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):
All of the back and forth over whether the killing of Ambassador Chris Stevens in Benghazi was or was not a “terrorist” attack (can there be any doubt that it was?) has obscured attention from the real issue: Why wasn’t the consulate in Benghazi afforded better protection? There was obviously a grave breach of security. The Washington Post reveals the depth of unpreparedness:
U.S. officials appear to have underestimated the threat facing both the ambassador and other Americans. They had not reinforced the U.S. diplomatic outpost there to meet strict safety standards for government buildings overseas. Nor had they posted a U.S. Marine detachment, as at other diplomatic sites in high-threat regions.
A U.S. military team assigned to establish security at the new embassy in Tripoli, in a previously undisclosed detail, was never instructed to fortify the temporary hub in the east. Instead, a small local guard force was hired by a British private security firm as part of a contract worth less than half of what it costs to deploy a single U.S. service member in a war zone for a year.
As Americans mourn the loss of our ambassador in Libya and three of his colleagues, the circumstances of their demise remain murky. Some accounts suggest there was a spontaneous demonstration at the Benghazi consulate followed by a well-executed ambush against consulate personnel while they were being evacuated; other accounts suggest that the initial assault was not the result of demonstrations but planned by a jihadist group in advance. Whatever the case, the situation raises an obvious question: Why didn’t the consulate have better protection, especially given the presence there of Ambassador Chris Stevens? Was there an intelligence failure, a failure of security, or simply a “perfect storm” that could not have reasonably been anticipated? These are all questions that both the State Department and Congress need to probe, and urgently, because of the continuing threat against American outposts in the Middle East.
In general, the State Department has done an excellent job of protecting its ambassadors and other diplomatic personnel–not a single senior diplomat has been killed so far in either Iraq or Afghanistan, notwithstanding numerous plots aimed at doing just that. Partly this is a matter of serendipity, but it’s also a tribute to the State Department’s Bureau of Diplomatic Security and to the private security contractors it has hired, including the now-notorious Blackwater. In my experience traveling around the Middle East, Regional Security Officers–the officials responsible for security in each embassy–tend to err on the side of caution, so much so that their desire to protect their charges often makes it hard to conduct the outreach with the local community needed for successful diplomatic initiatives. That makes it all the more surprising that Ambassador Stevens did not have more protection.
As the United States mourns the horrific murders of four Americans at the U.S. embassy in Benghazi, it’s also important to remember that the violent thugs who stormed the embassy do not represent all Libyans. Yesterday, a crowd of Libyans hit the streets to protest the attack, waving signs in broken English that read “Sorry People of America this is not the [b]ehavior of our [I]slam and pro[phe]t,” and “Chris Stevens Was a Friend to All Libyans.”
Stevens, 52, had devoted himself to helping liberate the country he died in. ABC News reports on his daring entrance into Libya during the first days of the civil war:
If reports are true, Chris Stevens, the U.S. ambassador to Libya, was one of four diplomats killed yesterday in a rocket strike in Benghazi. This is awful, calamitous, horrible news in a hundred different ways, not only for his family and for the Foreign Service in which he served so honorably, but when it comes to the most fundamental rule of relations between countries from time immemorial—which is that their emissaries are guaranteed safe passage and safe conduct when they travel on behalf of their own governments. We can presume Stevens and his colleagues were not killed by the Libyan government, because if that were the case, this would be nothing less than an act of war that required a response.
As we saw yesterday in Cairo, with the assault on the U.S. embassy there on the pretext of a cinematic offense against the Prophet, the United States has entered a new time of testing in the long war against Islamism—with assaults on official U.S. property and U.S. personnel. Such tests have always been highly problematic for us; before this becomes an occasion to blame Barack Obama’s weakness and vascillation, it’s worth remembering that the United States has never handled it well. In the 1960s, radicals attacking U.S. embassies became a kind of running joke. The joke ended in 1979 with the taking of the hostages in Iran, which was a state action in the guise of a radical private action.