On Thursday, an FBI team finally arrived in Benghazi, Libya, to visit the sites of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks that killed four Americans, including Ambassador Chris Stevens. It took the FBI more than three weeks to get there. During that time, the ruined consulate remained only minimally secured, if that. A few days after the attack, a CNN crew went through the wreckage and found the ambassador’s handwritten journal. As late as this past Wednesday, Washington Post correspondent Michael Birnbaum, together with his interpreter, easily gained access, and reported finding that
Documents detailing weapons collections efforts, emergency evacuation protocols, the full internal itinerary of Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens’s trip and the personnel records of Libyans who were contracted to secure the mission were among the items scattered across the floors of the looted compound.
Big questions surround this scene. Why was security so light, given the cascade of attacks and threats that preceded the Sept. 11 onslaught? Why did the Obama administration go to such lengths early on to portray the attacks as “spontaneous”? What documents might have been taken from the compound? Why did it take more than three weeks for U.S. investigators to reach the scene? For that matter, since the FBI team reportedly spent only about 12 hours on the ground in Benghazi, how much is being done to find out exactly what happened?
Perhaps we will find out more when the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform convenes a hearing now scheduled for Oct. 10, on “The Security Failures of Benghazi.” Committee investigators have already compiled a list of attacks and events in the months before Sept. 11, detailed in a letter from Reps. Darrell Issa and Jason Chaffetz to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, alleging that “the U.S. Mission in Libya made repeated requests for increased security in Benghazi” but “was denied these resources by officials in Washington.” There are plenty of questions that need answering.
But some things are already clear, and one of them is that for more than three weeks following the attack on the U.S. diplomatic post in Benghazi — that makes it an attack on U.S. soil — the U.S. government was either unwilling or unable to reach and secure the site. I would wager that this, in itself, is a matter of some interest in places where people hostile to the U.S.and its interests – observers ranging from terrorists to opportunistic regimes such as China and Russia — are trying to gauge the strength, reach and backbone of America. By leaving the wreckage in Benghazi so long unattended, Washington flashes a signal of extraordinary weakness.
An AP dispatch on Thursday’s FBI visit to Benghazi reported that according to the Pentagon — which provided air transport and protection for the investigators — the request for these arrangements came only several days ago, and “it took a few days to get authorization from the Libyan government and to make other necessary arrangements.”
Yes, it is vital in sending investigators to Benghazi to provide enough security so that they themselves are not in serious danger. No question that Libya right now is a complex and dangerous scene. But for America, with all its might and resources, should that require a span of more than three weeks?
Libya is a country that America, albeit “leading from behind,” helped liberate from its monstrous dictator. Some Libyans found the courage after the Sept.11 attacks to demonstrate against the attackers. Libya’s president, Mohamed Al-Megarief, was just in New York at the United Nations General Assembly last week, enjoying U.S. hospitality and security while U.S. investigators were still waiting for access to the wrecked and looted consulate in Benghazi. Was there really no way to get there sooner, or at the very least, better secure the site? Whatever the explanations, the wreckage of an American diplomatic post, hit by terrorists and then abandoned for weeks to scavengers, is a potent symbol of declining will and power — and an invitation to the next attack.
Shutterstock image via Catalin Petolea