Benghazi Consulate Lacks Marine Protection

According to a report the Benghazi Consulate where Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three others were killed on Tuesday was an “interim” facility that did not have the same permanent Marine protection that permanent embassies receive: 

The consulate where the American ambassador to Libya was killed on Tuesday is an “interim facility” not protected by the contingent of Marines that safeguards embassies, POLITICO has learned.

Ambassador Chris Stevens was killed with three other Americans in an attack on the U.S. consulate in the city of Benghazi, where Libyan rebels ousted strongman Moammar Qadhafi last year.

Marine Corps spokeswoman Capt. Kendra Motz said that Marines were not posted to the consulate, unlike the embassy in the capital, Tripoli.

A defense official told POLITICO on Wednesday that the Pentagon is sending an elite team of about 50 additional Marines, called a Fleet Antiterrorism Security Team, to reinforce the embassy.

A senior administration official Wednesday called the Benghazi consulate “an interim facility,” which the State Department began using “before the fall of Qadhafi.” It was staffed Tuesday by Libyan and State Department security officers. The consulate came under fire from heavy machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades at about 10 p.m. local time on Tuesday. By the time the attack ended several hours later, four Americans were dead and three others had been injured.

The Benghazi consulate had “lock-and-key” security, not the same level of defenses as a formal embassy, an intelligence source told POLITICO. That means it had no bulletproof glass, reinforced doors or other features common to embassies. The intelligence source contrasted it with the American embassy in Cairo, Egypt – “a permanent facility, which is a lot easier to defend.” The Cairo embassy also was attacked Tuesday.

Not being at all versed in State Department security policies, I have no idea if this is a departure from the norm or not. Additionally, it’s not like there wasn’t security at the facility because we know that two of the people killed there were members of the Diplomatic Security Service and that Ambassador Stevens regularly traveled with his own security force. No doubt, there will be some who will question why security wasn’t beefed up for the September 11th anniversary, but from all accounts it seems as though the protests in Benghazi were fairly spontaneous and that there was little advance warning that the consulate would be in danger.

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Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. The “no Marines” meme is becoming ridiculous. The Marine Corps Embassy Security Guard battalion has about 1,000 members, including HQ staff. They guard 125 facilities. Can we do some math here?

    Embassy/consulate security isn’t designed for mob defense, although if you think it is, I imagine you think the US Army Berlin Brigade (along with their British & French counterparts) could have held off the Soviet 3rd Shock Army from taking West Berlin, anytime between 1945-1991.

    When it comes to a mob attack, embassy security is equipped for one thing: delay action until the cryptographic gear and other classified materials can be destroyed. That’s it.

    Common sense, people. We don’t have an infantry battalion (600-800 soldiers/Marines) stationed at every embassy/consulate.

  2. Allan,

    As I said in the post, I am not an expert in this area an I certainly don’t think that an embassy guard force could hold off a major assault. We’ve seen in the past that this is not the case. I’m merely asking a question.

  3. DC Loser says:

    I have a friend who was an officer in the US Army Berlin Brigade in the 80s. He told me his mission was to “die in place” if and when the Soviets decided to take the place. They were nothing more than the sacrificial trip wire to enable us to justify a military response to the Warsaw Pact.

  4. Anderson says:

    OTOH, Allan, this was Libya, a country with slim to none in the government/rule-of-law/monopoly-of-force department. Seems a no-brainer to have Marine guards there, as opposed to Paris or Tokyo.

    One can rely that the terrorists were well aware of the lack of security.

  5. Wasn’t calling you out Doug, just the reporting that is based on the unquestionably flawed premise that diplomatic facilites in “hot spots” are defensible, unless one is willing to commit an adequate sized force of several hundred to do the job.

    I’d also like to point out that I’m by no means denigrating the brave men and women of the MCESG. It’s not their fault they have fire team or squad-sized detatchments at embassies.

  6. KariQ says:

    I was taught that was the purpose of the Berlin force as well – they were a token to indicate that war would follow any action against Berlin, but the members themselves would be regarded as sacrifices.

    But an embassy is a different thing. I don’t have direct first hand knowledge, though some relatives have worked in the State department and from what they have told me the amount of protection and defensive construction and force varies greatly from embassy to embassy depending on the situation.

    Anderson – in many of these situations, we have to choose between less security than we would like or removing the diplomatic staff completely. It’s not an easy call, and this situation in Libya could easily turn out to be completely a surprise to everyone, including those who actually carried out the attack. While it’s possible that they had planned it, it’s also possible that they saw an opportunity and exploited it. It’s just too early to know what happened clearly.

