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WhoWhatWhy runs Larry Hancock’s essay on Hillary Clinton’s Benghazi hearing

WhoWhatWhy, the investigative reporting site led by Russ Baker, ran an essay by Larry Hancock on the futility of Hillary Clinton’s Benghazi hearing. Hancock is the author of Surprise Attack: From Pearl Harbor to 9/11 to Benghazi.


October 23, 2015

Welcome to the Circus — Hillary and the Benghazi Committee

The underlying story of Benghazi is one that cannot and will not be talked about in any open session of Congress. This means that Thursday’s hearing featuring former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was nothing but an exercise in futility.

It is the story of a covert CIA operation that was operating from a separate facility in the Benghazi compound that was simply known as the “Annex.” Some two dozen CIA case officers, analysts, translators and special staff were a part of this operation and its security was provided by CIA Global Response Staff (GRS), who had entered the country under diplomatic cover.

The CIA’s mission included arms interdiction — attempting to stop the flow of Soviet-era weapons to Central Africa — and very possibly the organization of Libyan arms shipments to vetted insurgent groups on the ground in Syria.

There is also evidence that the mission was working in concert with military personnel from the Joint Special Operations Group Trans-Sahara. At the time of the attack, an unarmed American surveillance drone was in flight over the territory east of Benghazi and Trans-Sahara military personnel were stationed in the Libyan capital of Tripoli.

In contrast, the State Department’s special diplomatic mission facility, classified as “temporary,” was minimally staffed with a rotating series of State Department officers sent to and from Tripoli.

US Ambassador Christopher Stevens had not been in Benghazi for a year. When he arrived for a short stay in September 2012, only a single diplomatic officer was present there, and that officer rotated back to Tripoli upon the ambassador’s arrival. Stevens was accompanied by a communications officer and a handful of Diplomatic Service Security staff. The security personnel provided protection for the ambassador during his travels and meetings in the city. His presence was intended to be extremely low key, but it was exposed in the local media shortly after his arrival.


Asking Clinton to justify maintaining the State Department temporary mission in the face of a worsening security situation is fruitless, given its actual function as a clandestine national security mission cover.

Questioning Clinton about that role would be as meaningless as questioning senior CIA personnel about operational information. Such missions cannot be publicly acknowledged or discussed, and revealing anything about them is strictly prohibited.

The same national security laws constraining State Department and CIA personnel also prevent lawmakers, other than those on select intelligence committees, from being briefed on such missions. And even those privileged individuals could not raise related questions in public — or even in closed sessions that include committee members or staff without the appropriate clearances.

In addition, querying Clinton about her involvement in the immediate response to the attacks is also pointless. The Secretary of State has no legal or operational role in a military response to a diplomatic facility attack. Only National Command Authority (president/secretary of defense) can order a foreign military intervention. The State Department does have Foreign Emergency Support Teams (FEST), composed of personnel from multiple agencies and maintained on alert to respond to crisis. But the FEST teams have no military elements and are dispatched only in the aftermath of a crisis, when the security situation allows. Following an attack their role is damage assessment and recovery.

Earlier investigations have already documented that President Obama ordered a military response immediately upon word reaching Washington. They showed as well that the AFRICOM commander responded to that order right away, directing deployment of the closest military quick reaction units — units which were on station in Spain, training in Eastern Europe, or back in the United States.

There were no armed American aircraft or naval units close enough to respond during the attack, those assets were in operation in Afghanistan, Iraq and around the Horn of Africa in Somalia and Yemen.


As for the well-equipped paramilitary operatives at the CIA station, according to their own statements, they were initially held back by the CIA station chief — as they had been in other incidents. And the station chief was, in turn, acting under his directive to let local militia groups respond. That practice was intended to maintain the station’s covert profile. Unfortunately, it was not consistent with providing any real time defense for the State Department compound.

Given all of the above, it is clear why the hearing quickly turned into a game of “pin the tail on the donkey.” As Democrats have claimed all along — and some Republicans have recently admitted — the committee’s work is mostly about beating up a political adversary and not at all about advancing the security of American diplomats abroad.

Larry Hancock

Larry_HancockLARRY HANCOCK is considered one of the top investigative researchers in the areas of intelligence and national security. He is the author of four books, including Nexus: The CIA and Political Assassination, and coauthor of The Awful Grace of God, a study of religious terrorism, white supremacy, and the murder of Martin Luther King Jr. Hancock’s books have received endorsements and praise from former House Select Committee on Investigations staff members and the former Joint Historian for the State Department and Central Intelligence Agency. He lives in Oklahoma.



