar Al Sharia. This resulted in the vehicle being subject to grenades and machine gun fire, but they made it back to the Annex, albeit followed by two cars. The other vehicle made it back without incident, but also without the ambassador.
This is where things get sticky. It is unclear if Ansar Al Sharia were aware of the CIA annex prior to the attack on the mission compound. It’s also unclear how involved Ansar were in the initial attack, and whether they piggybacked on a protest-come-riot to carry out an assault they’d been planning for a while.
Because what happened next is tricky to understand if all of this was done by the same group or gang. There were several waves of attacks and attempted attacks on the Annex, numbering far more people than the couple of dozen who initially assaulted the State Department compound. The Annex attackers used increasingly sophisticated weapons, including mortars, but never tried to storm the Annex and take it over. It was quite different in several key ways, suggesting they were not the same people responsible for the initial attack.
Complicating matters, during the second firefight at the Annex they got a call from a February 17th commander, saying they were shooting at his men. So either this was actually Ansar Al Sharia pretending to be another group, or there were some 17th Feb members involved in the attacks.
After several hours – not thirteen, but several – the team from Tripoli finally managed to get to the CIA Annex, along with a good sized convoy of cars, apparently driven by friendly February 17th guys. One of the newly arrived group went up onto a rooftop to find a friend who was part of the GRS team, but just as he arrived the roof was hit by mortar fire, killing both of them. The convoy of cars chased off the mortar-men, it seems, so the attacks ceased. Finally at around 6:00 a.m., over eight hours after the initial assault on the compound began, a large convoy from the February 17th Martyrs Brigade arrived, and helped protect everyone as they moved over to Benghazi airport, including the bodies of the dead.
Many of the questions will likely never have complete answers. Was this one string of attacks, or several committed by different, if overlapping, groups? What motivated them? Was it a mixture of motives across different groups? Did Ansar Al Sharia take advantage of a combustible situation to piggyback their own attack on top of a protest or riot? Were February 17th involved in the attacks, whether participating or standing back and allowing them to happen? Did the CIA know an attack was coming? Did the State Department? Did Bob see the risk of the attackers targeting the CIA Annex if he sent the GRS team to respond to the storming of the mission compound? Or was he being a chickenshit bureaucrat? What were the CIA up to in Benghazi, anyway? Why didn’t Bob want to leave with the others? Was he trying to protect something, or hide something?
13 Hours: The Movie
Things get even murkier when we consider the 2016 film adaptation of 13 Hours, subtitled The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi. Michael Bay’s previous attempt at directing a story based on real events did not go well, in that it was Pearl Harbor. However, I am happy to say that 13 Hours is – by some distance – the most intelligent Michael Bay movie. That’s a bit like being the world’s tallest dwarf, but credit where it is due.
Before we get into the CIA influence on the script and how the director Bayified the story, we should note that most of the film was shot in Malta, and their government, film commission, police and armed forces are all thanked in the credits. They also filmed in Morocco, like most American films set in the Middle East. Why Malta? Among other reasons, because most of the audience for this film don’t even realise that Malta and Libya are two different countries. Also, because the Maltese government offer a 40% rebate on production expenses.
There is another dimension to this that I seriously doubt that Michael Bay is aware of, but is relevant. Malta, and the various brotherhoods that have operated there over the last millennium or so, played a key role in the Crusades. The Great Siege of Malta, where the Ottoman Empire attempted to take the island, was a failure, and saw heavy losses on the Muslim side despite (or possibly because of) their superior numbers. Consider the quote from one of the GRS team about how he considers himself a soldier of God, a Christian fighter, and the underlying religious and geopolitical dynamics of the attacks in Benghazi. They could have chosen other countries to film in – they probably could have shot the whole thing in Morocco if they wanted – but they chose Malta for this tale of Christian Knights resisting the Muslim hordes.
I don’t see this as a coincidence, but I’m fairly certain that Bay is not aware of the history of the crusades, and that line from the book doesn’t appear in the film, even if the attitude expressed seeps through in almost every moment. So I suspect someone else on this production made that call.
The movie plays out along similar lines to the book, though there is about half an hour of prologue where we get to see the GRS team going out on missions with CIA officers, none of which seem to be based on events detailed in the book. The point of this seems to be to set up the tetchy relationship with Bob, their CIA overlord, show the Libyans as untrustworthy and threatening, and further heroise the GRS team. Because while this is a film about the CIA, clearly the aim was to focus on how great the ex-military guys are.
These prologue scenes also set up the idea that the CIA were in Benghazi to try to stop the spread of violence. The narrative is that following the fall of Gaddafi, various militias looted military stockpiles and that’s where they got their weapons from, and this was in no way a result of Western government support to the militias during the war. The CIA are shown trying to buy these weapons, locate stashes and warehouses so they can target them in drone strikes, and hence reduce the violence in post-war Libya. This is a total inversion of the allegation that they were scooping up weapons so they could send them to Syria. To be sure, this allegation has never been proven or disproven, but the film’s setup makes the CIA look like agents of peace rather than agents of chaos.
13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi is exceptionally racist. Pretty much every brown person they encounter is shouty, dangerous and crazy, if not outright trying to kill them. Naturally, there’s one translator who works for the CIA who is benign, but fairly useless. One of the GRS team even says, after he’s told he’s coming with them to the compound, ‘he’s not coming back’. While being perhaps the most restrained Bay film in terms of explosions and action, it is also perhaps his most macho, racist, hateful movie.
Where things get really curious is that Bay approached the CIA about supporting the movie, went on a tour of Langley, allowed them to review the script. They had a meeting where they all discussed the project, which apparently included operations officers as well as public affairs people. Bay wrote Chris White, a senior CIA public affairs liaison, a letter. It reads:
Thanks everyone for all your time. I will follow through in implementing all of your changes. I want you to feel proud when you see this movie. I know to some in that room it was a very emotional day and a quite personal story.
