Today we’ll be looking at the historical accuracy of the most recent movie from Michael Bay that’s based on a true story, entitled 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi.

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Transcript

Note: This transcript is automatically generated. There will be mistakes, so please don’t use them for quotes. It is provided for reference use to find things better in the audio.

The movie kicks off with a series of font screens with on-screen text coupled with archival footage. There’s a few details, such as saying there were 294 diplomatic outposts worldwide for the United States in 2012, including two in Libya. One in the city of Tripoli and another smaller outpost in Benghazi.

Then the movie goes on to mention the disposing of Libyan’s leader, Moammar Gaddafi, in October of 2011. According to the film, it’s after Gaddafi was killed that Benghazi became the most dangerous city in the world.

All of this setting of the scenario that the movie does is true. Although, there’s a few facts that the movie doesn’t mention that are worth pointing out. 

The Libyan civil war started on February 15th, 2011 when almost 600 protestors gathered outside the police headquarters in Benghazi. They were protesting the arrest of a man named Fathi Terbil, a human rights lawyer.

The police responded the way many police forces do—with violence. They managed to break up the protestors, but 38 people were injured in the process.

A couple days later, the people of Libya responded by setting fire to buildings and police stations across the nation. And so it went. Both the government and the people kept escalating further into violence until a full-fledged civil war erupted.

America and the allied forces of NATO joined in the fight and started airstrikes against Gaddafi’s compounds starting on April 13th. Unfortunately, we simply don’t know how many civilians were caught up in the middle of the airstrikes, but there was enough for Moscow to condemn NATO’s bombing with a statement that NATO should, “protect, not kill Libyans.”

As far as civil wars go, it was a short-lived one. On October 20th, 2011, 247 days after the first protests took place, Moammar Gaddafi, the leader of the country, or as he was called the Brotherly Leader and Guide of the Revolution of Libya, was captured and killed by his own countrymen.

While Gaddafi’s death may have officially ended the civil war, it was hardly the end of violence in Libya. For months, violence continued and, just like the movie states, Benghazi became one of the most dangerous cities in the world.

The movie also makes a mention of other foreign embassies closing, leaving just a U.S. diplomatic outpost and a covert CIA base.

This, too, is true. But, again, there’s more to the story.

 After the civil war in 2011, there were a lot of known terrorists in the area. And they made their presence known. Early in 2012, a small explosive device was thrown at a U.N. convoy. Then there was the May 22nd RPG, or rocket-propelled grenade, that hit the Red Cross offices in Benghazi.

Just a couple weeks later, an IED exploded outside the Benghazi consulate and then only a couple days after that another RPG hit a British convoy.

Despite this violence, international governments seemed wary of adding more security to the area. The U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens, who’s played by Matt Letscher in the movie, made an official request on July 9th, 2012 for additional military personnel.

This request was denied. In fact, instead of adding military personnel, the State Department removed the last of their six-man security teams from Libya in early August.

Ambassador Stevens sent several cables to Washington D.C. warning of extremely violent incidents in the area. Perhaps it was because of these that, on August 27th, 2012, the State Department issued an official travel warning for Libya.

With this backdrop is where the events in 13 Hours begin.

According to the film, that CIA base was protected by six elite ex-military operatives known as G.R.S. In the movie these six are Jack Silva, who’s played by John Krasinski, Tyrone “Rone” Woods who’s played by James Dale, Kris “Tanto” Paronto as played by Pablo Schreiber, Dave “Boon” Benton who is played by David Denman, John “Tig” Tiegen played by Dominic Fumusa, and last but certainly not least, Mark “Oz” Geist. In the movie, Oz is played by Max Martini.

These are all real people, and as far as we know, the movie is completely accurate in saying these six were the men assigned to the covert CIA base in Benghazi.

The reason I say “as far as we know” is because, well, we’re talking about a covert CIA base in Libya. Or, as it’s more commonly referred to by official reports, the CIA annex.

While a lot of what happened was released due to the publicity of the events after the fact, and while I certainly don’t mean to make it sound like these six brave men who were officially security contractors on the base at the time were falsifying any reports, we’re also talking about the CIA.