He is the author of:

Surprise Attack: From Pearl Harbor to 9/11 to Benghazi
Shadow Warfare: The History of America’s Undeclared Wars
The Awful Grace of God: Religious Terrorism, White Supremacy, and the Unsolved Murder of Martin Luther King, Jr.

Surprise Attack


Surprise Attack explores sixty plus years of military and terror threats against the United States. It examines the intelligence tools and practices that provided warnings of those attacks and evaluates the United States’ responses, both in preparedness – and most importantly – the effectiveness of our military and national command authority.

Contrary to common claims, the historical record now shows that warnings, often very solid warnings, have preceded almost all such attacks, both domestic and international. Intelligence practices developed early in the Cold War, along with intelligence collection techniques have consistently produced accurate warnings for our national security decision makers. Surprise Attack traces the evolution and application of those practices and explores why such warnings have often failed to either interdict or intercept actual attacks.

Going beyond warnings, Surprise Attack explores the real world performance of the nation’s military and civilian command and control history – exposing disconnects in the chain of command, failures of command and control and fundamental performance issues with national command authority.

America has faced an ongoing series of threats, from the attacks on Hawaii and the Philippines in 1941, through the crises and confrontations of the Cold War, global attacks on American personnel and facilities to the contemporary violence of jihadi terrorism. With a detailed study of those threats, the attacks related to them, and America’s response, a picture of what works – and what doesn’t – emerges. The attacks have been tragic and we see the defensive preparations and response often ineffective. Yet lessons can be learned from the experience; Surprise Attack represents a comprehensive effort to identify and document those lessons.

About the Author

LARRY HANCOCK is considered one of the top investigative researchers in the areas of intelligence and national security. He is the author of four books, including Nexus: The CIA and Political Assassination, and coauthor of The Awful Grace of God, a study of religious terrorism, white supremacy, and the murder of Martin Luther King Jr. Hancock’s books have received endorsements and praise from former House Select Committee of Investigations staff members and the former Joint Historian for the State Department and Central Intelligence Agency. He lives in Oklahoma.


“In clear and detailed writing, the author focuses on the widespread American command and control networks that examine strategic/national and tactical/local intelligence… An important topic for everyone to comprehend, as the threat of a new attack is constant, both from home-grown extremists as well as foreign groups.” —Library Journal Starred Review

“A valuable examination of U.S. national security crises past and present… A timely, pertinent study emphasizing the fact that when it comes to military or terrorist attacks, ‘there are always be warnings.’” —Kirkus

“Ample warnings preceded Pearl Harbor and every subsequent attack on U.S. soil and U.S. forces, writes Hancock, a veteran national security journalist… He is not shy about suggesting improvements, but admits that since American leaders may never get their act together, more surprises are likely in store.” —Publishers Weekly 

Shadow Warfare


Contrary to their contemporary image, deniable covert operations are not something new. Such activities have been ordered by every president and every administration since World War II. Clandestine operations have often relied on surrogates, with American personnel involved only at a distance, insulated by layers of deniability.

Shadow Warfare traces the evolution of these covert operations, detailing the tactics and tools used from the Truman era through those of the Obama administration. It also explores the personalities and careers of many of the most noted shadow warriors of the past sixty years, tracing the decades-long relationship between the CIA and the military.

Shadow Warfare offers a balanced, non-polemic exploration of American concealed warfare, detailing its patterns, consequences, and collateral damage, and presenting its successes as well as its failures. Hancock and Wexler explore why every president, from Franklin Roosevelt on, felt compelled to turn to secret, deniable military action. It also delves into the political dynamic of the president’s relationship with Congress, and the fact that despite decades of warfare, Congress has chosen not to exercise its responsibility to declare a single state of war—even for extended and highly visible combat.

About the Author

LARRY HANCOCK is considered one of the top investigative researchers in the areas of intelligence and national security. He is the author of four books, including Nexus: The CIA and Political Assassination, and coauthor of The Awful Grace of God, a study of religious terrorism, white supremacy, and the murder of Martin Luther King Jr. Hancock’s books have received endorsements and praise from former House Select Committee of Investigations staff members and the former Joint Historian for the State Department and Central Intelligence Agency. He lives in Oklahoma.

