13 Hours

The Inside Account of What Really Happened In Benghazi


By Mitchell Zuckoff

With Annex Security Team

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The harrowing, true account from the brave men on the ground who fought back during the Battle of Benghazi.

13 Hours presents, for the first time ever, the true account of the events of September 11, 2012, when terrorists attacked the US State Department Special Mission Compound and a nearby CIA station called the Annex in Benghazi, Libya. A team of six American security operators fought to repel the attackers and protect the Americans stationed there. Those men went beyond the call of duty, performing extraordinary acts of courage and heroism, to avert tragedy on a much larger scale. This is their personal account, never before told, of what happened during the thirteen hours of that now-infamous attack.

13 Hours sets the record straight on what happened during a night that has been shrouded in mystery and controversy. Written by New York Times bestselling author Mitchell Zuckoff, this riveting book takes readers into the action-packed story of heroes who laid their lives on the line for one another, for their countrymen, and for their country.

13 Hours is a stunning, eye-opening, and intense book–but most importantly, it is the truth. The story of what happened to these men–and what they accomplished–is unforgettable.


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This book documents the last hours of an American diplomatic outpost in one of the most dangerous corners of the globe. Based on exclusive firsthand accounts, it describes the bloody assault, tragic losses, and heroic deeds at the US State Department Special Mission Compound and at a nearby CIA base called the Annex in Benghazi, Libya, from the night of September 11, 2012, into the morning of the next day.

It is not about what officials in the United States government knew, said, or did after the attack, or about the ongoing controversy over talking points, electoral politics, and alleged conspiracies and cover-ups. It is not about what happened in hearing rooms of the Capitol, anterooms of the White House, meeting rooms of the State Department, or green rooms of TV talk shows. It is about what happened on the ground, in the streets, and on the rooftops of Benghazi, when bullets flew, buildings burned, and mortars rained. When lives were saved, lost, and forever changed.

The men whose experiences comprise the soul and spine of this book are well aware of the political storm surrounding Benghazi. They recognize that the word itself has become unmoored, no longer simply the name of a dusty Mediterranean port city on Libya's northeastern coast. They know that some Americans use Benghazi as shorthand for US government malfeasance or worse. They also understand that their explanations and revelations will be used as evidence to fit arguments and accusations in which they have chosen not to participate.

It's not that they don't care about those issues. It's just not their purpose. Their intent is to record for history, as accurately as possible, what they did, what they saw, and what happened to them—and to their friends, colleagues, and compatriots—during the Battle of Benghazi.

Although written as a narrative, this is a work of nonfiction. No scenes or chronologies were altered, no dramatic license was taken, and no characters were invented or created from composites. Descriptions from before, during, and immediately after the battle came from the men who were there, from verified accounts, or both. All dialogue was spoken or heard firsthand by primary sources. Thoughts ascribed to individuals came directly from those individuals.

The main sources of this book are the five surviving American security force contractors, known as "operators," who responded to the surprise attack on the Benghazi diplomatic Compound, spearheaded the counterattack, and carried out the rescue of State Department personnel and residents of the CIA Annex. Several names have been changed or withheld for privacy or security reasons, but all descriptions and information included about individuals is true. Classified details were omitted, in keeping with standard nondisclosure agreements among clandestine government employees and contractors. Those changes and omissions had no material effect on the story and did not misrepresent the known facts. The individual accounts of the operators were fundamentally in sync, but occasionally they diverged on details, such as when a particular radio call was sent. Whenever possible the narrative reflects the varying perspectives, which can be attributed to the fast-moving nature of events, the fog of war, and team members' overriding concerns about remaining alive rather than keeping track of chronologies.

Secondary sources include additional interviews, photos and videos, the voluminous record of public documents, congressional reports and testimony, and media reports. Those sources, credited where appropriate in the text and cited in the Select Bibliography, were used to provide context, fill gaps during periods when the primary sources weren't present, and to confirm or elaborate upon the participants' recollections. Further discussion of sourcing can be found at the end of the book, in "A Note on Sources" (here).

Previous accounts of these events, in books, magazines, and other media, have disturbed and even disgusted the men whose story is told here. Versions with fictionalized dialogue, imaginary incidents, false or exaggerated claims, and sensationalized allegations serve no purpose other than to inflame and obfuscate. The goal of the real security team members is to recount the Battle of Benghazi through as transparent a lens as possible. They and the family of a sixth operator have a financial stake in this book, but their only editorial demand was that the story be told truthfully.

It would be folly to think that this or any other account would be the last word on events with such wide-ranging implications. But after so many words have already flowed, with many more to come, consider it the first word directly from the battlefield, from men who know from hard experience and seared memories what actually happened during those harrowing thirteen hours.

