“13 HOURS: The Secret Soldiers Of Benghazi” is an action thriller based on the 2014 non-fiction journalistic account written by Boston University journalism 13 Hoursprofessor Mitchell Zuckoff from the accounts of five CIA security contractors (or operators, as they call themselves). The film tells the harrowing story of the attack on the CIA Annex in Benghazi, Libya, on September 11, 2012, centers around the 2012 attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, which left four Americans (including U.S. ambassador Chris Stevens dead) and how a team of military contractors responded to the assault on the compound. After the invasion, an American Special Ops team is finally sent too late to the Annex to try and salvage the lives of those still alive who were caught within the compound.

It is a minute-by-minute account of what they saw, thought and did on the night of Sept. 11-12 in Benghazi. Some of those minutes are nerve-wracking or tragic, as when the operators, expecting to be fired upon by militant attackers, repeatedly enter the burning diplomatic villa, holding their breath against toxic smoke, to pull out Smith’s dead body and search in vain for Stevens. Or later, as they turn away in horror when the bodies of two of their own, killed by mortar fire atop a parapet at the CIA annex, are unceremoniously thrown two stories to the ground by rescuers to be loaded into an escape convoy.

The five operators who provided the account — John “Tig” Tiegen, Kris “Tanto” Paronto, Mark “Oz” Geist, and two others who are known by the pseudonyms Dave “D.B” Benton and Jack Silva — are military contractors doing a job. They express no interest in knowing or understanding the country and culture that surround them, or in questioning the presence in Benghazi of the secret CIA facility they were sent to guard as contractors for the agency’s Global Response Staff.

Woods, one of the contract security officers killed, was the sixth member of their Benghazi team. Doherty was a GRS contractor at the U.S. Embassy in Tripoli, flown to Benghazi in the middle of the night on a rescue mission. Both were killed by a mortar barrage that hit the CIA annex, hours after the diplomatic compound was attacked. All former members of the U.S. military, most of the operators knew one another from previous contractor assignments in Iraq, Afghanistan or the Balkans. They speak in the jargon of their profession.

In their telling, Sept. 11 proceeded like any other day in Benghazi. They sat around drinking coffee, thought of their families, read, played video games and worked out at a dusty, makeshift gym inside the annex. They accompanied CIA officers on visits to Libyan contacts and planned security to assist State Department guards on a trip Stevens would be making outside the diplomatic compound on Sept. 12. As they had many times before, they expressed doubts about the compound’s security and the reliability of its local militia guards. They pondered the intentions of Libyan men in the streets whose language they did not speak and who looked uniformly threatening to the contractors. They had little good to say about their CIA bosses: the agent assigned as team leader of their security unit or the top intelligence officer at the secret annex.

13 Hours





Captured by U.S. Special Operations forces in a Benghazi raid last summer, Khattala is a Libyan who heads the Benghazi branch of Ansar al-Sharia, an armed group that the State Department has designated a terror organization. The indictment says he “did unlawfully, wilfully, deliberately, maliciously, and with premeditation and malice aforethought, commit the murder” of U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens, State Department communications specialist Sean Smith, and CIA contract security operators Tyrone Woods and Glen Doherty.

A federal indictment issued Oct. 14 in the District of Columbia charged Ahmed Abu Khattala, whose alias it lists as “Sheik,” with 18 counts of conspiracy, murder and destruction of U.S. property in Benghazi, Libya.  According to the indictment –  On or before Sept. 11, 2012, Khattala informed others that there was an American facility in Benghazi posing as a diplomatic post, that he believed the facility was actually being used to collect intelligence, that he viewed U.S. intelligence actions in Benghazi as illegal, and that he was therefore going to do something about this facility.”


It may be easy to compartmentalize the film as one propagating a Republican viewpoint about a tragic but true incident that happened in our recent past.  In fact, those involved with producing the film have said the movie steers clear of any partisan trappings. The military contractors at the center of the story have also said they wanted the movie to be apolitical. Michael Bay also insisted insisted there is “no political agenda”.

But if we keep our partisan biases aside for a moment, this is an intense military action film directed by a master of sophisticated action movies – Michael Bay (among other thrillers, he directed/produced films such as Transformers series, Jack Ryan and Pearl Harbor).

Despite everything, exposing some controversial angles to events that led to the Benghazi tragedy was probably the objective of the author in writing this book, besides honoring the courage and sacrifice of those military contractors who pretty much defended the compound till the end, from relentless militant attacks all though the night of Sept 11, 2012 all the way till next morning.

There are charges that U.S. military forces stationed around the Mediterranean could have reached Benghazi in time to save American lives, but were mysteriously told to “stand down” by someone in Washington.  In one scene, the contractors are ordered to “stand down” rather than provide assistance to the beleaguered consulate. Congressional investigators concluded that no “stand down” order was ever issued, but the contractors say otherwise. Despite the absence of an explicit link to Hillary Clinton, conservative commentators have been eager to link her to the movie.

The team had six members; one, Tyrone Woods, was among the four people killed in the attack on the compound, along with the U.S. ambassador to Libya, J. Christopher Stevens. But two of the team members, former Army Ranger Kris “Tanto” Paronto and former Marine John “Tig” Tiegen, said recently that those deaths keep getting lost in the political arguments that still rage over Benghazi.

An action film director such as Michael Bay may have been tempted to exaggerate some of the story for dramatic effect, but according to him “”my most real movie.”  Former Marine John “Tig” Tiegen acknowledged some dramatic license in the script by writer Chuck Hogan – “Some of the roles got meshed together and moved around to make it flow” – he also said they were closely consulted on the script and did successfully request some changes. The actors, who include Pablo Schreiber and Dominic Fumusa as Paronto and Tiegen respectively, also went for accuracy and they received some training from Navy SEALs.

At the end of the day, “13 Hours” is an action story that does not dwell on matters of U.S. foreign or security policy, or even the specific cauldron of Libya. It also does not pretend to provide any new answers to whatever mystery may remain about what really happened in Benghazi.






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