Charles Woods, the grieving father of one of the security officials killed in the terrorist attack on the U.S diplomatic outpost in Benghazi, Libya - former Navy SEAL Tyrone Woods - called into conservative media outlets this week, offering some unflattering descriptions of his interactions with the president and top officials of his administration.
At the memorial service at Joint Base Andrews for his son and the three other Americans killed, Woods said that the president approached him. "Shaking hands with him was like shaking hands with a dead fish," he said. He recalled Vice President Biden saying to him "in an extremely loud and boisterous voice," "Did your son always have balls the size of cue balls?" He questioned the sincerity of their sympathy, and that of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
White House officials declined to comment on Woods' description of his interactions with the president and vice president. State Department Deputy Spokesperson, Mark Toner said in a statement, "Since the moment they were first given the terrible news of their loss, through that very difficult day when they witnessed the return of the remains of their loved ones, and every day since, the families of those killed have been a top priority of the Department. Everything is being done to bring to justice those responsible for their deaths."
The grieving father of Tyrone Woods illustrates in many ways the confusion that remains about that night, and the Obama administration's inability, thus far, to provide a comprehensive and definitive timeline about what happened six weeks ago.
Woods also repeated a version of events that the White House says is not accurate, that "the White House Situation Room was watching our people die in real time, as this was happening."
White House officials say there was no video stream available. So what kind of real-time information was coming in? State Department official Charlene Lamb testified before Congress that officials in the consulate "were making multiple phone calls and it was very important that they communicate with the annex in Tripoli because this is where additional resources were coming from. So they would hang up on us and then call back." A Defense Department official confirms that there an unarmed ISR ("intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance") drone overhead over part of the assault in Benghazi.
Woods also said, "apparently even the State Department had a live stream and was aware of their calls for help. My son wasn't even there. He was at a safe house about a mile away. He got the distress call; he heard them crying for help; that's why he and Glen risked their lives to go that extra mile just to take care of the situation. And I'm sure that wasn't the only one received that distress call-you know, 'Come save our lives.'"
Why wasn't there more of a response?
On Thursday Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said there was not enough clear information coming from Benghazi "and as a result of not having that kind of information, the commander who was on the ground - or in that area, General Ham, General Dempsey and I felt very strongly that we could not put forces at risk in that situation." He added, "this happened within a few hours and it was really over before, you know, we had the opportunity to really know what was happening."
On Friday, Fox News Channel's Jennifer Griffin reported that sources on the ground in Benghazi told her "that three urgent requests from the CIA annex for military back-up during the attack on the U.S. Consulate and subsequent attack nearly seven hours later were denied by officials in the CIA chain of command - who also told the CIA operators to 'stand down' rather than help the ambassador's team when shots were heard at approximately 9:40 p.m. in Benghazi on Sept. 11."
(UPDATE: Late Friday afternoon, CIA spokesperson Jennifer Youngblood "no one at any level in the CIA told anybody not to help those in need; claims to the contrary are simply inaccurate. " )
Panetta on Thursday addressed the "Monday morning quarterbacking" about why the U.S. military didn't act sooner. He said military assets had been moved, but that the attack on the consulate in Benghazi was over before there was enough good information about what had actually happened. Not knowing exactly what was going on had he and other military leaders feel that "we could not put forces at risk in that situation"
Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey said there are reviews under way and it wasn't helpful to provide "partial answers." However, he did say he was confident that "our forces were alert and responsive to what was a very fluid situation."
Panetta said the US military had responded quickly by deploying forces to the region. "We had FAST platoons in the region. We had ships that we had deployed off of Libya. And we were prepared to respond to any contingency. And certainly had forces in place to do that." But Panetta said the "basic principle is that you don't deploy forces into harm's way without knowing what's going on; without having some real-time information about what's taking place."
-Jake Tapper with Luis Martinez at the Pentagon and Dana Hughes at the State Department
*This post has been updated with CIA response.