Perhaps you’ll call me paranoid, but I think it’s safe to say if there’s one entity in the United States government that isn’t always truthful about what really happened when it comes to their operations, it’s the CIA.

 

So that’s something to keep in mind as we learn all of these facts. A majority of these facts come from the accounts of the contractors depicted in the film or from the official government reports. That’s pretty much all we have to go from.

With that said, the movie’s setting up of the G.R.S. team is correct. These six men were all former military. Marines, Army, Navy, they had all left their military lives and taken jobs as private security contractors for an organization simply known as the Global Response Staff—G.R.S.

Their job was to provide security for the 20 or so CIA personnel who were at the CIA annex in Benghazi. The actual CIA employees were all highly trained, Ivy League graduates that were incredibly smart, no doubt. But they weren’t military.

And the security provided by G.R.S. wasn’t Paul Blart-type security. Quite the opposite. In one of the most dangerous cities in the world, the G.R.S. team was the barrier between the CIA personnel and the violence in the streets.

Back in the film, after much of this setup of the scenario the timeline slows down a bit. Starting on September 11th, 2012, the movie indicates some odd behavior by the local residents.

For example, when Matt Letscher’s version of Ambassador Chris Stevens points out a couple of guys on the roof of a nearby building looking over the diplomatic outpost’s wall. The movie makes a note of the time when this happens: 9:13 A.M.

This is probably true. I say that because we don’t have an official report of the specific incident shown in the movie. We have to rely on the recollection of the real G.R.S. team, because this sort of information of what the men at the CIA annex were doing in the morning and early afternoon of September 11th wasn’t officially released by the Pentagon. Probably because there really wasn’t a lot going on out of the ordinary.

Sure, there may have been a couple of guys looking over the wall, but that doesn’t mean it’s something to take note of.

What we do know was at 9:43 A.M., Ambassador Stevens sent another cable to Washington D.C. in which he reported an increasing frustration with the Libyan people about the police forces being too weak to secure the country.

But none of this caused any alarm. This was part of the Ambassador’s weekly report. In fact, later on an unnamed State Department official would let reporters know there was nothing unusual at all going on during the day of September 11th.

That would change.

In the movie, it’s later that night, at 9:42 P.M., according to some text on the screen, that gunfire alerts the Americans of danger.

This is accurate. According to the official timeline released by the Pentagon after the attack, at 9:42 P.M., a group of armed men began their assault on the U.S. consulate. We don’t really know the exact number of gunmen who entered the compound.

But that makes perfect sense. Everyone in the compound was too busy trying to stay safe, so they weren’t trying to count how many people armed to the teeth with assault weapons were storming the compound. According to later reports from various government officials, the terms “dozens” and “a large number of armed men” were used.

Many reports also indicated the number to be about 150 men.

In the movie, immediately after the attack begins, the personnel at the consulate radio for help to the CIA annex as well as to the embassy in Tripoli. Basically they’re trying to get anyone nearby to come to their aid.

These are things that didn’t make their way into the official government reports, but again this makes perfect sense. After all, if your building was being stormed by “a large number of armed men” and you happened to know there was an elite team of ex-military nearby, who do you think you’re going to call? Not Ghostbusters, that’s for sure.

While we don’t know the specifics of exactly who was called, what we do know thanks to the official timeline from the Pentagon is that a drone was ordered. This happened at 9:59 P.M., just over ten minutes after the assault began.

This drone wasn’t armed, it was just for surveillance, but it helped the government officials around the world get an idea of exactly what was going on. The reports started to make their way up and, at 10:32 P.M., the Secretary of Defense and the Joint Staff were notified of the attack.

But that’s getting ahead of ourselves a bit. A lot can happen in that half an hour. According to the movie, at 10:10 P.M. is when John Krasinksi’s version of Jack Silva and James Dale’s “Rone” Woods decided to ignore their orders to stay put and head to the consulate.

This is also true, and as the movie implies it’s also true that the team was ready to go long before this. In fact, after the very first call from the consulate to the CIA annex where the G.R.S. team was stationed, it took about five minutes for the six-man G.R.S. team to be ready to go.