—Mitchell Zuckoff



Dave "D.B." Benton—A thirty-eight-year-old former Marine sergeant and SWAT team officer, D.B. was a scout sniper whose specialties included hostage rescue, direct-action assaults, surveillance, reconnaissance, and close-quarters battle. Before Benghazi, he'd been honored for contract security work in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere. Taciturn and thoughtful, a married father of three, D.B. frequently partnered in Benghazi with his good friend Kris "Tanto" Paronto.

(Courtesy of Dave Benton)

Mark "Oz" Geist—At forty-six the oldest member of the team, the laid-back Oz spent a dozen years in the Marine Corps, including work in an intelligence unit, then became the police chief in the Colorado town where he grew up. After running a private investigation company, in 2004 he became a security contractor to the State Department in Iraq. Twice married, Oz had a son with his first wife and a teenage stepdaughter and an infant daughter with his second wife.

(Courtesy of Mark Geist)

Kris "Tanto" Paronto—A former member of the Army's 75th Ranger Regiment, the voluble Tanto had a personality as colorful as the many tattoos on his muscular body. At forty-one, he'd spent a decade working as a contract security operator—a job he considered part of a battle between good and evil—in countries throughout the Middle East. Tanto held a master's degree in criminal justice, owned an insurance adjusting business, and had a son and a daughter with his second wife.

(Courtesy of Kris Paronto)

Jack Silva—A former Navy SEAL, Jack spent a decade in the service, carrying out missions in Kosovo and the Middle East. Introspective and smart, Jack left the SEALs to spend more time with his two young sons and his wife, who learned while Jack was in Benghazi that she was pregnant. At thirty-eight, Jack divided time between contract security work and real estate, buying, renovating, and selling properties. Jack often partnered with fellow former SEAL Tyrone "Rone" Woods.

(Courtesy of Jack Silva)

John "Tig" Tiegen—Tig was thirty-six, a former Marine sergeant from Colorado who spent several years as a security contractor for Blackwater. He worked for the company in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iraq, before going to work for the CIA's Global Response Staff. Quiet and precise, the married father of infant twins, Tig was in the midst of his third trip to Benghazi for GRS, making him the team member with the most experience in the city. He often teamed with Mark "Oz" Geist.

(Courtesy of John Tiegen)

Tyrone "Rone" Woods—Rone was forty-one, a powerfully built former Navy SEAL who'd spent two decades in the service before returning to civilian life in 2010. During his SEAL years, Rone had served in Somalia, Afghanistan, and Iraq, where he earned a Bronze Star with a "V" for valor. Twice married, the father of three sons, Rone was a nurse and a paramedic. Eager to spend more time with his family, Rone had decided that Benghazi would be his last trip with the GRS.

(Courtesy of the Woods family)


J. Christopher Stevens—The American ambassador to Libya was a youthful fifty-two, a never-married, California-born, career Foreign Service Officer who dedicated himself to improving relations between the United States and Arab countries.

Sean Smith—Smith was a State Department communications officer by day, a well-known online gamer by night. Thirty-four, married with two young children, Smith worked for the State Department for ten years after serving in the Air Force.

Glen "Bub" Doherty—A former Navy SEAL, the affable Bub was a member of the Tripoli-based GRS team that flew to Benghazi after the attack began. Forty-two, divorced with no children, Bub was a charismatic blend of discipline and bonhomie. He was old friends with Rone and Jack from the SEALs, and newer friends with Tanto from their work together in Tripoli.

"Bob"—A CIA staffer, Bob was the agency's top officer in Benghazi. He oversaw all intelligence activities and personnel at the Annex, including the security operators.

"Henry"—A civilian in his sixties, Henry worked as a translator at the Annex and accompanied the security team on its rescue mission to the diplomatic Compound.

Alec Henderson—The highest-ranking State Department Diplomatic Security agent in Benghazi, Henderson was inside the Tactical Operations Center when the attack began. He sounded the first alarm and called the Annex and the Tripoli embassy for help.

David Ubben—Ubben was a Benghazi-based Diplomatic Security agent who'd spent time in the US Army. When the attack began, Ubben and two Tripoli-based DS agents who traveled to Benghazi with Ambassador Stevens ran to their quarters to collect their rifles and body armor.

Scott Wickland—Wickland was a Benghazi-based Diplomatic Security agent assigned to protect Ambassador Stevens. A former rescue swimmer in the US Navy, Wickland led Stevens and computer expert Sean Smith into the villa's safe haven when the attack began.


