Commentary Magazine


Did U.S. Know About Embassy Attack Threat in Advance?

The Independent reports that the U.S. State Department was warned about threats to its embassies 48 hours before the attack in Benghazi, but did not respond with heightened security:

According to senior diplomatic sources, the US State Department had credible information 48 hours before mobs charged the consulate in Benghazi, and the embassy in Cairo, that American missions may be targeted, but no warnings were given for diplomats to go on high alert and “lockdown”, under which movement is severely restricted.

The Obama administration denies this, telling Politico there’s no intelligence indicating the attacks were planned in advance. While there were clearly breakdowns in State Department security, it’s hard to believe the Obama administration would have intelligence of an attack and not respond by heightening security.

Whether or not the Obama administration was aware of the threat, it seems more likely by the day that these attacks were planned in advance. The simultaneous embassy breaches in Cairo and Benghazi, the fact that both were reportedly instigated by terrorist groups, the precision of the mortar attacks in Benghazi, and the militants’ apparent knowledge of the embassy safehouse all point to advance planning.

Captain Fathi al-Obeidi, commander of a special operations force for the February 17 brigade, who responded to the attack that night, said it appeared to be a two-pronged operation that was plotted beforehand.

“I don’t know how they found the place to carry out the attack. It was planned, the accuracy with which the mortars hit us was too good for any ordinary revolutionaries,” Obeidi told the Independent. “It began to rain down on us, about six mortars fell directly on the path to the villa.”

Another indication that these weren’t just instances of spontaneous mob violence: sensitive documents were reportedly stolen from the U.S. embassy in Benghazi, which is something that you would expect from a terrorist cell, but not a crowd of rampaging religious zealots. The Independent reports:

The US administration is now facing a crisis in Libya. Sensitive documents have gone missing from the consulate in Benghazi and the supposedly secret location of the “safe house” in the city, where the staff had retreated, came under sustained mortar attack. Other such refuges across the country are no longer deemed “safe”.

Some of the missing papers from the consulate are said to list names of Libyans who are working with Americans, putting them potentially at risk from extremist groups, while some of the other documents are said to relate to oil contracts.

At Powerline, John Hinderaker calls for a Congressional investigation. That certainly seems necessary. In the best case, this was a devastating security bungle by the State Department. In the worst case, the U.S. government failed to respond to red flags of a looming terrorist attack.

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