One year after the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi that killed Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans, former Diplomatic Security Service special agent Fred Burton says there was never any question among security agents on the ground in Libya that it was a terrorist attack.
“The agents knew they were under terrorist attack the moment the first round was fired,” Burton tells “Top Line.” “They relayed that from the tactical operations center back to the U.S. embassy in Tripoli, and it was messaged immediately back to Foggy Bottom, to the State Department Operations Center.”
Burton, along with co-author Samuel Katz, offers a blow-by-blow account of the Benghazi consulate attack in the new book “Under Fire: The Untold Story of the Attack in Benghazi.”
While there has been a narrative in Washington that the highest levels of the State Department, including then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, denied proper backup assistance to the diplomatic team in Benghazi, Burton says “it's unfair to criticize a lot of cabinet-level officials.”
“The higher up you go in the government, usually the less you know,” says Burton. “What people fail to understand is that information is passed via message text, via email, via cell phone calls, and inside the Beltway, the system is really not geared for cabinet-level officials to get involved in these kinds of processes.”
The real failure, Burton says, lies in the State Department’s “systemic failure” to properly manage the Diplomatic Security Service, the security wing of the State Department assigned with protecting diplomats.
“If you look at an org chart, DS, as it's called, is buried very low,” Burton says. “And you start looking at the personnel who are in these assignments, young men and women in their twenties put into these far outposts and they're literally on their own. Their backup is an aircraft carrier away.”
Burton says the problems of overloading limited-experience special service agents with difficult, and sometimes unmanageable assignments, will only be solved when the Diplomatic Security Service has an undersecretary position at the State Department.
“Until the Diplomatic Security Service has an undersecretary position and has a seat at the table, where they can directly inform the secretary of state, this is going to continue and continue,” Burton says.
To hear more of the interview with Burton, including what he says is the biggest misconception about the attack on Benghazi, check out this episode of “Top Line.”
ABC’s Alexandra Dukakis, Michael Conte, Patrick O’Gara, Hank Brown and Mary Quinn contributed to this episode.