Commentary Magazine


Topic: Ansal al-Sharia

Report: Benghazi Cables Warned “Guards” Were Photographing Consulate

Did the State Department receive warnings on September 11 that the Benghazi consulate was being cased for an attack? FNC’s Jennifer Griffin reports today that two cables sent from Ambassador Chris Stevens’s team to Washington the morning of the attack expressed concern that Libyan police had been seen photographing the compound earlier that day (h/t Hot Air):

Reports Griffin:

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Did the State Department receive warnings on September 11 that the Benghazi consulate was being cased for an attack? FNC’s Jennifer Griffin reports today that two cables sent from Ambassador Chris Stevens’s team to Washington the morning of the attack expressed concern that Libyan police had been seen photographing the compound earlier that day (h/t Hot Air):

Reports Griffin:

“Two State Department cables show that Stevens’s team warned Washington that at 6:43 a.m. in the morning they had concerns that members of the Libyan police sent to guard them were photographing the compound. …

U.S. intelligence officials confirm to Fox that in fact there were reports from the ground in Benghazi three hours before the attack on the consulate that a Libyan militia was gathering weapons and gathering steam. That was three hours before the consulate was attacked at 9:47 p.m. on September 11.”

There is a lot here, but first, the cables. Max cited a Foreign Policy article earlier, which reported on draft letters from Stevens’ team to the Libyan Ministry of Foreign Affairs, warning that local police sent to guard the consulate had been photographing the building. But this is the first time we’ve heard that Foggy Bottom was actually sent cables about it. With the history of attacks on the consulate and other foreign missions in the area, the warnings from security officials, and the 9/11 anniversary, this evidence of local “guards” casing the compound should have been more than enough to raise alarms at the State Department.

Even if Washington officials didn’t see or receive the cables until after it was too late, that still raises more questions about why the administration would have assumed the attack was part of a “spontaneous demonstration” in response to the Cairo protests. The photographs were reportedly taken at 6:43 a.m., well before the protests erupted in Egypt. 

Then there’s Griffin’s report that U.S. intelligence officials had word of Libyan militias gathering arms three hours before the attack. If so, was anyone at the State Department informed? Where exactly was the communications breakdown?

The Obama administration’s foot-dragging on this has ensured we won’t know the full story until after the election. But their initial claims seem more implausible by the day.

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Administration Officials: Benghazi Emails “Not Evidence”

It’s too bad the White House press briefing was on Air Force One today, because watching Jay Carney try to spin Mark Hosenball’s Reuters scoop would have been fun. Unfortunately we’ll have to make due with just a transcript

“There was a variety of information coming in,” White House press secretary Jay Carney said Wednesday on Air Force One. “The whole point of an intelligence community and what they do is to assess strands of information and make judgements about what happened and who was responsible.”

“This is an open source, unclassified email about a posting on a Facebook site,” Carney said. “I would also note that within a few hours the organization itself claimed that it had not been responsible. Neither should be taken as fact. That is why there is an investigation.”

Hillary Clinton also dismissed the story, accusing reporters of “cherry-picking” information:

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It’s too bad the White House press briefing was on Air Force One today, because watching Jay Carney try to spin Mark Hosenball’s Reuters scoop would have been fun. Unfortunately we’ll have to make due with just a transcript

“There was a variety of information coming in,” White House press secretary Jay Carney said Wednesday on Air Force One. “The whole point of an intelligence community and what they do is to assess strands of information and make judgements about what happened and who was responsible.”

“This is an open source, unclassified email about a posting on a Facebook site,” Carney said. “I would also note that within a few hours the organization itself claimed that it had not been responsible. Neither should be taken as fact. That is why there is an investigation.”

Hillary Clinton also dismissed the story, accusing reporters of “cherry-picking” information:

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said on Wednesday a Facebook post in which an Islamic militant group claimed credit for a recent attack on the U.S. mission in Benghazi, Libya did not constitute hard evidence of who was responsible.

“Posting something on Facebook is not in and of itself evidence. I think it just underscores how fluid the reporting was at the time and continued for some time to be,” Clinton said during an appearance with the Brazilian foreign minister at the State Department.

A single posting on Facebook isn’t a smoking gun. But apparently it was considered noteworthy enough for the State Department’s Operations Center to send White House, Pentagon, FBI and intelligence officials an email alert about it in the critical early hours of the attack. It’s not as if the State Department was recklessly blasting out random bits of gossip and speculation, either. According to the timeline in the Reuters piece, this appears to be the third message they sent out in a span of two hours.

There’s also the inconvenient fact that the email turned out to be correct. Ansar al-Sharia is the main group suspected behind the attack. So whether or not there was a “variety of information coming in,” as Jay Carney said, is irrelevant. Why did the administration dismiss information that correctly linked Ansar al-Sharia to the attack, and instead publicly promote inaccurate information about a “spontaneous protest”? Either they completely dropped the ball, or they were doing some cherry-picking themselves.

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