However, because they were ready to go doesn’t mean they knew what was going on. They didn’t. In truth, no one really did at that point. But it didn’t matter. All they knew was there were Americans who needed their help at the outpost and they were the closest ones who could help.

In the movie, the team at the CIA annex can see and hear the gunfire and explosions going on over at the consulate.

While the science behind how far a gunshot can be heard depends heavily on a number of variables, this is very true. The assailants at the consulate were using primarily AK-47s, which can typically be heard anywhere between two and five miles away. Depending on the bullets used and, of course, the weather conditions.

The CIA annex was roughly one mile away from the U.S. consulate. And there were also explosive devices used during the attack that certainly added to the sounds of battle in the distance.

In the movie, the G.R.S. team is waiting because they’ve been given the order to stand down by Bob, who’s played by David Costabile.

This is true, although Bob isn’t his real name. Remember this was a CIA annex. We don’t know his real name, only that he was the station chief at the base and as such he was the one in command.

So when Bob gave the order to wait, the G.R.S. team did as they were ordered and waited. And waited. What were they waiting for? No one knows.

Well, maybe Bob knew.

But we don’t even know Bob’s real name—so it’s not likely we’ll ever know why he ordered the team to stand down. All we know is what it seemed like from the perspective of the G.R.S. team members. And according to their reports after the events, they were told to stand down without any reason why.

It was a delay that would prove costly.

 

Back in the movie, after word of the attack starts to spread, the G.R.S. team at the CIA annex isn’t the only group of Americans ready to help. There’s a team on their way to help from Tripoli. It’s led by Glen “Bub” Doherty, who’s played by actor Toby Stephens.

This is true.

The real Glen Doherty served as the most elite of the elite, a U.S. Navy SEAL for nine years. According to his sister, in 2003 Glen was one of the snipers positioned on a nearby rooftop when the military rescued Private Jessica Lynch from Iraqi forces. Later in the Iraqi war, he was tasked with breaching Sadaam Hussein’s palaces.

He was the real deal.

As a quick side note here, if you want to learn more about Glen Doherty, he co-wrote a book in 2010 called Navy SEAL Sniper: An Intimate Look at the Sniper of the 21st Century[1].

By the time 2012 rolled around, Glen had left the Navy but not the conflict. He took a job in private security and had spent time in Iraq, Afghanistan, Israel and Kenya.

And obviously Libya, since that’s where he was when the attack started. But just like the movie indicates, getting to Benghazi wasn’t going to be quick.

To get an idea of the geography, Tripoli is a coastal city on the Mediterranean Sea. It’s located on the western side of Libya while Benghazi is also on the Mediterranean Sea, but on the eastern side. Going in a straight line from Tripoli to Benghazi would mean flying over the Mediterranean Sea for about 400 miles, or 643 kilometers.

That’s roughly about the distance from San Francisco to Las Vegas.

So while Glen Doherty’s team was in the same country, they weren’t really nearby. It’d take a few hours to get there, and while a few hours may not be a big deal for you and I to travel, a few hours in the middle of an attack can mean the difference between life or death.

There was no way to know if there’d even be anyone alive by the time Glen and his team of elite ex-military contractors got there.

Meanwhile, back in the movie and consulate in Benghazi, in an attempt to avoid the attackers, Ambassador Stevens and an information officer for the State Department named Sean Smith, who’s played by Christopher Dingli in the film, hide in the safe room.

According to the movie both Stevens and Smith make it into the safe room, but a new threat comes when they see smoke start pouring under the door.

After this, the movie cuts to the CIA annex where we see John Krasinski’s version of Jack Silva looking at the smoke billowing into the sky. Frustrated, John’s version of Jack asks the question that’s on everyone’s mind—why aren’t we moving!?

According to the time in the movie this is 9:59 P.M., so we went back a bit in the timeline here.

While the specifics of the conversations between Stevens and Smith were made up because, well, we don’t know what the actual conversations were, but there’s actually a person missing here.

In truth, there were three people who made their way into the safe room.

Helping Stevens and Smith into the safe room was the head security agent, Scott Strickland. Together, the three men stayed out of sight of the assailants. But when the assailants couldn’t find anyone in the building, they started setting it on fire.

