U.S. intelligence officials have released a detailed CIA timeline of the deadly September 11 assault on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya in response to accusations that not enough was done to stop the attack.
Speaking anonymously, senior intelligence officials told reporters Thursday the CIA deployed a rescue mission from a nearby base within 25 minutes of being alerted to the attack, which killed the U.S. ambassador to Libya and three other Americans.
But they say the six-member team did not arrive until 25 minutes after that, in part because of a failed attempt to acquire the assistance of Libyan militias with heavy weapons, and because they came under fire as they approached the consulate.
The CIA team reportedly remained at the consulate for an hour before leaving with all the Americans, except for the slain ambassador, who had been taken to a nearby hospital.
The CIA had already denied recent reports by Fox News and others suggesting that CIA officers were told to "stand down" when they wanted to deploy from a nearby base to repel the attack at the consulate.
But the secretive spy agency had come under increasing pressure to reveal more information about the night-long siege, which has become an important issue in the U.S. presidential election.
Intelligence officials say the rescue effort also involved deploying an unarmed U.S. military drone to the scene, sending emergency reinforcements from the Libyan capital, Tripoli, and chartering an airplane that eventually brought most of the Americans to safety.
Officials again adamantly denied that CIA officers were told to "stand down," saying they responded to the attack "as quickly and effectively as possible." But they did acknowledge the evacuation efforts were ultimately too late and badly outmatched.
Many Republicans say the Obama administration did not provide enough security at the compound, despite reports that consulate officials had said beforehand the security situation in Benghazi was deteriorating and that an attack was possible.
Officials said Thursday the State Department believed that any potential security lapse at the consulate could be offset by the small security force at the nearby secret CIA facility. But officials said it appeared that the CIA and the State Department may have been confused about their roles in protecting the compound.