General David Petraeus takes his orders from the White House, as does the Ambassador of the United Nations, the Secretary of State and every other appointed official. This is called the Chain of Command, and I’m simply astounded how many people, even those who have taken an oath on the Constitution of the United States of America don’t seem to understand this little fact of how our government works.
I say they don’t understand, because if they did, they would be asking wholly different questions. Rather than hold hearings on who said what when, the real question is who told them to say what and when.
The talking heads in the media seem to be just as clueless, or suffers from such severe tunnel vision they should be wearing corrective lenses and not allowed to drive, much less read the tele-prompter.
In all the reports in the wall to wall coverage of the hearings, there have been a few things that jumped out at me that no one else seems to be noticing. First, references keep being made to the video feed of the attack, yet only occasionally is it said that feed came from a Predator Drone. The question to be asked here is if there was a Predator Drone on station, why was there any confusion on what was going on? The few images of that feed that have been shown publicly clearly depict people on the roof of the Embassy and a few other figures that have breached the perimeter. What is notably missing are large groups of bodies in the area surrounding the Embassy, something that surely would have been the case if this were a large, or even moderate scale, spontaneous demonstration by locals. In fact, the area around the Embassy is noticeably devoid of people.
The next question to ask is about who was viewing this feed.
To answer this, perhaps a little background on how intelligence is gathered and disseminated is in order. Whenever a Predator Drone is sent airborne, there is someone controlling its flight and monitoring the feed in real time. That feed is shared with the NSA. Real time decisions are actually minimal, as each time a Drone is launched; it has a mission and objective, sort of like standing orders. When it comes across something that is outside the expected parameters, it is retasked to further investigate, thereby giving intel to the chain of command so decisions on what, if any further or future actions will be
If a Drone picks up activity at its target location, or on its retasked target protocol is to notify all those who may be passively monitoring, such as the NSA, to actively monitor. Literally, an alarm goes off in a room where human drones are sorting nearly innumerable feeds from various sources, alerting them to the fact that something is happening that is probably above their pay grade and they then notify the next level. This level determines if the incoming intel should be put on the Deputy Director’s radar. When the information is something along the lines of say, one of our Embassies is under attack and American lives, including that of our Ambassador are at stake, lots of things happen very quickly.
The Deputy Director notifies the appropriate military channels, meaning sending alerts to those commanders who are in closest physical proximity to the event that there is a developing situation and to be on standby; the White House NSA advisor is alerted, who then tells the President’s Security Advisor, Chief of Staff and whoever is on hand and on duty at the moment, both in person and in writing that there is a situation developing. Depending on where this situation is, who is involved, who is at risk, etc., the President is either immediately advised or there may be a short delay if whatever he is engaged in at the moment is of higher importance, more critical or more sensitive than the alert.
It is safe to say news that our Embassy is under attack, our Ambassador and other Americans are being attacked will trump whatever else has the President’s attention at that moment. In those first few minutes as the situation is developing and being analyzed, the determination if this is a single, isolated incident or the opening salvo in a much bigger event is not something that will be determined by those delivering the message. Again, above
their pay grade. Making that level of decision falls squarely on the shoulders of the President and his top advisors.
Fortuitously, when this Predator drone feed set off its chain reaction of notifications and alerts, the President was meeting with the Vice President. There was one other person in the room, whose presence is most significant as it guarantees that what was being discussed would be interrupted. That person was Secretary of Defense, Leon Panetta. In short, the three people who are ultimately responsible for deciding what, if any response there will be to a developing situation that threatens the lives of Americans, the interests of America and indeed, its sovereign soil were already sitting in a room together. It has been leaked that they were discussing the evolving situation in Cairo, though what exactly was said in that room amongst those three will surely never be known.
Also present in the White House at this moment was General David Petraeus, then director of the CIA and former Commander of ISAF, U.S. Forces Afghanistan. It’s a pretty safe bet that he was invited into the room when the news of the Predator drone feed was made known. Like noted above, it
will never be known exactly what happened, or in what order, but from previous situations, there are some pretty big clues as well as known protocols that are followed.
It is inconceivable to think that the live Predator drone feed was not forwarded to the room where the Commander-in-Chief and by then at least four of his top advisors were meeting. To say otherwise would mean that all these men and many others were not just derelict in their duties, but intentionally and willfully choosing to remain ignorant of a current, real time event with unknown, at the time, implications. The first questions would have been about determining if and how this event was connected to what was going on in Cairo. The second question, because this is just the way things are done, would have been what could be done to help, support or save the lives of those Americans inside that compound in Benghazi. At this level of command, considerations of the bigger picture are always paramount, as they should be. That said, in the interest of fairness, though these two questions are labeled number one and number two here, in reality they would have been nearly simultaneous. Different people would have been contacted and assigned to get the answers to these two questions as each would fall under the aegis of separate departments.
It is safe to say that Secretary of Defense Panetta, as well as CIA Director Petraeus would have known, without having to ask anyone, what assets were closest. Panetta would have mentioned the fact that there was a battle group off the coast, and further that Libya is less than 1,500 miles from Ramstein AFB in Germany. In layman’s terms, just to help keep this all in perspective, a commercial airliner can fly from Ramstein to Tripoli in under 2 ½ hours at an average cruising speed of 500 mph. Top speeds of military aircraft are of course closely guarded secrets, but breaking the sound barrier, which is 768 mph is considered slow today. In other words, even if aircraft had to be sent from Germany, they would have been on station in just over 1 ½ hours. If they were launched from carriers off the coast in the Mediterranean, we are now talking minutes. Minutes.
Aircraft carriers are not metal boxes filled with airplanes. They also contain personnel. People who fall under group names such as QRF, or Quick Reactionary Forces and lots of others who are there with the sole purpose of being able to get themselves from sea to land to do battle with the enemy
and/or in support of our interests. I do believe that our Ambassador, our Embassy and those on the ground whose job it is to keep those people and places
safe fall under the category of our interests.
Update - It has since been released that the commander of AFRICOM, General Carter Ham had readied a QRF that could be dispatched out of Sicily. This force would have been on site even faster than any response sent from Ramstein; in fact, this is where one of the two Predator drones were launced from, according to leaks reported in the New York Times, ABC, CBS and other news outlets.
So, while Congress is holding hearings to find out who knew what when and who said what to whom, they are ignoring the bigger questions. Who ordered our military personnel, in the Mediterranean and at Ramstein not to do anything? There is only one answer, there is only one person who has the authority to make that decision, and that is the Commander-in-Chief. Which leaves the biggest question of all, the one no one is asking, Why?