A BLOODTHIRSTY MOB BORE DOWN ON THE UNITED States' poorly defended diplomatic post in Benghazi, Libya. Besieged American envoys and staffers withdrew to a locked room as fires set by the attackers drew closer. The Americans prayed and appealed for rescue, calling home to Washington and to nearby allies. If no help came, they feared one of three fates: They'd be killed by the invaders, suffocate from smoke, or be roasted alive. In the meantime, they'd fight.

The date was June 5, 1967.

War had just begun between Israel and Egypt, and morning radio reports in Benghazi were filled with false claims that US military planes had provided air cover for Israeli attacks or had bombed Cairo, less than seven hundred miles away. Hundreds of Benghazans swarmed into the streets and rallied at the consulate of the United Arab Republic, as Egypt was then called. The demonstrators' ranks swelled with some of the two thousand Egyptian construction workers then in Libya to build an Olympic-style stadium. Soon they turned violent. The throng grabbed cobblestones from the torn-up streets and headed toward a former Italian bank building that housed the American consulate.

A handful of Libyan guards fled their posts. The attackers barraged the building with stones and broke through the barred windows and the heavy front door. As the horde approached, the eight American men and two women inside the building frantically burned sensitive documents. The consulate workers were well armed, but the officer in charge, John Kormann, recounted in a memoir that he ordered that no one shoot, lest they enrage the mob further. The Americans tossed tear gas grenades to slow the onslaught. Cornered, they met their enemies with rifle butts and ax handles, then retreated up a wide marble staircase. They took refuge in a second-floor vault used as the consulate's communications hub.

Unable to reach their quarry but unwilling to leave, the attackers pillaged the building and set it aflame. Kormann feared that the invaders would splash gasoline under the vault door to burn or suffocate the Americans. He kept that thought to himself as fire engulfed the consulate. One consolation for Kormann and his colleagues was that the intense heat and thick smoke drove back the mob. The Americans shared five gas masks as they destroyed top-secret files and disabled cryptographic machines.

Several climbed up to the roof to continue burning documents, but returned inside when a group of men dropped a ladder down from an adjoining roof and rushed toward them. Unable to reach the consulate workers, the attackers cut the halyard that hoisted the American flag on a rooftop pole, allowing it to hang limp down the front of the building. A US Army captain asked Kormann's permission to re-raise the flag. Kormann refused, but later he relented. "I had been a combat paratrooper in World War II," he wrote. "I knew what defiance and a bit of bravura could do for soldiers under mortal stress. A display of courage can be infectious and inspiring, just as an act of cowardice can be demoralizing." Dodging rocks hurled from below, the captain dashed onto the roof and restored the Stars and Stripes to its rightful place.

State Department officials in Washington discussed rescue options, including sending a Marine unit and using paratroopers. But executing those plans would take more time than the Americans had. Meanwhile, the trapped Americans got sporadic phone calls through to their British counterparts, who had a battalion stationed outside Benghazi under a treaty arrangement. Four attempts to reach the Americans by fifty British soldiers were repulsed or delayed, and the mob set fire to a British armored car.

With no rescue in sight, Kormann took down from the wall a photo of President Lyndon Johnson and his wife, Lady Bird Johnson. He broke it from its frame, flipped it over, and wrote on the back that, whatever happened, they had done their duty. Everyone in the smoky vault signed the farewell note.

As night approached, a garbled message gave State Department officials the misimpression that the Americans were near death. Secretary of State Dean Rusk appealed again to the British. Two hours later, a British armored column made another attempt. This time, the British broke through to the consulate and brought all ten Americans to safety.

Forty-five years later, on September 11, 2012, the American diplomatic outpost in Benghazi again came under sudden siege by a murderous mob. Again the attackers couldn't reach their prey, so they plundered buildings and set fires with deadly intent. But this time, no British or other friendly troops were close enough to attempt a rescue.

With fires raging, gunmen swarming, State Department security officers taking cover, and the US ambassador missing, a call went out from one of the overwhelmed Americans: "If you don't get here soon, we're all going to die!"

Heeding that call was a band of elite warriors who'd left the United States military and had joined a clandestine organization that protected American covert intelligence operatives abroad. They had come to Benghazi as security officers for American diplomats and CIA agents, but now they'd need to rely on their past training, two as Navy SEALs, one as an Army Ranger, and three as Marines. They knew that they'd be vastly outnumbered, but they also knew that they were their fellow Americans' only hope.

This is their story.