  7. John Burgess says:

    Whether a diplomatic post gets a USMC Security Guard Detachment is determined through assessing several factors.

    1. Will the host country permit it?
    2. Is the facility large enough to justify detailing 6-24 Marines? Two-officer posts, don’t, for example.
    3. Can the facility provide the necessary support to house and move a detachment?
    4. Does the USMC have enough Marines to staff it? As noted, there’s a finite number. Security Guard detail is a reward assignment.
    5. Does State have the money to repay the USMC?

    Allan Bourdius is correct that their role is primarily to buy time for the destruction of classified documents and equipment. While protecting lives is definitely among the things they’re expected to do, it is secondary. Too, security detachments are not armed as combat troops. Pistols and shotguns are the norm, with perhaps an M16 in a hot spot.

  8. Anderson says:

    More evidence that the security situation in Benghazi should have been a red flag:

    Benghazi, awash in guns, has recently witnessed a string of assassinations as well as attacks on international missions, including a bomb said to be planted by another Islamist group that exploded near the United States mission there as recently as June.

    But a Libyan politician who had breakfast with Mr. Stevens at the mission the morning before he was killed described security, mainly four video cameras and as few as four Libyan guards, as sorely inadequate for an American ambassador in such a tumultuous environment.

    “This country is still in transition, and everybody knows the extremists are out there,” said Fathi Baja, the Libyan politician.

    I appreciate that y’all in this thread are pointing out the normal rules, but Libya wasn’t normal, and we knew perfectly well it wasn’t normal. Our security details around the globe may need reconsideration if State has really been so lackadaisical.

  9. The main effort over the past few decades has been to harden facilities against truck and car bombs. In a weird way, that may make them less defensible against armed assault — long walls, lots of ground. In this case, a small Marine detachment would likely have made no difference.

    Indeed, even in Egypt where there is a Marine force at the Embassy, we haven’t been able to stop breaches and clear the grounds without direct involvement of Egyptian forces.

  10. Anderson says:

    But did the ambassador even have bodyguards?

    I admit to not having many facts here, but a U.S. ambassador should not have been in Libya without a couple of guys toting automatic rifles and following him around.

    Perhaps he bravely resisted those optics and chose to project a more open, trusting image.

  11. Mike says:


    The reports I’m seeing indicate he had his usual compliment of a couple of DSS agents with him, and that at least one of those was one of the individuals who was killed.

    Regarding crypto/classified material, I’ve seen a few reports (and I use the term loosely because they are blog posts/comments, not official statements or anything) that the IT guy who was killed (along with possibly the Ambassador) were in the structure along with the RSO (head DSS security officer for the mission) by themselves because they were attempting to destroy the sensitive material. I wouldn’t expect anything official to be released regarding this since crypto isn’t something that people like to talk about on the record, but that would track with everything I’ve personally experienced regarding that type of material and everything I’ve heard from a couple of acquaintances who are DoS employees.

    As for security policies, remember that per the Vienna Convention external security of diplomatic missions is the sole responsibility of the hosting state. The diplomatic mission is generally only allowed a small contingent of armed personnel (military or civilian, although the exact numbers and type is of course up to the hosting state to work out with the mission) to provide internal security and as others have pointed out one of their primary duties is to buy time to secure/destroy classified.

  12. Mike says:

    And for those who are unfamiliar with DSS, that’s the Diplomatic Security Service, State’s law enforcement arm. They perform a wide variety of tasks, but one of their primary duties is doing personal security details, and they are very good at it.

  13. Anderson says:

    Thanks, Mike. As I’ve said above, Vienna is fine, but when the hosting state is a failed state, some unilateral adjustments have to be made.

    I just hope this experience leads to a re-evaluation of embassy and consulate security. Attacks like this are not going away.

  14. @Bernard Finel:

    Of course, as Dave Schuler pointed out in a post here yesterday, the primary responsibility for security of Embassy grounds is supposed to lie with the host country.

    The Libya situation apparently happened at night time and developed very rapidly. Libyan security forces did arrive and provide support according to the reports I’ve read, but it may have been too little too late.

    The Egypt situation may be another story. The Morsi Administration’s response to all of this has been, to say the least, troubling.

  15. So are people generally discounting the report in The Independent that the State Department had credible warnings of danger well before the attack?

  16. bill says:

    there’s always a chance of being in danger in any muslim run country- these people go off the rails for virtually nothing, and there’s nothing to stop them. i mean really, on 9/11 of all days….surprised?