(Reuters) - CIA officials on the ground in Libya dispatched security forces to the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi within 25 minutes and made other key decisions about how to respond to the waves of attacks on U.S. installations on September 11, a senior American intelligence official said on Thursday.
Officials in Washington monitored events through message traffic and a hovering U.S. military drone but did not interfere with or reject requests for help from officials in the line of fire, the official said.
The information emerged as officials made available on Thursday a timeline chronicling the U.S. response to the Benghazi attacks in which Christopher Stevens, the U.S. ambassador to Libya, and three other American officials died. The material appears to refute claims by critics that officials in Washington delayed sending help to the besieged personnel.
The handling of the attack by the Obama administration and CIA has come under sharp criticism by supporters of Republican challenger Mitt Romney during the campaign ahead of the presidential election on November 6.
The senior intelligence official said that CIA officers in Benghazi, "responded to the situation on the night of 11 and 12 September as quickly and as effectively as possible.
"The security officers in particular were genuine heroes. They quickly tried to rally additional local support and heavier weapons, and when that could not be accomplished within minutes, they still moved in and put their own lives on the line to save their comrades," the official said.
"At every level in the chain of command, from the senior officers in Libya to the most senior officials in Washington, everyone was fully engaged in trying to provide whatever help they could," the official said.
"There was no second-guessing those decisions being made on the ground, by people at every U.S. organization that could play a role in assisting those in danger. There were no orders to anybody to stand down in providing support," the official added.