Fact Checks

Did President Obama watch the Benghazi Attack as it happened?

28 Jan, 2013


September-11-2012-Benghazi-Libya-they-watched-them-die-obama-libya-chris-stevens-benghazi-540x405During the weeks after the 2012 Benghazi Attack, various articles [1][2] blog post, twitter comments and memes started accusing Barack Obama of doing nothing while the Benghazi Attacks happened.

An op-ed in Forbes said:

Just one hour after the seven-hour-long terrorist attacks upon the U.S. consulate in Benghazi began, our commander-in-chief, vice president, secretary of defense and their national security team gathered together in the Oval Office listening to phone calls from American defenders desperately under siege and watching real-time video of developments from a drone circling over the site. Yet they sent no military aid that might have intervened in time to save lives.

The cover page of October 21’s New York Post also implies that President Obama was one of the “they” who let the victims die.


On September 11, 2012, an attack was launched by militants against the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, resulting in the death of Ambassador Christopher Stephens and three other men. The attack was monitored by aerial drones and security cameras on the ground.

Surveillance Cameras

On October 12, The Daily Beast reported that video footage from the United States consulate in Benghazi, Libya, taken the night of the Sept. 11 anniversary attacks, shows an organized group of armed men attacking the compound, according to two U.S. intelligence officials who have seen the footage and are involved in the ongoing investigation. The two officials tell The Daily Beast that analysts are hoping to decipher the faces of the attackers and match them up with known jihadists. Video from the compound’s cameras debunk the initial line from the Obama administration that there was a protest in front of the consulate on the night of the attacks.

The videos were filmed from multiple closed-circuit cameras throughout the compound, and are at times grainy and hard to decipher. There are also some gaps. There is no footage, for example, of Ambassador Chris Stevens going into the safe room where he eventually died from smoke inhalation. The footage at the gate of the compound is taken from an angle that filmed the attackers from the side, so the people in the crowd can mostly be seen in profile.

On October 24, CBS News correspondent Margaret Brennan reported that the FBI and State Department have reviewed video from security cameras that captured the attack on the consulate. The government security camera footage of the attack was in the possession of local Libyans until the week of Oct. 1. The video will be among the evidence that the State Department’s review board will analyze to determine who carried out the assault. Video of the assault was recovered 20 days later from the more than 10 security cameras at the compound. Brennan also reported that:

The audio feed of the attack was being monitored in real time in Washington by diplomatic security official Charlene Lamb.


The U.S. government also has video from an overhead U.S. surveillance drone that arrived for the final hour of the night battle at the consulate compound and nearby annex.

In a briefing to reporters on September 25, 2012, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta told reporters at the Pentagon that there was not a clear enough picture of what was occurring on the ground in Benghazi to send help. Panetta said there was no “real-time information” to be able to act on, even though the U.S. military was prepared to do so.

“There’s a lot of Monday morning quarterbacking going on here,” Panetta said Thursday. “You don’t deploy forces into harm’s way without knowing what’s going on,” Panetta said. “(We) felt we could not put forces at risk in that situation.”

U.S. officials argue that there was a period of several hours when the fighting stopped before the mortars were fired at the annex, leading officials to believe the attack was over.

A defense official provided more context on Panetta’s comments about the decision-making involved in not sending U.S. troops to the consulate being attacked in Benghazi, saying that there was a drone aloft but not directly over the area at the time the attack began. The drone was redirected and arrived in time to record some of the attack. But he described what the drone saw as “looking down, seeing a bunch of buildings and fires, a lot of chaos on the ground.” and that it was not possible to discern exactly what was happening.

We didn’t have good eyes on the situation. There were security forces there on the ground, but they’re in the middle of a firefight – not sending a Sitrep (Situational Report).

The official could not reveal the specific reaction times for the military’s Fleet Anti Terrorism Security Teams, which are classified, but said “it would be physically impossible for them to get there in time to intervene in that attack from say, Rota, Spain.”

The official said “these situations normally deteriorate over time … but usually in a few days, not two hours.” He explained that even quick-reaction teams are often positioned for places where intelligence shows a “deteriorating situation” near an embassy.

Lt Col. Tony Schafer Comments

On October 28, 2012, in an interview on Fox News, Lt. Col. Tony Schafer told Fox News that sources had told him that the President was watching the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya in real-time. Schafer told Fox that “only the President” could have ordered backup for the Americans who were under siege by terrorists so the President was most certainly informed of the situation as it was unfolding. “I hate to say this,” Schafer said, “according to my sources, yes, [the President] was one of those in the White House situation room in real-time watching this. And the question becomes, ‘What did the President do or not do in the moments he saw this unveiling?’ He — only he — could issue a directive to Secretary of Defense Panetta to do something.” Shafer’s comment was rebroadcast by several media outlets.


Where was President Obama on September 11, 2012?

After attending ceremonies to mark the anniversary of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the President and the Vice President meet with Secretary of Defense for a regular meeting at 5:00pm, about one hour 20 minutes after the attacks started.


1. Schaffer’s report is from an anonymous source.

2. Schaffer’s anonoymous source is not corroborated by any other media.



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