Benghazi consulate attack: Did the State Department fail Christopher Stevens?

Benghazi consulate attack: Did the State Department fail Christopher Stevens?

Washington : DC : USA | Oct 03, 2012 at 5:40 AM PDT
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US officials sought security before Libya attack: lawmakers

According to a letter send to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Representative Darrel Issa, Chair of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, lays out events in Benghazi that led up to the attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi.

The State Department and members of the administration, including Jay Carney, Susan Rice and Hillary Clinton, characterized the attack as "spontaneous" as a result of the protests and scaling of wall of the U.S. Embassy in Cairo, Egypt, as a result of an anti-Islam video. Rice made the rounds of all Sunday news shows as late as five days after the attack. President Obama mentioned the video at least six times during his speech to the UN General Assembly last week.

Issa's letter lists the events leading up to the attack chronologically, starting as early as April 6, 2012:

  • April 6 - Two Libyans who had been fired by a contractor providing unarmed security, threw a small IED over the consulate fence. There were no casualties and the suspects were arrested, but not prosecuted.
  • April 11 - A gun battle between an unidentified armed group and forces loyal to the Transitional National Council (TNC) ensued about 4 km from the consulate. The group attacked the Ministry of Interior in an attempt to seize vehicles that had belonge to the Gadhafi regime. The group was armed with anti-aircraft guns.
  • April 25 - A U.S. Embassy local guard employee, traveling in a diplomatic tagged vehicle was detained and his embassy issued radio seized. The guard was later released without incident.
  • April 26 - While a foreign service officer attended a trade related event at the International Medical University, a fist fight escalated to gun fire between the security forces for the trade delegation and militia providing security for the university. The foreign service officer was evacuated by members of the 17 February Martyrs Brigade, stationed at the consulate.
  • April 27 - While walking through a Benghazi residential area, two South African contractors were kidnapped by armed men. After a brief interrogation about their nationality, they were released.

In all there were seven incidents listed in Issa's letter, including a warning givent to members of the guard protecting the consulate, just weeks before the consulate attack, by their families to quit. Read the remaining list of incidents on page 2 of Issa's letter.

Add to that the accounts in Ambassador Steven's diary and it would appear that there was ample warning of security concerns in Benghazi that should have raised red flags.

The U.S. has pulled all of its official personnel out of Benghazi and has streamlined its staff in Tripoli, removing all non-essential personnel.

Issa, in his letter has asked Secretary Clinton to prepare a written response by Oct. 8 and to provide members of the department available for a briefing on the same day. Issa has requested that three questions be addressed:

  • Was the State Department aware of these incidents and if not, why not?
  • If aware, what measures were taken to match the level of security?
  • Provide a detail of requests made by the Embassy to the State Department, whether in general or in light of the threats identified, and to what extend did the State Department respond to these attacks?

The full committee is expected to convene on Oct. 10.

State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said that Clinton would respond later on Tuesday and would tell them that she would coopertate closely with Congress investigating the Benghazi attack. Nuland declined to provide any response to the assertions made in Issa's letter.

“We share the same goal. We want to get to the bottom of precisely what happened and learn any lessons that we need to learn from it. We are taking this very, very seriously,” Nuland said.

According to Reuters, four U.S. officials have made statements that they were aware that in the months before the Benghazi attack, some U.S. personnel in Libya had sent complaints to the State Department expressing concern about security at U.S. diplomatic facilities in Benghazi, particularly the compound where Stevens was killed.

The Daily Beast has also confirmed that two incidents were on a Facebook page, one of them being an early morning attack on a facility that housed the International Red Cross on May 22nd, with a warning that the attack was a message to Americans disturbing the skies over Derna, while in the second Facebook page, posted a picture of Stevens and posed a threat to Steven's jogging route. Daily Beast

As more information is revealed about the threats prior to the embassy attack, one has to question the position the administration took for almost over a week after the attack. As facts become clear it points to incompetence in dealing with the reality on the ground in Libya and steps taken after the attack are more of a reaction.

The State Department should, at the very least, have been aware of the security situation in both Tripoli and Benghazi and should have been proactive in strenghtening security.

Let's hope that the mistakes of Libya are not repeated in Egypt.

Karl Gotthardt is based in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, and is an Anchor on Allvoices.
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