The smoke started to pour into the safe room, and the three men knew they couldn’t stay there. So they left with Strickland heading out of an emergency escape. For reasons we don’t know, Ambassador Stevens and Sean Smith didn’t follow.

When he realized this, Scott Strickland went back into the building but the smoke was too much. So he went onto the building’s roof to radio for help.

Meanwhile, in the movie, the G.R.S. team has made it to the compound and they search the building for Ambassador Stevens and Sean Smith. During this, the movie shows a group of Libyan combatants that are actually helping the G.R.S. team. One of whom actually phones up the leader of the attackers to see if they’ll surrender—shocking the Americans.

Wait a second, you’re talking to the bad guys on the phone? How do you have their number!?

While we don’t really know if that phone thing happened, there’s a very interesting point to be made here. Throughout most of the movie, there seems to be this air of the Americans are coming to the rescue and the Libyans who are helping them don’t really know what they’re doing. They seem incompetent, for lack of a better work.

For example, this scene with the phone and soon after when the same Libyan commander apparently forgets to close the back gate and lets in more of the attacking militia.

After the film was released, this sort of portrayal was a major point of contention for the people of Libya.

The movie is correct in that it was a group called “17th Feb” that was on location helping the Americans defend the consulate. That name is short for the February 17th Martyrs Brigade, which is to this day the largest militia in eastern Libya at an estimated 3,500 members. They’re financed by the Libyan defense ministry, so they’ve also got some of the best access to armament.

 Although the brigade the Americans called on for help during the attack was correct, the movie’s implication that they didn’t really do much wasn’t. And there was a lot of upset people about this.

In fact, after the movie was released a resident of Benghazi named Mohamed Kawiri drew attention to himself when he claimed to have been one of the ones who helped carry Ambassador Stevens from the burning building. More on that later, but he also went on to say it was the Benghazi locals who fought the attackers, not the Americans.

Unlike the U.S. government, the 17th Feb doesn’t meticulously document every little thing. So unfortunately we don’t know exactly how large their role was.

In the movie, the G.R.S. team arrives at the consulate compound and in their search of the burning building, they find Sean Smith’s body, but he’s been killed by the smoke.

Sadly, this is true. Sean Smith did not survive.

But there’s no time to mourn. Just like the movie shows, the G.R.S. team isn’t there to stay. They’ve come to rescue the personnel at the consulate and take them back to the CIA annex, where they can hold off attackers much better. Of course, getting back to the CIA annex is easier said than done.

Before they do, though, there’s a scene where the G.R.S. team is pulling hard drives and as much data as they can to take with them back to the CIA annex. Presumably this is so the attackers don’t get their hands on it. But while they’re doing this, they’re obviously not fighting off the attackers.

So where did they go? The movie doesn’t really say. But it’s very likely it was the 17th Feb that held off the attackers while the G.R.S. searched the buildings.

According to the movie, on their way back to the CIA annex, John Krasinski’s version of Jack Silva advises the security agents driving separately from the G.R.S. team that they should take a left. When they leave the compound, though, they get confused and end up going left—wait, there’s someone there—so they turn right—now straight.

Because of this decision, their Mercedes ends up getting riddled with bullets when they encounter some bad guys along the way.

The next time we see is at 11:31 P.M, when both the G.R.S. team and the agents in the Mercedes safely make it to the CIA annex. Albeit by the skin of their teeth, thanks to going the wrong way.

None of this is in any of the official documentation. So we’re going strictly off of the reports of the G.R.S. agents who survived and told their tale. That said, we don’t have any reason to doubt them so it’s likely this happened.

All we know from the official reports is that, at 11:30 P.M., all of the surviving U.S. personnel were extracted from the consulate. At this point, Sean Smith was assumed dead and Ambassador Chris Stevens’s whereabouts were unknown.

At the CIA annex, the G.R.S. team is waiting for the inevitable. It’s only a matter of time before the attackers realize there’s no one left at the consulate and target the nearby base next.

Although we didn’t know about this until Reuters unearthed the email over a month after the attack, at 12:07 A.M. the State Department sent an email to the White House, Pentagon and the FBI stating that a group called Ansar al-Sharia had claimed credit for the attack.

