Diplomats had long been on their guard in Benghazi, a city that was the cradle of Libya’s Western-backed revolution but also home to Islamists who have attacked foreign envoys.
Yet a long night of mayhem in which the U.S. consulate was overrun and torched, the ambassador lost and dying alone in the smoke while rescuers ran into a deadly ambush as they sought to save survivors, seemed to overwhelm U.S. security procedures.
Accounts from Libyan and U.S. officials, and from locals who watched what began as a protest on Tuesday against a crudely made American film that insults the Prophet Mohammad spiral into violence and a military-style assault on U.S. troops, point to a series of unfortunate choices amid the confusion and fear.
The actions of Libyan former rebel fighters assigned to help guard the lightly fortified compound may also face scrutiny. Libyan officers suggested that sympathy for the popular anger at the slight to their religion, as well as simple fear under heavy fire, meant the guards may have done little to defend the walls.