I would like you guys to vet the last page of the script [enclosed]. Also being twice in that great-building, I was drawn to the Memorial Wall both times. On Friday I realized the last two stars were for Tyrone and Glen.
I would like to end the film with a wide shot of the wall, including the flags on either side, and then cut on a close up of the last two stars, and fade out.
It would be a privilege if you would allow me and one cameraperson, with a camera no bigger then a Hasselblad, to shoot that. No lighting necessary; I could film it in 15 minutes. It would give the movie a poignant end. I can get the Pentagon to vouch for me regarding the utmost professionalism when we shoot government assets.
So, Bay promised to make all of their required script changes, apparently only just realised that two of the stars on the memorial wall are for the two GRS team members who died, and invoked his long-standing relationship with the Pentagon to try to convince the CIA to let him film the wall.
But the CIA weren’t interested. Their internal documents show that they ‘decided to engage with Bay for the sole purpose of keeping sensitive and unapproved material from the book out of the film.’ It seems that none of the GRS team got permission from the CIA’s publications review board before talking to Zucker for his book.
While Bay was compliant, it seems the Agency were aware that their refusal to let him shoot at CIA headquarters might soften his commitment to making their desired changes. After giving Bay the thumbs down, Chris White then met with Rich Klein, a consultant on 13 Hours and a ‘longstanding contact’ of the Agency’s Office of Public Affairs. ‘Klein said his job was to try to keep the script as accurate as possible, hewing as close as possible to the HPSCI Benghazi report.’
What went missing from the film? There is very little discussion of the pre-attack warnings, the efforts by the ambassador and others to make the compound more secure, the sense of danger isn’t built up that way. In lieu of all this factual information we get lots of shouty brown Muslim people who seems to hate Americans for no reason.
There is one brief reference to the general warning that an embassy would be attacked sometime in the next week, but one of the GRS team just reads it out mockingly then feeds it into the shredder – as though pre-attack intelligence is just a joke that doesn’t matter, because guys with guns giving it billy big bollocks. There is no reference to the ambassador’s cable on the morning of the attack, warning of the worsening security situation and the local militias turning against them. No one mentions how the CIA knew that Ansar Al Sharia had a base in a building close to the diplomatic compound.
There are fleeting references to the fact that the Benghazi outpost was known to be a soft target, and there had been numerous requests to improve the physical security and hire more guards, but these are overshadowed by a typical Michael Bay orgy of explosions and gunfire. However, the ending of the film does include the changes the CIA asked for, saying that the GRS operators were awarded medals and that they resigned, not retired, from working for the Agency.
We can assume that most if not all of these deviations from the book came at the CIA’s behest. It gives them an excuse for being in Benghazi, makes them look benevolent (even if Bob is kind of an asshole), eliminates any responsibility for the ‘intelligence failures’. However, the key scene remained, where Bob tells the GRS team to stand down, and that he’s sending the February 17th boys to deal with the situation at the compound.
After the film came out, this scene caused a fair bit of controversy. The real life Bob spoke to the Washington Post (who else?) and denied that he gave a stand down order to the GRS team. He said, ‘There never was a stand-down order. At no time did I ever second-guess that the team would depart.’ But this makes no sense – if he didn’t give a stand down order then what caused the delay in the GRS team getting to the diplomatic compound? If Bob never realised that the team might depart, that implies they never even spoke to him before leaving. And yet, every account from the GRS team says they were delayed, they were told not to leave, there were multiple exchanges with Bob over how to react to what was happening.
Though the CIA are thanked in the credits, Agency spokesman Ryan Trapani tried to distance them from the film, saying, ‘No one will mistake this movie for a documentary. It’s a distortion of the events and people who served in Benghazi that night. It’s shameful that, in order to highlight the heroism of some, those responsible for the movie felt the need to denigrate the courage of other Americans who served in harm’s way.’
Some Libyans were – predictably and quite reasonably – not happy with the movie either. Their new Culture and Information Minister Omar Gawaari said that the film shows the contractors, ‘who actually failed to secure the ambassador… as heroes.’ He added that Bay, ‘turned America’s failure to protect its own citizens in a fragile state into a typical action movie all about American heroism.’
When it came to party politics – the film came out in the summer of 2016, in the midst of a presidential election campaign. It was specifically marketed to conservatives, with lead actor John Krasinski giving interviews to right wing media, promotional adverts ran during the Republican primary, and they arranged preview screenings for key figures in the Republican party in order to get endorsements. This was a right wing movie, made for a right wing audience, masquerading as apolitical.
In numerous interviews Michael Bay, John Krasinski and members of the GRS team who worked on the film all asserted how they left the politics out of it, that the film was not intended as a political film. Krasinski would go on to tell the exact same lie about Jack Ryan.
The Benghazi – Manchester Bombing Connection
One more thing that’s worth mentioning is the connection with the Manchester Arena bombing. Salman Abedi and his brother, the apparent bombers, were both members of the February 17th Martyrs Brigade, and even took part in raids to try to root out supporters of Gaddafi. Without getting into the whole narrative of the Abedi family and their numerous contacts with the British security state, this connection shows that the group wasn’t a Western-friendly, moderate militia. Or should I say, wasn’t just that – as some members may have been, while others were not.
Thus, there appears to be some degree of overlap between Ansar Al Sharia, who carried out the attacks, and the February 17th group who were supposed to help protect the targets. Let’s not forget, Ansar Al Sharia announced its formal dissolution just five days after the Manchester bombing.