 Back in the movie, the text on screen says it’s 12:17 A.M.

 Everything is quiet. There’s a brief skirmish when a few men attack. The G.R.S. team is dug in and able to defend the base much better than the consulate, so it doesn’t take much to fight them off.

While we don’t have documentation of the exact specifics of the skirmish, we do know that after the security team reached the CIA annex, they were attacked for about 90 minutes. Nothing major, but small-arms fire and a few RPG rounds.

Well, I say nothing major. It certainly wasn’t minor. They were being shot at, but what I mean there is it wasn’t a major offensive by the attackers. There were sporadic advances, almost as if the attackers were testing the strength of the defenders.

For 90 minutes, each of these attacks were fought off successfully.

After this, back in the movie’s timeline, at about 1:28 A.M. is when Glen Doherty arrives with a team of reinforcements.

This timeline is true.

According to the Pentagon’s timeline of the events, at about 1:30 A.M. is when Glen’s team of private security forces arrived at the CIA annex. While they obviously were reinforcements to help fend off attacks, the team in place had been successful in fighting off the attacks, so their primary purpose was to find a way back to the consulate to find Ambassador Stevens.

At 2:39 A.M., just like the movie indicates when we see the U.S. 10th Special Forces preparing to deploy, the U.S. government gave its formal authorization to deploy two special operations teams from both Croatia and the United States. Both teams were going to a staging base in Italy less than hour’s flight away from Benghazi.

Of course, that’s not anywhere near, so they won’t be there any time soon.

For the next two hours, there were more sporadic attacks that the G.R.S. team was able to fight off.

In the movie, the big ending happens when there’s a second major offensive by the attackers. They start with mortars and some more small-arms fire.

It’s in this mortar attack that, according to the film, the G.R.S. team gets hit hard.

Sadly, this is true as well. According to the official timeline from the Pentagon, at 5:15 A.M., two former U.S. Navy SEALs were killed—that’s Tyrone Woods and Glen Doherty.

We don’t know if the events that the movie shows are exactly how it went down. The filmmakers had access to the men who survived, and considering how accurately the events had been depicted up to this point it’s safe to say this, too, was depicted accurately.

But it had to have been pure chaos. Even for the hardened ex-military vets in the G.R.S. team. Mortars exploding, gunfire, seeing your friends explode in front of you…we can cut some slack here if there’s a few things inaccurate in the specifics of the film.

What we do know is the attack only lasted 11 minutes. Think about that. That’s probably less time than you’ve been reading this. In that amount of time, things went from calm and quiet to chaotic and your friends…are gone.

In the movie, the final scene is when there’s truckloads of guys coming toward the base. They didn’t know if the guys outside the walls were there to help or to kill them, but as we see in the film they resorted to this being the end.

 

This is true.

As the sun started to rise, about 50 heavily armed trucks and other vehicles arrived. It was the 17th Feb there to help.

Oh, and that little bit in the movie where Pablo Schreiber’s version of Kris Poranto was relieved because he could…well, literally relieve himself? Yeah, that’s true, too.

Later, Poranto would explain that he had had to go the entire night. So he was ecstatic not only that he was going to live, but that he could go off and take a shit.

While the movie doesn’t show it, about the same time as the G.R.S. team was fending off the final assault, in Tripoli the U.S. Regional Security Office got a phone call.

We don’t know who it was on the other end, but what we do know is the contents of the call. Someone tipped off the office that a Westerner had been found in Benghazi and taken to the hospital nearby.

Assuming it was Ambassador Stevens, and also assuming he was dead, the U.S. arranged for the body’s transportation to the Benghazi airport.

Was Mohamed Kawiri the one who took him to the hospital? Mohamed was the man who claimed to have been the one who pulled Ambassador Stevens’s body. We don’t know how he got to the hospital.

At 6:05 A.M., in Germany a C-17 was ordered to get ready to head to the Tripoli airport with the purpose of picking up the consulate personnel.

In the movie, the final scene is at the Benghazi airport where John Krasinki’s version of Jack Silva and the rest of the G.R.S. team are waiting for their evacuation by plane. The text on the screen says it’s 10:30 A.M. just before Jack’s tearful call to his wife back home saying she’ll hear about something that went down, but to know that he’s OK…but Rone…Rone’s not coming home.

