The more we learn, the more Benghazi looks like a gross security failure.
In his United Nations speech on Tuesday, President Obama talked about the September 11 attack on the U.S. consulate in Libya and declared that “there should be no doubt that we will be relentless in tracking down the killers and bringing them to justice.” What he didn’t say is how relentless he’ll be in tracking down the security lapses and intelligence failures that contributed to the murders. Let’s say there’s some doubt about that.
None of the initial explanations offered by the White House and State Department since the assault on the Benghazi consulate has held up. First the Administration blamed protests provoked by an amateurish anti-Islam clip posted on YouTube. Cue Susan Rice, the U.N. Ambassador and leading candidate for Secretary of State in a second Obama term: “What happened initially was that it was a spontaneous reaction . . . as a consequence of the video, that people gathered outside the embassy and then it grew very violent.”
Administration officials also maintained that the diplomatic missions in Libya and Egypt, the site of the first attacks this September 11, were properly defended and that the U.S. had no reason to prepare for any attack. “The office of the director of National Intelligence has said we have no actionable intelligence that an attack on our post in Benghazi was planned or imminent,” Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said last week, calling the security measures in place there “robust.”
Cell phone video footage and witness testimony from Benghazi soon undercut the Administration trope of an angry march “hijacked” by a few bad people. As it turned out, the assault was well-coordinated, with fighters armed with guns, RPGs and diesel canisters, which were used to set the buildings on fire. Ambassador Chris Stevens died of smoke inhalation. Briefing Congress, the Administration changed its story and said the attacks were pre-planned and linked to al Qaeda.
You’d think this admission would focus attention on why the compound was so vulnerable to begin with. But the Administration wants to avoid this conversation. The removal of all staff from Benghazi, including a large component of intelligence officers, would also seem to hinder their ability to investigate the attacks and bring the killers to justice.
Journalists have stayed on the case, however, and their reporting is filling in the Administration’s holes. On Friday, our WSJ colleagues showed that starting in spring, U.S. intelligence had been worried about radical militias in eastern Libya. These armed groups helped topple Moammar Ghadhafi last year but weren’t demobilized as a new government has slowly found its legs. As we’ve noted since last winter, the waning of American and European interest in Libya could have dangerous consequences.
Deteriorating security was no secret. On April 10, for example, an explosive device was thrown at a convoy carrying U.N. envoy Ian Martin. On June 6, an improvised explosive device exploded outside the U.S. consulate. In late August, State warned American citizens who were planning to travel to Libya about the threat of assassinations and car bombings.
Despite all this, U.S. diplomatic missions had minimal security. Officials told the Journal that the Administration put too much faith in weak Libyan police and military forces. The night of the Benghazi attack, four lightly armed Libyans and five American security offices were on duty. The complex lacked smoke-protection masks and fire extinguishers. Neither the consulate in Benghazi nor the embassy in Tripoli were guarded by U.S. Marines, whose deployment to Libya wasn’t a priority.
Rummaging through the Benghazi compound, a CNN reporter found a seven-page notebook belonging to Ambassador Stevens. According to the network, the diary said he was concerned about the “never-ending” security threats in Benghazi and wrote that he was on an al Qaeda hit list. In deference to the family’s wishes, CNN didn’t quote directly from the diary and didn’t divulge any private information in it.
His worries are newsworthy, however, and can inform America’s response. But Mrs. Clinton’s long-time and closest media adviser chose to attack CNN. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Philippe Reines called the network’s conduct “disgusting.” He then deployed words not fit for a family newspaper in an exchange with a reporter for the Web site BuzzFeed. Mr. Reines may wish to protect his boss’s legacy for her 2016 Presidential run, but that won’t be enhanced by the appearance of a cover-up.
Eli Lake let loose a bombshell yesterday: “Within 24 hours of the 9-11 anniversary attack on the United States consulate in Benghazi,