As Congressional Hearings Open, The Benghazi Narrative Changes Again
It has been just under a month since the attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi that resulted in the death of Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans and it seems like it’s only now that we’re starting to learn the truth, the Obama Administration had, for some reason decided to push the story that the attack was a spontaneous event brought into being by protests over the same obscure and badly made YouTube video that had allegedly motivated protests in Cairo earlier that same day. As we’ve learned since then, though, U.S. intelligence officials had concluded within twenty four hours after the attack that was an terrorist attack, thus making the “spontaneous” part of the narrative all the more implausible. Additionally, the President of Libya and other Libyan officials were saying that the attack was a pre-planned terrorist attack, and even early reports from the ground (where the press arrived before the FBI did) made it seem less and less likely that the attack was anything other than a pre-planned operation. We also learned that there were multiple warnings about threats in Benghazi against American interests. We’ve also learned that the state department withdrew a security team assigned to Libya just twelve days before the attack despite a request directly from Ambassador Stevens that the team be allowed to stay given the security threats in the country. Additionally, the head of security at the Embassy said Foggy Bottom basically ignored the outpost’s requests for additional security. Despite all of this, the Sunday after the attack, U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice went on multiple news shows continuing to push the narrative that the attack was all about a movie, and it is only through the efforts of journalists like The Daily Beast’s Eli Lake that we’ve come to know what was really going on in Libya in the months and weeks prior to the first murder of an Ambassador since 1979.
Now, in advance of today’s hearings before the House Oversight Committee about the attack, we learn that the State Department is now saying that it never believed that the attack was tied to a movie:
WASHINGTON (AP) — All was quiet outside the U.S. Consulate as evening fell on Benghazi and President Barack Obama’s envoy to Libya was retiring after a day of diplomatic meetings.
There was no indication of the harrowing events that night would bring: assailants storming the compound and setting its buildings aflame, American security agents taking fire across more than a mile of the city, the ambassador and three employees killed and others forced into a daring car escape against traffic.
Senior State Department officials on Tuesday revealed for the first time certain details of last month’s tragedy in the former Libyan rebel stronghold, such as the efforts of a quick reaction force that rushed onto the scene and led the evacuation in a fierce gun battle that continued into the streets.
The briefing was provided a day before department officials were to testify to a House committee about the most serious attack on a U.S. diplomatic installation since al-Qaida bombed the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania 14 years ago.
The account answers some questions and leaves others unanswered. Chief among them is why for several days the Obama administration said the assault stemmed from a protest against an American-made Internet video ridiculing Islam, and whether the consulate had adequate security.
The conference call also revealed several new details about the attack:
On Sept. 11, Stevens did not leave the compound because of security fears due to the 9/11 anniversary. He had arrived in Benghazi the day before with five guards in total. Two additional Diplomatic Security agents from Tripoli were with him in addition to the three agents normally detailed to the compound.
Though some administration officials had initially said that the attack grew out of protests over an anti-Muslim film, the senior State Department official told reporters today that “nothing was out of the ordinary” on the night of the attack.
At 8:30 p.m., the ambassador said goodnight to a visiting Turkish diplomat outside the compound and the streets were empty. But at 9:40 p.m., noises, gunfire and an explosion were heard by the agents located in the TOC and Building B.
The agent in the TOC looked at one of the camera feeds monitoring the perimeter and saw a large group of armed men entering the compound. Asked about the initial reports of the protests, the official said that while “others” in the administration may have said there were protests, the State Department did not.
This starts a series of events during which Stevens, Information Specialist Sean Smith and the agent locked themselves in a safe area in Building C. The area is set aside from the rest of the building by a metal grille with several locks and contained a small room with water and medical supplies.
From the safe haven room where Stevens, Smith and the agent were hiding they could see the men roaming throughout the house, trying to open grates, looking for them.
When the men didn’t find anyone, they poured diesel fuel all over the rooms and furniture, setting the house on fire. As black smoke, diesel fumes and fumes from the burning furniture filled up the safe haven, the three tried to get to the bathroom area where there was a small window to open it for air, which did not help.
At this point, the official said, the security officer, Smith and the ambassador were on the ground gasping for air and suffering from “severe” smoke inhalation and decided to take their chances and get out of the safe haven and building.
The security agent led the way, but when he got outside he realized that neither Smith nor the ambassador had made it after him.
He went back in several times to find them, but eventually had to leave because he was overcome by the strong smoke. He climbed to a safe area outside of the building and radioed for help.
There are more details at the link, but they all support the conclusion that the attack on our consulate was clearly part of a well-planned paramilitary operation, not something that merely occurred out of the blue during a protest about a movie. Mostly because, well, there was no protest about a movie to speak of that day in Benghazi.
All of this leads to the question of how the Obama Administration got around to pushing the meme that the protests were related to the movie when there was so much evidence to the contrary. As noted above, we’ve learned over the past month that there had been warnings of threats to Western interests in Benghazi for several days prior to the attack and that Ambassador Stevens had been warning Washington about threats in the nation, and the need to keep the security team that State was planning on withdrawing. Why would Washington then jump to the conclusion that the attack was something else when there was so much evidence pointing them in the rather obvious direction of it being a pre-planned terrorist attack.
Eli Lake suggested in an article last week that much of it is related to a series of talking points that the CIA had prepared for Members of Congress and other government officials in the immediate aftermath of the attack. Those talking points did say that the attacks were apparently the result of spontaneous demonstrations, but as Lake notes, they contradict intercepts that had been made of communications between al Qaeda In The Islamic Maghreb linked Libyan insurgents which clearly suggested that the attack was a premeditated, pre-planned attack. Despite these intercepts, which were available within days after the attack, the CIA talking points never mention the possibility of an al Qaeda link to the attack. Indeed, we now know that there was early information linking the attack to Libyan militants. Why would this be? Could it be that CIA officials wanted to downplay the possibility that this was a terrorist attack because of the allegations that would follow of an intelligence failure. And what of the State Department, why did they seemingly go along with the CIA even though their own people on the ground had given them information that clearly contradicted the talking points?
The other question that remains unanswered is whether there was a security lapse with regard to the Benghazi consulate. Why did the State Department ignore the requests from Ambassador Stevens and security officials that they provide additional security for the consulate? Why did they withdraw a security team from Libya less than two weeks before the attack? Was the security for the Benghazi embassy inadequate and, if so, why wasn’t it closed given the perilous security situation in the city? These are questions that deserve to be answered.