Five years after the Benghazi terror attack, two American security contractors have finally come forward to talk about the shocking security lapses of Hillary Clinton’s State Department and how they faced pressure to stay silent. The pair didn’t speak out sooner out of fear that the Obama administration would retaliate against their firm, Torres Advanced Enterprise Solutions.
Brad Owens and Jerry Torres spoke exclusively with Catherine Herridge of Fox News on Tuesday about what they called “the poor choices” that led to the deaths of U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens, Foreign Service Officer Sean Smith, and former Navy SEALS Ty Woods and Glenn Doherty on Sept. 11, 2012.
Owens and Torres claim that the State Departmenet hired a cheap and inexperienced security company to protect the Benghazi compound, and that by the time State realized its mistake it was too late. After the terror attack, a State Department official reached out to the pair to pressure them into silence.
They now say the very bureaucrats who made the “poor choices” about Benghazi security are still employed at the State Department five years later.
“Nothing has changed,” Torres told Herridge.
Torres Advanced Enterprise Solutions provides security for U.S. Embassy and consulate personnel around the world in some of the most dangerous locations spanning Africa, the Middle East and South America, according to the firm.
Jerry Torres remains haunted by the fact that specific bureaucrats and policies remain in the State Department after the Benghazi attack despite the change in administrations. “A U.S. ambassador is dead and nobody is held accountable for it. And three guys … all died trying to defend him,” said Torres, the company’s CEO and a former Green Beret.
Asked if there was a specific effort by a senior State Department contracting officer to silence them, Torres said, “Absolutely, absolutely.”
Owens, a former Army intelligence officer, echoed his colleague, saying those “who made the poor choices that actually, I would say, were more responsible for the Benghazi attacks than anyone else, they’re still in the same positions, making security choices for our embassies overseas now.”
Owens told Fox News that it was well-known that Islamic radicals, including Al Qaeda-tied militias, had poured into Libya after the death of Libyan dictator Muammar Qaddafi in the fall of 2011. The result was a gravely precarious security situation that should have been taken seriously by the State Department.
Instead, State cut corners and hired a UK-based security company that was much smaller and vastly less experienced than Torres Advanced Enterprise Solutions to handle security at the compound. Making matters worse, State’s choice, the Blue Mountain Group, hired guards that were unarmed.
Owens, who had personally visited the Benghazi compound to assess security, was shocked. “Blue Mountain U.K. is a teeny, tiny, little security company registered in Wales that had never had a diplomatic security contract, had never done any high threat contracts anywhere else in the world that we’ve been able to find, much less in high threat areas for the U.S. government. They had a few guys on the ground,” he said.
According to Torres, the Blue Mountain Group came in 4 percent lower than their bid – and they challenged the decision, claiming the American company should have been preferred over the foreign one.
Torres said State Department contracting officer Jan Visintainer responded that the State Department had the “latitude to apply” that preference or not.
By August of 2012, Ambassador Stevens was desperate for more security. He and his team sent the State Department diplomatic cables warning that radical Islamic groups “were everywhere” and that the temporary mission compound could not withstand a “coordinated attack.”
“They were sending these cables back to the contracting guys and the decision makers back here [in D.C.] and they weren’t responding. It’s gross incompetence or negligence — one of the two,” said Owens.
Owens and Torres said the State Department finally asked them to intervene on Aug. 31, 2012, but it was too late because, as Torres said, “it would have taken two to three weeks to get set up.”
Twelve days later, the ambassador was killed. Torres learned of the attacks by watching television. He called the circumstances leading up to the tragedy “bad decision-making from top to bottom.”
“There was nothing we could’ve done about it. If we’d had one month warning … who knows what might’ve happened,” Owens said.
In the chaotic days following that attack, the Obama White House blamed the attacks on an anti-Islam video and demonstration which was not accurate. As a former Green Beret, Torres was stunned: “Coming from a military background, I would expect the administration to tell the truth. So I bought into it for a minute. But I didn’t believe it in the back of my mind.” He said they later figured out the video was not the culprit. The attack was a coordinated terrorist assault which included a precision mortar strike on the CIA post in Benghazi.
Special operators who were on the ground in Benghazi when the attack unfolded still have nothing but contempt for those who were in charge at the time.
Former Army Ranger Kris “Tanto” Paronto’s response to Hillary Clinton’s tweet commemorating 9/11 is typical of their mindset:
Today we remember those we lost on September 11, 2001, and reflect on the sacrifice of the victims and responders. We'll never forget.
— Hillary Clinton (@HillaryClinton) September 11, 2017
In early 2013, while the Obama administration and Clinton’s team were still misleading the nation about the attacks, Visintainer summoned Jerry Torres from overseas to attend a meeting at her government office in Rosslyn, Va.
Torres took Fox News back to the Virginia office building where he recalled that day’s events.
“[Visintainer] said that I and people from Torres should not speak to the media, should not speak to any officials with respect to the Benghazi program,” he said.
Torres said he was afraid for his company – and hasn’t spoken publicly until now.
“We had about 8,000 employees at the time. You know, we just didn’t need that level of damage because these guys, their livelihood relies on the company,” he said. “I trust that our U.S. government is going to follow chain of command, follow procedures, follow protocols and do the right thing.”
Another part of that conversation stuck out to Torres. He said Visintainer told him “in her opinion, that guards should not be armed at U.S. embassies. She just made that blanket statement. … And she said that they weren’t required in Benghazi. So I was kind of confused about that. And she said that she would like my support in saying that if that came up. And I looked at her. I just didn’t respond.”
The men told Fox News that they hope to see changes now that Trump has promised to “drain the swamp.”
“Let’s just say there’s been a change at management at Department of State,” Owens said. “I feel now that, given that the politics has been taken out of the Benghazi situation, now that there’s no longer a candidate or anything related to it, a change of administrations, that actually, we have an opportunity here to fix the problems that made it happen.”