As we head into the final weekend before the presidential election, the 9-11-12 attack on the US consulate Benghazi continues to dog President Obama and shadow the campaign. The president and his top lieutenants have the answers to what happened before, during and after the attack, but have chosen to gamble the election and their possible second terms on a strategy of stonewalling and delaying. Thursday we learned several new key facts, including the fact that President Obama is not even taking part in the so-called investigation, and that the State Department intends to keep the findings of its internally controlled review away from the public until well past the election. The Democrat-controlled Senate, likewise, will not hold any hearings until November 15, more than a week after the election, and that hearing will be closed. These three facts necessarily mean that the American people will not get full answers on Benghazi until after the election, if we ever get them at all.
As new details continue to emerge, the storylines can become confusing. It’s important to keep our eye on what are the three key scandals within the Benghazi debacle. They are:
- The failure to secure the consulate in the months leading up to the attack.
- The failure to respond to pleas for help during the attack.
- The decision to deceive the American public about the nature of the attack afterward.
Within each of those scandals, there are a number of facets that point to failures to understand the environment in Libya, a lack of leadership at the White House during the battle, and complete disregard for the facts of the battle after it was over.
The US State Department failed to secure the consulate despite repeated warnings of the deteriorating security situation in Benghazi going back several months prior to the attack. The State Department evidently ignored a growing body of evidence that Libya was slipping toward domination by Islamic terrorist groups including Ansar al-Sharia, which is al Qaeda rebranded. The State Department made the decision to hire untrustworthy and unqualified local militias infested with al Qaeda to provide security at the consulate in Benghazi, a city in which the black flag of Islam had been seen flying above government buildings. The State Department ignored Ambassador Stevens’ repeated pleas for more security even after he and his security staff determined on August 15 that the consulate could not be defended from a coordinated terrorist attack. There also remains the question of why was Stevens in Benghazi the anniversary of 9-11 at all, when the consulate was clearly indefensible, and a Libyan police officer assigned to protect the consulate had been seen casing and photographing the compound.
The White House had enough information on 9-11-12 to adjudge the assault a terrorist attack and respond accordingly, including emails from US personnel engaged in the battle itself, and video and audio from the drone that was orbiting overhead. But during the battle, President Obama failed to convene his counterterrorism council, the Counterterrorism Security Group, which is standard operating procedure when US interests come under terrorist attack. Fox reported today that senior counterterrorism officials even felt cut out of the information loop, as the State Department declined to deploy an interagency FEST (Foreign Emergency Support Team) team. The White House failed to send military help despite mounting evidence that the military might have been able to help Ty Woods and Glen Doherty during the middle and later stages of the battle. The White House has yet to account for the president’s decisions, other than to acknowledge that he met with his defense secretary and vice president during the battle’s early stages, and met with his national security adviser at some point during the battle.
After the battle, someone in the White House made the decision to blame the attack on a movie and a protest, when it was clear during the battle that it was a terrorist attack. Terrorists claimed responsibility during the battle, and terrorists had threatened the US embassy in Cairo, Egypt prior to the attack there and Benghazi. The attack occurred on the anniversary of the 9-11 attacks on the United States. The assault followed military-style organization and tactics. The decision to blame the movie was evidently political: The president had been campaigning on national security by declaring that al Qaeda is “on the run” after the death of Osama bin Laden. A successful terrorist attack, as was the case in Benghazi and to a lesser extent in Cairo, destroys that campaign talking point. The Obama White House would blame the movie for two weeks, even paying $70,000 to air TV ads in Pakistan blaming the movie. During that time, President Obama blamed the movie in media appearances and cited it six times during his Sept. 25 address at the United Nations; US Ambassador Susan Rice blamed the movie on five talk shows on Sept. 16; and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton blamed the movie during the transfer of remains ceremony for the four fallen Americans on Sept. 14. President Obama first directly blamed the movie during his Rose Garden remarks about the loss of American lives in Benghazi on Sept. 12. The decision to blame the movie must have been made during the battle or very shortly after the battle had ended. The effort to blame the movie only began to unravel when the director of the National Counterterrorism Center, Matthew Olsen, testified before Congress that Benghazi was a terrorist attack. Olsen gave that testimony on Sept. 19. The following day, White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters that it was “self-evident” that Benghazi had been a terrorist attack. But on Sept. 14, Carney blamed the movie and a protest that we now know never occurred, and the White House knew at the time had never occurred.
It could be argued that there is a fourth scandal stemming from the Benghazi assault, which is the failure to secure and adequately investigate the compound after the battle. President Obama ordered the FBI to investigate at the consulate shortly after the battle, but FBI agents did not arrive until three weeks later. By that time, enemy agents, reporters and looters had had free access to the unsecured compound, removing sensitive documents and contaminating whatever evidence remained there. Even as late as Oct. 26 the compound remained unsecured. It is probably unsecured to this day. The delay in getting FBI investigators to the scene probably compromised a great deal of US operations in the Middle East, and certainly allowed the attackers time to remove any evidence they might want to, and to get away.
Related: The head of SecState Clinton’s panel investigating the State Department’s handling of Benghazi, former Ambassador Thomas J. Pickering, blasts “Islamophobia.”