JACK SILVA LEANED FORWARD IN HIS WINDOW SEAT aboard the Turkish Airlines jet as it approached Benghazi's Benina International Airport. He looked outside at the plane's shadow racing across the caramel-colored desert below. Jack believed deeply in yin and yang, the Chinese concept that a connection exists between seemingly opposing forces, like dark and light, life and death. So it was unsurprising that two conflicting thoughts entered his mind. First was excitement: I wonder what adventures this place is going to bring. Then came its counterbalance, worry: I wonder if I'll ever see my family again.

It was August 2012, and Jack was about to join the Benghazi team of a secretive US government organization called the Global Response Staff. Created after the 9/11 attacks, the GRS consisted of full-time CIA security staffers, supplemented by former military special operators like Jack, who were hired on a lucrative contract basis. GRS officers served as bodyguards for spies, diplomats, and other American personnel in the field. The more dangerous a posting, the more likely GRS operators were nearby in the shadows, protecting America's envoys and covert intelligence gatherers. Few if any postings were more dangerous than Benghazi, Libya.

As a former Navy SEAL, Jack was a natural fit for the GRS. At thirty-eight years old, self-possessed and darkly handsome, he stood six foot two and carried 210 pounds on his muscular frame. In his usual attire of a black T-shirt and khaki shorts, Jack looked like a strapping construction worker. On the plane, though, wearing dress slacks, brown leather shoes, and a tucked-in button-down shirt, he might be mistaken for an American businessman seeking import-export opportunities ten months after the death of deposed dictator Muammar al-Gaddafi. At least that was Jack's hope as the jet's wheels touched down.

Jack's arrival marked his first visit to Libya and the start of his sixth trip as a GRS operator; his previous trips had taken him to the Middle East and elsewhere. For official purposes in Benghazi, Jack would simply say that he'd be working as a security staffer for US government personnel. Men who protect spies don't advertise that fact.

Before leaving the plane, Jack slipped off his gold wedding band and tucked it into a small box for safekeeping. He'd picked up the habit years earlier, after deciding that he didn't want his enemies to know that he had a family: a wife and two young sons waiting for him back home in the Pacific Northwest.

Jack stepped onto the tarmac and felt the bone-dry afternoon heat of the Libyan summer. His aviator sunglasses were modest protection from the harsh white glare of the North African sun. Entering the run-down terminal building, Jack pushed through doors to a room with a luggage carousel and more than a hundred people packed inside a space that would have felt crowded with half as many. His fellow luggage-seekers, most of them men, shouted in Arabic and gestured wildly as they fought to claim bags. The air was thick with flies and the nauseating stench of baked-on body odor. Jack took short breaths through his mouth in a futile effort to keep both at bay.

He'd been on guard from the moment he left the plane, a reflex reaction whenever Jack arrived in hostile territory. Hyper-aware, his jaw set, his every movement grew deliberate, measured to convey in body language that he wasn't looking for trouble but wouldn't flinch from it, either. Jack felt the stares of strangers upon him and knew that at least some were armed. He also knew that everyone watching him had reached the same instant conclusion: American. He suspected that at least some wished him dead.

As he waited for his bags, Jack caught sight of a burly, bearded man standing with his back against a wall at the periphery of the scrum. The man's eyes scanned the crowd while his body remained as still as a lizard on a tree limb. He wore khaki cargo pants and a navy-blue button-down shirt, untucked, Jack knew, to conceal a gun in his waistband. Their eyes met for an instant. Jack returned his gaze to the luggage carousel, and the bearded man remained expressionless, glued to the wall.

When Jack grabbed his bags, the man pushed away from the wall and turned toward the exit door leading to Customs. Jack followed a short distance behind. By the time Jack stepped outside the terminal building, he and the bearded man had closed the distance between them and fallen into step with each other. Still they didn't speak as the man led Jack toward a white Toyota pickup truck caked in dust.

Jack tossed his bags in the back and slid into the passenger seat. The bearded man got behind the wheel. In a single, practiced motion, the man reached down and grabbed a pistol.

"It's loaded," the man said.

He held it out, butt-end first.

Jack relaxed as he took the gun. He reached out his right hand and returned a powerful handshake offered by his fellow former SEAL and GRS colleague Tyrone Woods, whose radio call sign was "Rone."

"How's it going, brother?" Rone said, a bright smile emerging from his thick salt-and-pepper beard.

As Rone started the truck, they caught up on each other's lives and families, then set aside those thoughts like wedding rings slipped into boxes. Rone drove toward the airport exit, bound for an upscale neighborhood called Western Fwayhat. Their destination was a CIA-rented property known as the Annex, which was the agency's secret headquarters in Benghazi. Less than a mile from the Annex was the United States' public presence in the city: a walled estate known as the US Special Mission Compound, which served as a base for State Department diplomats.