If there’s ever a one-way conversation on a phone that brings the tears in a movie, this is it.

Again, as we’ve seen throughout a lot of this, there is no official documentation of Jack Silva’s call home. But again, there’s no reason to doubt it happened. After all, if you had just gone through hell and managed to come out alive—wouldn’t you want to let your loved ones know you were OK?

I know I would.

Regardless of whether or not Jack’s phone call was the same as what we see in the film, what we do know from the Pentagon’s official reports are that it was at about 7:40 A.M. when an airplane carried the first of the consulate personnel from Benghazi to Tripoli.

Just like the film shows, Jack Silva and the rest of the G.R.S. team were not a part of this first group. Instead, they had to wait around for the airplane to come back.

And so it was that, at 10:00 A.M. on September 12th, 2012, that the last of the Americans were lifted from the Benghazi airport bound for Tripoli.

The movie shows four covered coffins on the runway in Benghazi.

This is true. The second group to leave Benghazi included the four bodies of the men who lost their lives in the attack. They were U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens, the State Department’s resident computer expert in Benghazi, Sean Smith, and two ex-military turned private contractors, Glen Doherty and Tyrone Woods.

At 2:15 P.M., the C-17 that was preparing in Germany finally lifted off. It arrived hours later and at 7:17 P.M., the Americans, along with the four bodies of their fallen colleagues, left Libya.

Here is where the movie ends. There’s some text on the screen that explains where the surviving members of the G.R.S. team are today. As we’ve learned throughout, the filmmakers had access to these men so all of this is pretty accurate.

What the movie doesn’t mention, though, is what happened outside the events at Benghazi. Although this makes sense, because the movie is based on the accounts of the G.R.S. team and not from the official U.S. government records.

The day after the attack, which you can actually find photos of online, the Secretary of State Hillary Clinton issued a statement confirming that four U.S. officials had been killed.

Initially, the story from the American government was that the attacks were an escalation of a peaceful protest. On September 12th, just hours after the attack, President Obama told reporters the attack was because of an anti-Islamic YouTube video.

But that’s not what it was. At 7:00 A.M. on September 12th, as the first of the Americans were being evacuated from Benghazi to Tripoli, the CIA issued a report that suggested it was not the escalation of a peaceful protest. Instead, they suggested it was an intentional attack.

Later that same day, a man by the name of Ahmad Jibril, who was Libya’s Deputy Ambassador to London, told the BBC that a little-known militant group called Ansar al-Sharia was behind the attack.

Ansar al-Sharia, then, wasted no time in issuing their own statement saying they, “didn’t participate as a sole entity.”

Such a vague statement.

On September 16th, Libya’s President Mohamed Magariaf issued a statement that it was a planned terrorist attack.

But in an interview on September 18th on the Late Show with David Letterman, President Obama stuck to the YouTube story—it was a peaceful protest that had escalated.

The next day, a man by the name of Matt Olsen was the very first in the U.S. government to publicly call it a terrorist attack. Matt was the director of the National Counterterrorism Center. The next day still, on September 20th, Hillary Clinton used the same terminology, calling it a terrorist attack.

It took over a month, but on October 9th, the State Department officially stated that there were no protestors at the consulate before the attack. There’s no way it could’ve been a peaceful protest that escalated.

Regardless, what we do know is that four people lost their lives. Four people who, according to John Tieger, didn’t have to die. After the movie’s release, John, who goes by the nickname “Tig”, said he believes Ambassador Stevens and Sean Smith could still be alive if the G.R.S. team had been allowed to leave earlier.

After all, neither of the men died from something quick like a gunshot. Their deaths came from smoke inhalation. If the G.R.S. team had been able to leave earlier, could they have arrived in time to save the lives of the two men?

And if they had, could the situations have been just different enough that perhaps Glen Doherty’s team wouldn’t have been called in to try and find Ambassador Stevens’s body? And maybe, just maybe, 13 Hours would be the story of a heroic rescue instead of a sad tale of how four men paid the ultimate price?

Those are questions that will always be unexplained.

[1] http://amzn.to/2iFQFy8

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