Everything I have read and seen so far on Benghazi is still confirming my initial thinking on the matter, going way back to my days as a NavSpecWar officer who took a SEAL det to Beirut a long time ago.
Once the alarm is sent from Benghazi, dozens of HQs are notified and are in the loop in real time, including AFRICOM and EURCOM, both located in Germany.
Without waiting for orders, they begin planning and executing rescue operations, including getting air support over Benghazi ASAP. But one thing they CANNOT DO without explicit orders from the POTUS is cross an international border. That is the big red line.
All POTUS has to do is NOT grant cross-border authority, and the entire rescue (already in progress) must stop in its tracks. Ships can loiter on station, but planes fall out of the sky, so they must be redirected to an air base (Sigonella Sicily) to await the POTUS decision on granting CBA. If it never comes, the men in Behghazi must rely only on assets already in country in Libya, such as the Tripoli QRF and the Predators.
(And possibly AC-130s that might already have been in Libya: they were last year, but their location on 9-11-2012 is unknown. If they were in country but were prevented from firing, that is another situation.)
So if at the 5 pm DC-time meeting with Panetta and Biden, Obama said, No outside military action, meaning no CBA will be granted, then THAT IS IT. Case closed.
That constitutes standing orders all the way down the chain of command via Panetta and Dempsey to Ham and the subordinate commands trying to rescue the men in Benghazi.
If Obama then goes upstairs to the family quarters to watch TV or sleep, or otherwise makes himself unavailable, then his last standing orders will stand until he changes them, even if he goes to sleep until the morning of 9-12.
Nobody in the chain of command below him can countermand his standing orders not to send military forces from outside of Libya into Libyan air space.
Personally, I think he left no outside miltary intervention, no cross-border authority standing orders, and then he went to bed. Damn him to hell.
(And to me, the most damning aspect of all is that Obama went to bed while his Ambassador was still missing and presumed kidnapped by Al Queda. Ambassador Stevens might have been on a Youtube video pleading for his life, ready to get the Nick Berg/Danny Pearl intro to jihad treatment, and Obama WENT TO BED to rest up for his much more important fund raiser in Las Vegas!)
I think he told Hillary to get Libya approval / involvement and left it at that.
Somewhere I recall she tried and was denied.
He wanted them to take all the responsibility, and never gave the military a go order.
This , to me, is the only reason they could say “ stand down”