For 13 harrowing hours from the night of Sept. 11, 2012 to the morning of Sept. 12, six security operators within the CIA’s Global Response Staff defended the United States’ Special Mission Compound and a nearby CIA station against violent terrorist attacks in Benghazi, Libya. The operators — Mark “Oz” Geist, Kris “Tanto” Paronto, John “Tig” Tiegen, Jack Silva, Dave “D.B.” Benton and Tyrone “Rone” Woods — fought to save American lives despite initially being ordered to stand down.
Over the course of the attacks, US Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens, State Department communications specialist Sean Smith, Tripoli-based GRS member Glen “Bub” Doherty and Woods were killed.
The events at Benghazi spurred political controversy almost immediately. Nine months later, the five remaining GRS members teamed up with bestselling author and journalist Mitchell Zuckoff to retrace the most accurate account of the night. The result was Zuckoff’s newest book, “13 Hours: The Inside Account of What Really Happened in Benghazi.”
In a roundtable interview with multiple members of the GRS team, Zuckoff, a professor in Boston University’s College of Communication, said he felt compelled to tell the men’s story in an entirely truthful manner.
“It’s a direct response to the politics,” Zuckoff said. “At that point, the story had been so overtaken by politics and the politics had sort of run away with the story. Nobody knew what these guys had done. Nobody knew about the heroism on the ground. Nobody knew about these incredible 13 hours. And so, it was designed to be a remedy to that.”
Geist was hospitalized for approximately four weeks following the attacks. He said after recovering, he was angered by these political controversies surrounding the incident.
“It’s like, you guys weren’t there,” he said. “You don’t know what they did. You don’t know the sacrifice these guys made, and [I] just felt the story had to be told at that point.”
While the book was still in the works, 3 Arts Entertainment and producer Erwin Stoff approached the four men with the idea to adapt the story into a film. This film, directed by Michael Bay, will be released Jan. 15, 2016.
Regarding Bay and his directing, Geist said, “He’s a very patriotic director. He has a love of the military, a love for the country.”
Zuckoff added that after Bay chose to make the film, the first thing Bay said to him was, “This is the most real movie I’m going to make.”
While the film may not capture the full extent of war, it does aim to accurately depict how the six GRS team members fought the violent attacks that night.
“It’s Hollywood,” Tiegan said. “You can’t take 13 hours and move it into two hours without having something change.”
The GRS team members were involved in making the film as real as possible throughout the entire filming process. They worked with screenwriter Chuck Hogan to perfect the script and give input on the set design.
“When the guy is holding a weapon wrong, we’ll fix him,” Paronto said. “If we haven’t done our homework and they haven’t done their homework prior to that, honestly, it’s too late. But they had, so really it was not much you had to fix — just minute, tactical things.”
All four men agreed that the film’s set was very precise and the Annex, the CIA station, was built to scale.
“When you walked on there, it took you back to Benghazi,” Geist said.
Zuckoff also said that the actors were receptive to the men’s stories, channeling the experiences into the film’s portrayal of the events.
“[The actors] were sponges listening to these guys,” Zuckoff said. “We were on set and there was tremendous respect paid to them by these actors. The dedication to realism was there.”
Zuckoff said he was proud of the film’s historical accuracy and that no facts from the novel were challenged.
“This was not a story anybody knew, and I thought this was a story people had to know,” he said. “I will not write a more important book than this.”
Tiegen said he hopes the movie will inspire people to disregard controversy and read the book.
“The movie is not about the politics,” he said. “It’s to honor the four guys who died on the ground, for people to understand what they went through and how it actually happened.”