by Mari Winn Taylor
When I was silently waiting to cast my ballot during Missouri's March 15, 2016, primary, I found myself behind an older couple who just had the optical scanner suck up their ballots. The husband wanted me to know that they proudly voted for Donald Trump for president, "not a politician but a businessman" and no one better to run our country. He also simply said the word, "Benghazi." I was supposed to immediately know what he meant - that Hillary Clinton must be defeated and Trump was the only one to do that.
Oh my God, I thought, itching to contradict his level of thinking, but I remained silent. I realized that it would take more than a few words in line to win over this man and his submissive wife. And I could have uttered one word, too, "FOX," probably the only station that this man believes conveys the "truth."
Global security and counter-terrorism expert Fred Burton (author of Ghost and Chasing Shadows) mentioned several times that remarks he was about to make might offend the audience assembled on March 21, 2016. He said he could tell what opinions people had by knowing what news they listened to. If his words and what he revealed in his and co-collaborator Samuel M. Katz's "fact-based" book, Under Fire - The Untold Story of the Attack in Benghazi (St. Martin's Press, 2013), offended anyone, he said, he "didn't care."
Burton was featured at the Steven McCollum Distinguished Speakers Series held in the concert hall at Thomas Jefferson Independent Day School in Joplin. If anyone were offended, he or she remained quiet. It was doubtful that the TJ parents would not have been open to new ideas like the couple at the polling site. TJ's mission since 1993 as an alternative to the failing R-8 public school system, after all, was to stimulate intellectual curiosity by the teaching of new ideas.
As a former state department counter-terrorism officer, Burton introduced himself as someone who was involved in a dangerous mission to investigate the plane crash in which U.S. Ambassador Arnold Raphel [with Pakistani President Zia ul-Haq and Brigadier General Herbert M. Wassom] died. "At age 26, I didn't know what I was doing," Burton said. And when a SAC call came through from Washington, DC, that there might be a nuclear war between Pakistan and India, he said he became "the loneliest person" on earth, not knowing how to get out of where he was and what kind of support the state department was offering him.
Contrary to what he could reveal now, Burton said he "was sorry for the five young agents in Benghazi who couldn't tell their own story." In his book Burton wanted to "paint a picture of their reality."
"When bad things happen in this business, they happen very quickly and are very tragic," Burton said. In spite of the focus on Benghazi, he called attention to 26 other areas around the globe at the same time involving posts under a "critical threat." In Burton's opinion an "unstable environment" existed "from Benghazi to Tripoli," but no one thought there would be an attack on a CIA base. Burton also implied that Hillary Clinton did not consult the CIA to set up security measures. And, the CIA chief wanted more information before he sent his men off half-cocked, thereby, according to his men, slowing them down.
While Burton believes that the FBI will do a thorough job of investigating the role Hillary Clinton played as secretary of state in the Benghazi attack, he has opinions about who were to blame. Blame the terrorists who stormed the compound and set the building on fire, he said. Blame Ambassador Stevens for being there. And blame the agents for human error - the failure to check for smoke hoods in the compound safe haven and lack of contingency planning short of driving out the back door. While Stevens was thought simply to be missing at first or kidnapped, he eventually was found dead of smoke inhalation.
What more could the U.S. government do? Burton said a rescue plane was stuck on the tarmac, thwarted by an unpaid $1,000,000 bribe. D.C. wouldn't have wanted a second plane held hostage, and the unarmed drone didn't catch the mortar attack.
"Where did the false video narrative come from? Everyone knew it was a terrorist attack," Burton said. He was referring to the blaming of the terrorist attacks in Benghazi on a spontaneous protest over an anti-Islamic video. Republicans were quick to accuse the secretary of state of lying to soften the event that was occurring during an election year.
Burton said Stevens made a "bad choice" to go to Benghazi, a decision that came after Charlene Lamb, a lower level secretary, officially had denied a request for added security in Libya. As Ambassador Stevens had no chain of command above him, the decision was his responsibility, not Washington's, Burton said, after a law in 1984 gave ambassadors complete autonomy for decision-making.
As for the five agents involved, Burton quickly pointed out that nobody wanted to question Steven's choices. The success of one's career in government demands silence not criticism. As for those smoke hoods, they are now part of a check list.
David Humphreys, and his wife Debra, founders of the private school, were present at the event. Debra Humphreys, chairman of TJ's Board of Trustees, had announced the creation of the Steven McCollum Distinguished Speakers Series during McCollum's retirement celebration on May 17, 2014. A founding faculty member at the school, McCollum during his 22-year teaching career is credited by many to have made a profound impact on the lives of his students, not the least being to think critically.