Given the situation on the ground in Benghazi in the months and weeks before the terrorist attack on 9/11, why did American personnel think the consulate was safe?
It turns out they did not, and requested additional help. The Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) has found an Arab TV report based on letters left behind at the consulate site. According to the report, “The letters revealed that since September 9, the Americans had been requesting special security arrangements, in preparation for the arrival of Ambassador Chris Stephens to Benghazi. These arrangements included the police guarding the front and rear gates of the consulate around the clock, in addition to a mobile patrol and a bomb-sniffing dog. The Americans, however, were not granted these requests, as was made clear from the letter, dated September 11, just hours before the attack. ‘We are saddened to report that we have only received an occasional police presence at our main gate. Many hours pass when we have no police support at all.’”
So, consulate personnel were worried; the TV report details some specific reasons why. This fact only raises a new round of questions. First, if the extra security was not being provided, why not wave off the ambassador’s visit? How was it decided that the known security failures were not significant enough to warrant that step? Second, if the decision was made to proceed despite the failure of the Libyans (one hesitates to say “Libyan authorities” in a situation of near anarchy) to provide needed security, did the consulate or the embassy consider sending more security into Benghazi with the ambassador? Or consider alerting U.S. forces nearby (in Tripoli or at bases in southern Europe) to be on alert?
The more we learn, the less we understand — partly because much evidence was left behind and is emerging only piece by piece all over the region, and partly because the Obama administration has obscured the facts. But it is important, even after the election and even if all the relevant Obama officials are gone, to put all the pieces together and learn what happened — so that the State and Defense Departments and CIA can put together better rescue plans. It is tragic to read now that the consulate staff were “saddened” about the lack of protection when we know what came just a few hours later. Next time, they can be saddened — but should know they have some rescue teams or helicopter gunships or C-130s ready to save the Americans and make any attackers the “saddened” ones by the time the incident is over.