Evidence is growing that the death of four American officials in Benghazi, including a charismatic and talented ambassador, came at a time when appropriate security procedures and precautions were not being taken. That at least is the burden of this story in the Washington Post, a story that few in the White House will enjoy reading.
As reporters Ernesto Londoño and Abigail Hauslohner put it:
U.S. officials appear to have underestimated the threat facing both the ambassador and other Americans. They had not reinforced the U.S. diplomatic outpost there to meet strict safety standards for government buildings overseas. Nor had they posted a U.S. Marine detachment, as at other diplomatic sites in high-threat regions.
The article only gets more damning; in a paragraph that must have raised blood pressure from Pennsylvania Avenue to Foggy Bottom to the Obama election HQ in Chicago, the Post reports that:
Insecurity has beset Libya since the country’s civil war ended in October 2011 with Gaddafi’s dramatic execution. Militias have been reluctant to disband or surrender weapons. After the U.S. Embassy formally reopened in Tripoli last fall, the U.S. military’s Africa command dispatched a team to help build its security infrastructure. The troops, however, were never assigned to bolster security at the site in Benghazi, said Eric Elliott, a spokesman for the Africa command. Elliott and the State Department could not say why.
There is more. The office in Benghazi was neither an embassy nor a consulate; it was a “liason office” and so did not come under the rules and regulations governing larger and more formal American installations overseas. Yet there was plenty of evidence that the threats in the area were substantial and were growing:
Security in eastern Libya deteriorated sharply in recent months. A string of attacks, some linked to fundamentalist groups, made clear that Westerners were no longer safe. The International Committee of the Red Cross suspended operations and evacuated staff in the east after an attack June 12 on its compound in the port city of Misrata. In Benghazi, convoys transporting the U.N. country chief and the British ambassador were attacked in April and June, respectively. The British government shut down its consulate soon afterward.
The U.S. outpost had a close call of its own June 6, when a small roadside bomb detonated outside the walls, causing no injuries or significant damage. But the Americans stayed put.
Even so, the American response was minimal:
Instead of signing a costly security contract similar to those the government has for facilities in Iraq and Afghanistan, the State Department this summer awarded a contract to Blue Mountain, a small British security firm, to provide local guards at the Benghazi compound. The year-long contract, which took effect in March, was worth $387,413, a minuscule sum for war-zone contracting. Blue Mountain and the State Department declined to comment for this article.
It’s clear — as it always is when something goes this horribly wrong — that serious mistakes and misjudgments were made, and no doubt both the executive branch and the Congress will poke in the ashes until we have a pretty good idea what went wrong and how we can prevent a repetition.