Tampa, FL -- This is the hometown of U.S. Special Operations Command â€“ at nearby MacDill Air Force Base. This headquarters dispatches our military's special operators â€“ Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines â€“ on missions in the most difficult and dangerous places on Earth. It's also the place where "action officers" are burning the midnight oil â€“ but not necessarily planning new targets for our Navy SEALs. Apparently, a "good number" of SOCOM's staff are busy preparing responses to the batches of inquiries about what really happened in Benghazi, Libya â€“ before, during and after the terror attack on the night of September 11-12 that resulted in four dead Americans. Answers have been slow in coming.
Three days after the assault, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced that the FBI would investigate the attack as a criminal matter, not as an act of war. For reasons left to our imagination, the FBI didn't move fast enough, so the Obama administration appointed a special review board to develop a "full picture" of all that transpired at the U.S. consulate in Benghazi.
This accountability review board is being co-chaired by former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Thomas Pickering and retired Admiral Mike Mullen, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Investigating the murder of a U.S. diplomat is an assignment for which Ambassador Pickering is uniquely suited. When he was President Ronald Reagan's ambassador to El Salvador in the 1980s, Pickering was targeted for assassination. As a consequence of the threat, enhanced security measures were put in place to protect him. Apparently, no such steps were taken to safeguard Ambassador Christopher Stevens and his fellow diplomats in Libya. In the absence of answers, one can only wonder why.
The Pickering-Mullen panel supposedly will aggregate information received from SOCOM, European Command, Africa Command, the office of the Joint Chiefs of Staff at the Pentagon, the CIA, other intelligence organizations and the State Department. If the White House is to be believed, the review board will produce a "rigorous" report when its "investigation is complete" and "hold accountable" anyone who "didn't do their job."
At the glacial rate things are moving, we may not know what really happened that terrible night in Benghazi until well after President Obama's second inauguration. Maybe that's the idea. But if members of the O-Team believes the questions are going to go away just because he won re-election, they're wrong.
On election eve, the president claimed, "Four years after I took office, America's respect and resolve around the world is unquestioned." Yet, just hours later, Osama bin Laden's successor, Ayman al-Zawahiri, in a propaganda broadcast to radical Islamists in Somalia, said, "(The United States is) defeated in Iraq and they are withdrawing from Afghanistan, and their ambassador in Benghazi was killed, and the flags of their embassies were lowered in Cairo and Sanaa." Now Fox News journalists Jennifer Griffin and Catherine Herridge and a handful of others have uncovered facts that point to a possible cover-up.
Thanks to their intrepid digging for the truth, we now know that a classified cable from August 16 detailed vulnerabilities at the Benghazi facility that were identified by the State Department's regional security officer â€“ the official responsible for protecting diplomatic posts in North Africa. We also know that six weeks before the attack, Ambassador Stevens requested additional host-nation security protection from Libya's Foreign Ministry. And we know for certain that on the night of the attack, U.S. diplomats and CIA personnel in Benghazi begged for help that never came.
What we don't know is what â€“ if anything â€“ officials in Washington did about any of these and a host of other problems leading up to and during this debacle. Why, for example, was our ambassador in Benghazi â€“ without a security detail â€“ on the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks?
During a series of military assaults over more than seven hours against the consulate compound and a CIA facility about a mile away, at least two unarmed unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and other sensors broadcast live imagery of the attacks to command centers in Washington. According to unnamed administration officials, there were no U.S. military forces or assets available to respond to pleas for help from the Americans fighting for their lives. But there are other reports of U.S. aircraft â€“ and armed UAVs â€“ that could have been dispatched to the scene. What's the truth?
The so-called mainstream media all but ignored the disaster in Benghazi in the weeks leading up to the November 6 election. Our enemies now gloat that America's "awe is lost" and our "might is gone." Members of both parties in Congress are finally demanding answers. They are right to do so.
The urgency to find out what happened in Benghazi is neither prurient nor political. An officer assigned here at SOCOM told me this week, "Everything that could go wrong in Benghazi did." That may be just one officer's opinion, but if it's even half-right, the facts need to be known now so steps can be taken to reduce the likelihood of it ever happening again.
Oliver North is a nationally syndicated columnist, the host of "War Stories" on the Fox News Channel, the author of the new novel "Heroes Proved" and the co-founder of Freedom Alliance, an organization that provides college scholarships to the children of U.S. military personnel killed or permanently disabled in the line of duty.