As their talk turned to business, Rone filled Jack in about the peculiarities of the treacherous place where they'd be working to keep other Americans safe. Rone's overriding message was that they'd be kept busy, and they'd have to remain alert, but there was nothing about Benghazi they couldn't handle. In a strange way, Rone said, he almost liked the place.

Still, something about how his old friend described Benghazi—a lawless city where no one was in control, where lines between America's friends and enemies shifted and blurred, where they could trust only each other—gave Jack the distinct impression that Rone considered this to be their diciest assignment yet.

Jack had landed in a country most Americans know only from disturbing headlines. A North African nation roughly the size of Alaska, Libya is a vast desert with a tiny fringe of fertile soil at its northern coast. To its west are Tunisia and Algeria, to its east is Egypt, and to its south are Niger, Chad, and Sudan. The country is divided into three regions: Tripolitania, to the west, with Tripoli as its capital; Cyrenaica, to the east, with Benghazi as its capital; and Fezzan, to the arid south. A majority of the six million Libyans live in or around Tripoli and Benghazi, at the edge of the Mediterranean Sea. Some 97 percent of the population is Sunni Muslim.

A brief history of Libya is an inventory of invasions by outside powers. If an empire had ships and armies in the Mediterranean, its to-conquer list included Libya's two major ports, Tripoli to the west and Benghazi to the east, separated by the Gulf of Sidra. Over the millennia, occupiers included the Phoenicians, the Persians, the Romans, the Byzantines, and the Ottomans. Sometimes competing empires split the baby. The Greeks claimed the area around Benghazi in 630 BC, while the Romans settled near Tripoli. Historians say the Greeks even named Libya, using it as a term to describe all of northern Africa west of Egypt.

By 74 BC, the Romans had conquered eastern Libya, temporarily uniting east and west. Then came the Vandals, a Germanic tribe that drove out the Romans and earned their namesake reputation by plundering the east. The Ottomans invaded Tripoli in 1551 and ruled Libya for more than three centuries, with limited success controlling the ever-restive eastern tribes around Benghazi.

While successive conquerors were vanquishing and bleeding Libya, two Arab tribes flowed onto its sands from Egypt. Starting in the eleventh century, the Bani Hilal tribe settled near Tripoli, while the Bani Salim tribe settled in the east. The Bani Salim freely mixed with and married the native Berbers around Benghazi. As generations passed, the result was a homogeneous ethnic and religious region, what one historian called the "total Arabization" of eastern Libya.

During the 1800s, the Ottoman Turks gave up hope of controlling Benghazi. The Turks allowed eastern Libya to exist as a semi-independent state ruled by the Senussi Muslim sect, which preached a pure form of Islam under which followers conducted all aspects of their lives by the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad. While Tripoli and western Libya matured into a relatively modern region, eastern Libya retained its old ways, governed by tribal bonds and religious laws. That divide made it impossible to understand present-day Libya without contrasting Benghazi with its larger, richer, better-looking, and worldlier sister, Tripoli.

In 1912, the exhausted Ottoman Empire signed a secret pact that gave Italy control of both west and east Libya. Tripoli adapted to Italian rule, but eastern Libya fought colonization, especially by a Christian nation. By 1920, the Italians had had enough. Drained by the First World War, Rome ceded autonomy over eastern Libya to Idris al-Senussi, head of the strict Senussi religious order.

When Benito Mussolini rose to power in Italy two years later, the fascist dictator wanted Benghazi to be part of his empire. Years of fierce fighting followed. In September 1931, Italian forces finally captured and hanged the leader of the opposition guerrillas, Omar al-Mukhtar, a Senussi sheikh who became a martyr to Libyan independence. Even with Mukhtar gone, Mussolini set out to destroy any entrenched opposition around Benghazi. He built a two-hundred-mile fence along the border of Egypt and by some estimates deported one-third of eastern Libya's civilian population to concentration camps. He executed twelve thousand more.


  • A crisply written, gripping narrative of the events of the battle in Benghazi that adds considerable detail to the public record of what happened there...[an] authoritative account."—The Wall Street Journal

On Sale
Sep 9, 2014
Page Count
352 pages

Mitchell Zuckoff

About the Author

Mitchell Zuckoff is the author of six previous nonfiction books, including the New York Times bestsellers Lost in Shangri-La and Frozen in Time, and a professor of journalism at Boston University.

The Annex Security Team consists of the five surviving CIA contract operators who responded to the September 11, 2012, attack in Benghazi.

Learn more about this author