There’s a lot to talk about, especially when it comes to Benghazi, and I’d been trying for weeks to contact my old friend, James Jesus Angleton, the former head of CIA counterintelligence. Since he’s been dead for a long time, it’s not so easy, and I have to rely on my singularly untrusty ouija board, which has been in and out of the repair shop for years. Finally, with lots of static (maybe due to Hurricane Sandy), I got him.
Or, rather, I got his spirit, easily recognizable by his high-pitched gravelly voice (LOTS of cigarettes) and his quizzical tone.
JJA: If you’re calling about the weather, forget it, I don’t do hurricanes. Anyway, the intel on Storm Sandy was excellent. A bad day for mankind, a good day for computer modeling…
ML: No, it’s an intelligence matter. Benghazi and all that.
JJA: One of the most disgusting events I’ve ever seen.
ML: Let’s start with the intel, ok? Did we have enough information to expect the attack on 9/11?
JJA: Listen to me. Carefully. The whole point of “intelligence” is to understand the world we’re in. Sometimes you need secret information to achieve that understanding. You might need to know about foreign leaders’ real intentions, as well as their real capabilities, for example (think Iran, think al Qaeda). You can’t get that sort of information without conducting espionage. You need agents, moles, penetrations, intercepts, the whole panoply of spycraft. But sometimes you don’t need any of that, all you need is to open your eyes, nose, and mind to what is right in front of your face. Benghazi is mostly–not entirely, but mostly–that sort of thing.
ML: Yes. There were two previous assaults on that compound, after all. Ambassador Stevens was constantly asking for increased security, and the date–9/11–was an obvious red flag.
JJA: Indeed. Even the Red Cross had left Benghazi, and the Libyan government had warned about the bad, and worsening, security in the city. So you didn’t need “assets” inside the terrorist groups to worry about an impending attack.
ML: But the State Department says that, after all, there was no “specific” information that warranted greater protection for our guys there:
State Department officials have asserted that there was no specific intelligence that warned of a large-scale attack on the diplomatic compound in Benghazi, which they asserted was unprecedented. The department said it was careful to weigh security with diplomats’ need to meet with Libyan officials and citizens.
JJA: Of course they would say that. It shifts the blame to CIA. In essence State says that CIA did not have assets inside the terror groups, including AQ, and so it was inevitable that Stevens would be insufficiently defended. The implication was that, if only State had known it was coming, they’d have had adequate protection in place.
ML: But they should have known it was coming, even if they didn’t have advance details.
JJA: Precisely. It should have been obvious. The key line in that quotation from State is their concern about contacts with official and “normal” Libyans. In fact, if you go back and listen to Obama’s early claims that it was all about the video trailer, you’ll hear him say things like “those demonstrations were understandable.”
ML: You got a link to that?
JJA: It’s in that one cloud over by my apartment…
ML: HoHO! You made a funny….In fact, in the weeks leading up to the attack in Benghazi, State actually withdrew an American security team. As John Bolton and Andy McCarthy said right away, it looked like the administration wanted to deny the reality they should have seen, in favor of a myth they wanted to believe: that Obama’s policies had made the Middle East–indeed, the whole world–a safer and better place for good Americans.
JJA: No deception is as effective as self-deception, but even if they were unprepared for the assault, it is still remarkable, and disgusting, that they did not take some action to save the men on the ground. And you can’t explain that by saying “they didn’t want people to see that the policy wasn’t working very well,” since everyone was going to see that anyway, whatever the “cause” of the attack.
ML: If we had saved the men on the ground, Obama and Hillary and Petraeus could still have claimed that the fighting was provoked by the video.
JJA: Sure. The failure to act–apparently despite watching and hearing about the slaughter in real time, thanks to a drone with a camera and an eye witness reporting to Washington–requires a different sort of explanation.
At which point, as you might have expected, the static got worse.
ML: So why?
JJA: Probably no short simple answer…SNARFLE! CRACK! GARGLE!…usual inability to make decisions and make them stick…RUMBLE!…afraid the attackers had anti-aircraft missiles, didn’t want a replay of Carter’s or Clinton’s failed military…ZOT!…
and he was gone. So I’ll finish it up. The big reason is fear of failure, a big public failure. It was easier to live with tragedy and even a perception of indecisiveness-verging-on-cowardice than with an AC130 gunship going down in flames.
Did we know the assailants had such missiles? I don’t know. I’d guess we didn’t “know,” any more than we “knew” precisely who they were. Certainly a big part of Stevens’ mission was to recover the materiel left on the ground by Qadaffi’s troops, much of which was captured by the jihadis. It may have been reasonable to fear that the attackers had some.
Still, I wish Angleton had stayed online another couple of minutes…