Belmont Club

Decamp Town Places

Foreign Policy has an article describing how the consulate in Benghazi was being surveilled, photographed and measured for attack. The reconnaissance was noticed, but no significance was attached to it. The apprehensions were duly reported and filed in the round cabinet.

The two unsigned draft letters are both dated Sept. 11 and express strong fears about the security situation at the compound on what would turn out to be a tragic day. They also indicate that Stevens and his team had officially requested additional security at the Benghazi compound for his visit — and that they apparently did not feel it was being provided.

One letter, written on Sept. 11 and addressed to Mohamed Obeidi, the head of the Libyan Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ office in Benghazi, reads:

“Finally, early this morning at 0643, September 11, 2012, one of our diligent guards made a troubling report. Near our main gate, a member of the police force was seen in the upper level of a building across from our compound. It is reported that this person was photographing the inside of the U.S. special mission and furthermore that this person was part of the police unit sent to protect the mission. The police car stationed where this event occurred was number 322.”

The account accords with a message written by Smith, the IT officer who was killed in the assault, on a gaming forum on Sept. 11. “Assuming we don’t die tonight. We saw one of our ‘police’ that guard the compound taking pictures,” he wrote hours before the assault.

But the events of September 11, 2012 worked an epiphany. Suddenly the scales fell from official eyes The attitude of complacency was instantly replaced by what was almost paranoia. The FBI behaved at every moment of its investigation in Benghazi  like they had a bulls-eye painted on their backs.

With suspected militants still roaming the streets, FBI investigators only had limited time to check the consulate compound. According to a Benghazi resident who resides near the consulate, the FBI team spent only three hours examining the compound.

During their short visit, FBI agents apparently mapped the compound by gluing small pieces of yellow paper with different letters on it next to each room in the TOC building. Next to the room where the letters and most documents were found, a yellow paper marks it room “D.” Above the paper, somebody has carved a swastika in the blackened wall.

Part of the reason for this about-face was what might be called a loss of confidence in the authorities. The Benghazi police, who were called upon to provide extra security for the consulate did not for reasons that are only now becoming apparent.  Their attitude toward the security of the ambassador was also troubling. One of the Libyan officials from whom help had been sought said “‘I did not even know that the U.S. ambassador was visiting Benghazi.’ However, a spokesman for the Benghazi police confirmed that the ministry had notified the police of the ambassador’s visit.” Nor did they apparently receive any of the pleas for more security.

They were deaf to all that.

“We did not receive that letter from the U.S. consulate. We received a letter from Ministry of Foreign Affairs Benghazi asking for additional security measures around consulate during visit of the ambassador. And the police provided all extra security which was asked for,” the spokesman said.

The deafness notwithstanding everything that could be done was done to ensure the ambassador received a warm reception.

The sudden shift from a trusting attitude in their Libyan partners to one of apparent suspicion was probably brought about by a belated realization that not all was what it seemed. The “safe house” to which they retreated proved unsafe. And when the first wave of attacks had stopped the little band of men on the ground believed the worst was over, only to discover that the fiercest attacks were yet to come. Every foothold was rotten. Every handhold came loose. Every place of safety proved a trap.

A story from ABC News describes how various American response assets were kept on ice and finally stood down. “The response process was isolated at the most senior level,” says an official referring to top officials in the executive branch. “My fellow counterterrorism professionals and I (were) not consulted.” The people at the top hemmed and hawed over what to do. In the end they decided they could do nothing.

Counterterrorism sources and internal emails reviewed by CBS News express frustration that key responders were ready to deploy, but were not called upon to help in the attack.

CBS News has agreed not to quote directly from the emails, and to protect the identities of the sources who hold sensitive counterterrorism posts within the State Department, the U.S. military and the Justice Department.

As to why the Counterterrorism Security Group was not convened, National Security Council Spokesman Tommy Vietor told CBS News “From the moment the President was briefed on the Benghazi attack, the response effort was handled by the most senior national security officials in governments. Members of the CSG were of course involved in these meetings and discussions to support their bosses.”

Perhaps someone in the Situation Room that night as the attack unfolded recalled the story of Varus and Arminius. Varus, it will be recalled, was the Roman general who trusted in his German friend Arminius’ instructions to take his three Legions into the Teutoberg Forest to meet some tribal leaders only to discover too late he was leading his entire force into a trap. Neither Varus nor the Legions were ever seen again.

And though things were not quite so bad in Libya the shock must have been enormous. “How could this happen in a country we helped liberate, in a city we helped save from destruction” Hillary sputtered.

In the video below you can see her trying to salvage something of her policy in the immediate aftermath of the attack. She is still clinging to the line that the attack was a rogue event, just some rotten apples; but that her fundamental trust in her allies was sound. But the subsequent furtive behavior of the FBI and (if true) the reluctance to even secure the ruins of the CIA and State Department facilities gave lie to that trust. Perhaps nobody believes the fairytale any more.

But they believed it that night.  Early reports suggested that as the attack on the CIA base raged the administration put their trust in ‘friends’. Bret Stephens at the Wall Street Journal wrote, “Libya was a failure of policy and worldview, not intelligence.”

“There was no serious consideration at that hour of intervention with military force, officials said. Doing so without Libya’s permission could represent a violation of sovereignty and inflame the situation, they said. Instead, the State Department reached out to the Libyan government to get reinforcements to the scene.”

They administration reached out — thinking that would take care of things. Something was surely taken care of, but not the men on the ground. Politics and policy had trumped intelligence. It had blinded them to the many warnings. It had lulled them into a false sense of security. It tied the hands of frustrated American security men; it opened the doors not to friends, but to deadly enemies.

And the door is still open wide to foes on a grand basis. Not just the men in Benghazi, but the entire position of American interests in the region lies exposed to the same deadly peril.  Smart Diplomacy. Grand Bargains. Leading from Behind. Big Talk By Fools. When is idealism just another name for incompetence?

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