In the first detailed account of the now infamous Benghazi attack, terrorism experts Fred Burton and Samuel M. Katz cut through the political spin to reveal exactly what happened in Benghazi the night that U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens was killed. The new book, titled Under Fire: The Untold Story of the Attack in Benghazi, is a non-political, minute-by-minute account of the attack and features never-before-seen details of the conflict.
Q: Fred, why was this book important?
A: It was important first and foremost, to acknowledge the courage and heroism displayed by the diplomatic security agents who were there in Benghazi during the attack; to show people what a difficult job they really have. Also, because this has become such a politicized issue, it was important to separate fact from fiction, and look at exactly what occurred, which is what this book does.
Q: Tell me about your personal experience as a special agent in situations like what the agents faced in Benghazi.
A: Well, I was the lead agent for the PAK-1 investigation into the 1988 plane crash that killed Pakistani President Muhammed Zia-ul-Haq. The American Ambassador to Pakistan at that time, Ambassador Arnold Raphel, was also killed in that crash, which was the last time, prior to Benghazi, that a US ambassador was killed in the line of duty. So, in essence, I investigated the last ambassador killed in the line of duty, before Ambassador Stevens.
Q: How do you know what happened on the ground that night?
A: The co-author, Sam Katz, and I conducted a thorough review of the available open source material, including findings from the State Department Accountability Review Board, and conducted countless interviews with victims' friends and families and with those close to the investigation.
Q:What motivated you to write a book on such a controversial topic? Was it hard to veer away from the partisan discourse that has overtaken this issue?
A: What motivated me, the focus of the book, was, again, to acknowledge the courage and heroism displayed by personnel who were there at the time of the attack. It drove me crazy listening to all of the political rhetoric around the situation, and I felt sorry for the people who were involved and who needed the real story - the facts of the story - told once and for all. I felt that if we didn't tell the story, it wouldn't be told, so it was actually easy for me to get away from the political aspects of this and to just focus on what actually happened.
Q: Was the attack premeditated?
A: Oh sure, it had to be. It was far too organized not to have been premeditated.
Q: Who’s to blame for the attack?
A: The terrorists who perpetrated the attack, who were clearly Al Qaeda inspired or linked, are to blame for it. It's that simple. The policy failures that may have preceded the attack are for others to go into, I'm not a policy analyst so I won't do that. But the immediate blame rests on those who carried this attack out. Do I think we will catch them? No. I'm not familiar with how you would prosecute someone in a fair and free trial in Libya. So I think it's more likely that the people who did this will get taken out by a predator drone than be prosecuted in a court of law.
Q: What is the format of the book - how does it start? what kind of information does it include?
A: The book starts with the attack on the UK Consul General in Benghazi that occurred prior to the attack that killed Ambassador Stevens. From there it provides information about the 24 hours leading up to the attack, and then it goes into the schematics of the attack itself; how it unfolded. The book also includes photos and diagrams showing how the attack unfolded, which have not been previously seen.
Q: What do you think will surprise people about the book?
A: I think people will be surprised that it doesn't point fingers. This is a sober analysis of the facts on the ground surrounding the attack - the who, what, where, why and how. People can step back and look at the political angles here, but that's not what this book is about. This is the true story of what happened in Benghazi, told for the people who were there, who can't tell the story themselves. Historically, DS Agents have always faced difficult jobs in places like Saigon, Tehran, Islamabad, Beirut, Baghdad, the list is long; and hopefully people will come away with a better understanding of how tough a job it is.
Fred Burton is one of the world’s foremost experts on security and terrorism, a former State Department counter-terrorism deputy chief and DS Agent, and is a Vice President at Stratfor, a geopolitical intelligence firm. Sam Katz is an internationally recognized expert on Middle East security issues, international terrorism, and military special operations and counter-terrorism.