It's among the most enduring controversies of the Obama administration. On September 11, 2012, Islamic extremist terrorists battered two U.S. compounds in Benghazi, Libya, for nearly eight hours, while Americans inside waited for U.S. military help that never came. Four Americans were killed: Ambassador Chris Stevens and diplomat Sean Smith, along with former Navy Seals Glen Doherty and Ty Woods.
It was eight weeks before election day. Obama officials, including then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, incorrectly pointed to the Christian producer of a YouTube video that they claimed had whipped up protesters into violence. They excised words like "Islamic" and "al-Qaeda" from public talking points.
In recent days, the House Benghazi Committee released results of its investigation. Democrats call it "one of the longest and most partisan" probes in history and said "officials did not make intentionally misleading statements." They blamed "fast-moving circumstances," but there was much news in the report on chaos, delay, and efforts to mislead, with evidence coming from government insiders.
However, there were also many questions left unanswered. What did the President do while Americans were under attack, and who called the shots? Unknown. White House photos taken that night? Blocked from public release. Also, the Defense Department wouldn't give an inventory of available military assets.
One overarching conclusion by Republicans: The response from the world's most powerful military was perplexingly inadequate. With the release of the Committee's report, we revisit our report looking at evidence of a Rescue Interrupted.
The film "13 Hours, the Secret Soldiers of Benghazi" opened in January. It's the harrowing account of six CIA team members in an annex about a mile from the Benghazi compound when it fell under attack. They claim when they tried to go to the rescue, their boss delayed them.
Now an email hidden from public view for three years reveals another rescue attempt was apparently interrupted. The military offered to deploy Special Forces to Benghazi during the assault, long before the attackers killed CIA contractors and former Navy Seals Glen Doherty and Ty Woods.
Three and a half hours into the eight-hour long siege, the military's Chief of Staff Jeremy Bash emails top State Department officials: "we have identified the forces that could move to Benghazi. They are spinning up as we speak. They include a SOF [Special Operations Forces] element that was in Croatia."
Colonel Andrew Wood: 'They're spun up as we speak' means that he's made contact with them. They've confirmed that they've been given that order and they're making progress toward going to that location.
Retired Army Green Beret Col. Andrew Wood commanded a Special Forces anti-terrorism team protecting Ambassador Chris Stevens and other diplomats in Libya.
In 2012, Wood told Congress his team was removed from Libya by the Obama administration a month before the attacks, despite warnings of terrorist violence to come.
For the first time, Wood is speaking out with a startling claim: that those Special Forces offered in the military email were on their way to Benghazi, but were turned back.
Col. Wood: Those individuals, I know, loaded aircraft and got on their way to Benghazi to respond to that incident. They were not allowed to cross the border, as per protocol, until they get approval from the Commander in Chief. That authority has got to come from him. Otherwise, they're not allowed to go further into the country. I have a high degree of confidence that that happened, based on information that I've heard from individuals that were there. Those forces were put into motion. They simply were not allowed to go further.
The White House has refused to detail the involvement of President Obama, the Commander in Chief, while Americans were under attack on foreign soil. Following a short briefing at the beginning of the assault, he virtually disappears from the public narrative.
The White House declined to comment for this report but has long denied any assets were available or ready, and said everything possible was done.
Yet the email indicates Special Forces were ready, and high-ranking Obama administration officials, or "Principals" were to weigh in. "Assuming Principals agree to deploy these elements, we will ask State to secure the approval from host nation," the military tells the State Department. "Please advise how you wish to convey that approval to us." Inexplicably, nobody did seek Libya's approval for the U.S. forces to fly in to help.
The availability of Special Forces is news to Greg Hicks, the top U.S. diplomat in Tripoli during the assault.
In 2013, Hicks testified he was repeatedly told there was no military help available.
Greg Hicks: I asked the Defense Attache who'd been talking with AFRICOM and with the Joint Staff: Is anything coming? Will they be sending us any help? Is there something out there?
Responding to the newly public email, Hicks tells Full Measure "an aggressive interpretation" of the military options presented "would have tasked me with obtaining flight and landing clearances from the Libyan government. I have no doubt they would have been granted."
Sharyl Attkisson: What is the significance of this memo, would you say?
Gary Berntsen: It's incredibly significant, and you would understand why the administration wouldn't want people to see that those elements within the government that were tasked with the protection of lives and property, actually started the process and were stopped.
Gary Berntsen is a former CIA senior operations officer and chief of station. He commanded counter-terrorism missions and led the response team after Islamic extremists bombed U.S. Embassies in East Africa in 1998.
Like Wood, Berntsen says quick reaction military teams are tasked to handle emergencies exactly like Benghazi and automatically spin up, unless and until they're stopped.
Berntsen: You proceed because if there's an emergency and Americans are at risk, Americans have died or are under the threat of death or a threat of kidnapping or any kind of violence. We're moving.
A military source familiar with some of the night's events also confirms military options were provided. "There were both conventional and special forces in theater and assigned to AFRICOM [Africa Command] offered up by General [Carter] Ham" on a video teleconference. "Based on what I know, the forces they were talking about could have gotten there pretty quickly."
Berntsen: Only political instructions from above would have stopped them. There is, you know, no one is going to wait. That is my experience, of having done this for almost 25 years, having led the team's myself, you're proceeding, you're going.
In part two of our report, we explore what Obama officials have said about the military response that night and we ask why a rescue would have been interrupted.