STUART WEXLER is coauthor of The Awful Grace of God. His work has been featured in the The Boston Globe, USA Today, and on NBC News. Wexler’s work on forensics and historical crimes helped win him a national award from the American Statistical Association in 2008. He lives in New Jersey.


“[A] comprehensive, well-researched, and up-to-date analysis of U.S. shadow warfare.” —Publishers Weekly

The Bones of the Earth


In this graceful collection, Howard Mansfield looks anew at the New England region he’s called home for over twenty years. He studies the beautiful stonework of granite bridges with a local expert; contemplates the deserted second and third storeys of the old mercantile buildings that populate New England’s towns and cities; and considers the cemeteries and roadside shrines that punctuate the landscape. Each exploratory adventure is written with Mansfield’s typical wit and passion in prose so smooth that the deeper questions he raises appear with startling poignancy. How do our local landmarks narrate the past? What is history? Should we-can we-preserve its artifacts for the future? A kind of elegy for the built environment and dying customs of New England life, these essays will challenge anyone’s notions of home, history, and the future that jeopardizes both.

About the Author

HOWARD MANSFIELD is the author of numerous books, including Skylark, Cosmopolis, and In the Memory House, praised as “wise and beautiful” by the New York Times Book Review. His essays and articles on history and architecture have appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Christian Science Monitor, Doubletake, Orion, and Newsday, among others. He lives in Hancock, New Hampshire, with his wife, writer Sy Montgomery.



“Several essays in The Bones of the Earth… belong in an anthology as prose models illustrating the technique of proceeding from the particular to the universal. Textbook publishers, take note.” —World Literature Today

“In witty essays that recall both Thoreau’s Walden and Roland Barthes’ Mythologies, Mansfield ruminates on American history by unpacking our connection to the landscape.” —Utne Magazine

“[C]onnoisseurs of seeing the world in an oyster, or even a small state, will savor Mansfield’s style.” —Booklist

“Howard Mansfield has never written an uninteresting or dull sentence. All of his books are emotionally and intellectually nourishing. He is something like a cultural psychologist along with being a first-class cultural historian. He is humane, witty, bright-minded, and rigorously intelligent.” —Guy Davenport, author of The Death of Picasso


Howard Mansfield

HOWARD MANSFIELD is the author of numerous books, including Skylark, Cosmopolis, and In the Memory House, praised as “wise and beautiful” by The New York Times Book Review. His essays and articles on history and architecture have appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Christian Science Monitor, Doubletake, Orion, and Newsday, among others. He lives in Hancock, New Hampshire, with his wife, writer Sy Montgomery.

He is the author of:

The Bones of the Earth

The Awful Grace of God


The Awful Grace of God chronicles a multi-year effort to kill Martin Luther King Jr. by a group of the nation’s most violent right-wing extremists. Impeccably researched and thoroughly documented, this examines figures like Sam Bowers, head of the White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan of Mississippi, responsible for more than three hundred separate acts of violence in Mississippi alone; J.B. Stoner, who ran an organization that the California attorney general said was “more active and dangerous than any other ultra-right organization;” and Reverend Wesley Swift, a religious demagogue who inspired two generations of violent extremists.

United in a holy cause to kill King, this network of racist militants were the likely culprits behind James Earl Ray and King’s assassination in Memphis on April 4th, 1968.

King would be their ultimate prize—a symbolic figure whose assassination could foment an apocalypse that would usher in their Kingdom of God, a racially “pure” white world.

Hancock and Wexler have sifted through thousands of pages of declassified and never-before-released law enforcement files on the King murder, conducted dozens of interviews with figures of the period, and re-examined information from several recent cold case investigations. Their study reveals a terrorist network never before described in contemporary history. They have unearthed data that was unavailable to congressional investigators and used new data-mining techniques to extend the investigation begun by the House Select Committee on Assassinations.

The Awful Grace of God offers the most comprehensive and up-to-date study of the King assassination and presents a roadmap for future investigation.

About the Author

STUART WEXLER was born and raised in New Jersey. He graduated from Tulane University with a degree in history. He now lives and teaches high school in New Jersey, where he won the prestigious James Madison Teachers’ Fellowship in 2010.

LARRY HANCOCK was raised in Oklahoma and graduated from the University of New Mexico with a triple major in anthropology, history, and education. He has worked on a variety of historical research projects, including November Patriots and Someone Would Have Talked. He lives in Oklahoma.


“A timely study.” —Kirkus

“A step in the [right] direction of a better understanding of a national tragedy.” —Booklist




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