The House of Representatives began its hearings on Wednesday regarding the Sept. 11, 2012 terrorist attack against the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, which killed Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans. The picture painted by sworn testimonies is one of extreme negligence and incompetence on the part of the Obama administration in protecting our fellow citizens in the field. The Obama administration is also under fire for its embarrassing insistence that the tragedy wasn’t a pre-planned terrorist attack until a mound of evidence forced it to reverse course, long after the truth became obvious.
The need for strong security at U.S. diplomatic facilities in Libya was more than apparent. The country was in a state of civil war a year ago, and violent incidents are common. The central government lacks authoritative control, and militias, including ones of jihadist orientation, are all over the war-torn country. Al-Qaeda-type terrorists are known to be organized in Libya. Ambassador Stevens himself feared that he was on an Al-Qaeda hit list. Special precautions on the anniversary of 9/11 should have been a common-sense measure.
The House heard the story of Eric Nordstrom, whose job it was to oversee security for American diplomats in Libya. In both March and July, Nordstrom urged the State Department to maintain security in Benghazi because current forces were “overwhelmed and could not guarantee our protection.” He didn’t hear back. Nordstrom says he was told by a senior State Department official that he shouldn’t request reinforcements again because “there would be too much political cost.”
Lt. Col. Andy Wood has a similar story. He led a 16-man Site Security Team in Tripoli from February 12 to August 14. He was told, “You’ve got to do with less.” He says that Stevens wanted his team to stay through August and the U.S. embassy was worried when they left.
Wood further testified that “diplomatic security remained weak” and “The RSO [regional security officer] struggled to obtain additional personnel there, but was never able to attain the numbers he felt comfortable with.” The State Department says the RSO never made a request for more forces and that Wood’s team was replaced with one of equal capability.
There was a steady stream of warnings about the situation on the ground. The consulate was actually attacked twice before with an explosive creating a hole in the gate “big enough for forty men to go through” on June 6. One memo documented 230 security incidents and said there was a “HIGH” risk of U.S. personnel coming under attack. On August 27, the State Department issued a travel advisory cautioning against trips to Libya. Stevens told a retired senior military official not to come.
On September 11, 2012, only five U.S. agents and four militiamen were protecting the consulate. The attackers broke through the perimeter in just 15 minutes. Back-up forces could not arrive in time to foil the attack and save Stevens and his colleagues.
The inability of the U.S. government to convey basic facts to the American public in the aftermath is also unsettling. It was originally claimed that there were protesters outside the consulate demonstrating against the anti-Mohammed film posted on YouTube. If that was the case, there should have been eyewitnesses, pictures, announcements promoting a rally and signs, and it probably wouldn’t have taken place at 9:40 PM. In addition, the initial reports indicated dozens of armed men carried out the attack—strongly indicating it wasn’t “spontaneous” as the administration claimed.
By September 15, the Libyan government was stating publicly that it was a pre-planned terrorist attack, almost certainly at the hands of Al-Qaeda. After all, Al-Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahiri released a tape shortly before the attack honoring his former second-in-command, a Libyan who was killed in a drone strike. On September 15, Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula said the attack was revenge for that same strike.
The Obama administration is in serious trouble if it is discovered that the militia hired to protect the consulate included conspirators in the attack. It is reported that an electronic intercept show the militia’s leader asked his men to stand down in advance of the attack. He is a member of the Libyan Muslim Brotherhood and one of his commanders is the brother of Brotherhood cleric Ali Al-Salabi. Who made the decision to hire an Islamist militia to guard an American facility?
The Arabic paper Al-Sharq Al-Awsat reported on October 7 that the militia had complained about being inadequately prepared for an attack. One of the consulate’s Libyan guards claims that he was informed on August 28 about a possible forthcoming attack on the facility. He says he was told on September 9 that there was intelligence about an attack timed for an anniversary, believed to be related to Gaddafi’s rule. Another guard says that on the morning of September 11, the consulate sent a request for additional security and then canceled it.
The State Department has responded with unacceptable excuses. It claims that it never believed that the attack was the spontaneous work of outraged protesters. Yet, White House spokesman Jay Carney incredulously said on September 14, “These protests were in reaction to a video that had spread to the region. We have no information to suggest it was a pre-planned attack.” U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice said on September 16, “We do not have information at present that leads us to conclude that this was premeditated or preplanned.”
It is true that President Obama immediately called it an “act of terror,” but using this as a defense is a word game. The Libyans were loudly telling us that it was a well-planned terrorist attack. The administration was saying it was a terrorist attack carried out spontaneously by protesters that we soon learned didn’t exist. Libya was right and the administration was wrong.
The State Department is holding to the line that the security at the consulate was adequate based on what was known. The attack was “unprecedented” and therefore, it could not have been reasonably anticipated. This is yet another disingenuous and unacceptable excuse from the Obama administration. Al-Qaeda has carried out similar attacks with fighters on facilities many times before. Everyone knew Al-Qaeda was in the country and had sympathetic militias available in the region. Ambassador Stevens himself felt inadequately protected from the jihadist threat howling at his door.
In the Benghazi fiasco, a wealth of warnings were available for anyone with eyes to see. Yet on the anniversary of the worst terrorist attack on the U.S. in recent history, our consulate in the backyard of our enemies was left pitifully fortified. Threats were not taken seriously, and four Americans were left to the wolves. The congressional hearings are crucial to exposing the extreme negligence that precipitated this tragic incident and the misguided mindset that led to these decisions.
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