“Stand down,” says the actor playing the CIA station chief in Michael Bay’s new film, “13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi.” He’s speaking to the security team that wants to go help Americans under siege less than a mile away in a U.S. diplomatic compound under fierce attack. His order keeps the team from leaving for a crucial 20 minutes, before they decide to ignore him and go anyway.
It’s the pivotal — and most controversial — scene in the new film, a movie that Bay insists steers clear of politics, but which is bound to spark much political discussion nonetheless. On Friday — the movie’s opening day — the Washington Post quoted the now-retired CIA station chief, identified only as Bob, as strongly denying he ever issued such an order or anything like it.
“There never was a stand-down order,” the base chief was quoted by the Post as saying. “At no time did I ever second-guess that the team would depart.”
The author of the book upon which the film is based, Mitchell Zuckoff, stood by his depiction of the scene on Friday, saying in a telephone interview with The Associated Press that he’d based it on several firsthand accounts. Zuckoff collaborated on his book, “13 Hours,” with some of the surviving security contractors.
“It’s not credible what he’s claiming,” Zuckoff said of the station chief, whom he said he had tried to interview when writing the book, but his request was denied.
Four Americans died in the attacks, including U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens.
In November 2014, a two-year investigation by the Republican-controlled House Intelligence Committee found that the CIA and military acted properly in responding to the 2012 attack on the compound. Among other findings, it determined that there was no delay in sending a CIA rescue team, and no missed opportunity for a military rescue.
In Washington, CIA spokesman Ryan Trapani referred to those findings and others as making it clear that the scene in the film is inaccurate. “If one is looking for facts on Benghazi, those reviews contain them,” he said.
“No one will mistake this movie for a documentary,” Trapani added. “It’s a distortion of the events and people who served in Benghazi that night. It’s shameful that, in order to highlight the heroism of some, those responsible for the movie felt the need to denigrate the courage of other Americans who served in harm’s way.”
Trapani called what happened in Benghazi “an amazing tale of heroism, courage under fire, leadership and camaraderie by the CIA security team, other CIA officers, State Department personnel, and those who came on the evacuation mission from Tripoli.”
In the Post report, the station chief, Bob, also challenged the movie’s depiction of him as treating the security contractors —members of the so-called Global Response Staff — dismissively and derisively as “hired help,” in the words of the film script.
“These guys were heroes,” he was quoted as saying by the Post.
Zuckoff, who teaches journalism at Boston University, said he wasn’t surprised that the movie has sparked political discussion.
“It would be naive to think that some won’t view it through a political lens,” he said. “But it’s not what we set out to do in the book or movie.”
Bay, the director, has stressed that he sees the movie as non-political, because it focuses on what he calls “a great human story, that got buried. And that’s the story I’m telling: the guys who were on the ground. The men and women that were stuck in the CIA annex, and how they fought for 13 hours to get out of there alive.”
Speaking in an interview last week in Miami promoting the movie, Bay also said that the filmmakers took great pains to present the facts accurately.
“We worked very hard to get the facts right from the research of the book that Mitch did to the amazing access I have from working 20 years with the military, from the boots on the ground, the people who were in country to the CIA, at a high-level meeting to get just the facts right, the recently released emails. We just had to get it right.”