Among the more obvious catastrophes of the terrorist attack on our consulate in Benghazi — the loss of a dedicated diplomat in J. Christopher Stevens and three brave Americans who tried to defend the station — is perhaps a more significant loss for our counter-terrorism operations in the region. The New York Times reported last night that the CIA considers the loss of the Benghazi consulate as “a catastrophic intelligence loss,” which prompts even more questions about security for the site:
The attack in Benghazi, Libya, that killed Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other Americans has dealt the Central Intelligence Agency a major setback in its intelligence-gathering efforts at a time of increasing instability in the North African nation.
Among the more than two dozen American personnel evacuated from the city after the assault on the American mission and a nearby annex were about a dozen C.I.A. operatives and contractors, who played a crucial role in conducting surveillance and collecting information on an array of militant armed groups in and around the city.
“It’s a catastrophic intelligence loss,” said one American official who has served in Libya and who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the F.B.I. is still investigating the attack. “We got our eyes poked out.”
Before we go farther, has the FBI actually begun investigating the scene of the “crime”? According to CBS News this morning, the answer is no:
State won’t answer questions, and the FBI hasn’t gotten to the scene. However, reporters can apparently comb the rubble and come up with sensitive material and use it for broadcast. Shouldn’t that raise a few questions about the American response to this attack, too, that State can ignore?
The NYT analysis of this attack shows even further how silly the initial administration spin was. The station had been compromised, something Stevens apparently knew, as was their fallback safe house, which he discovered far too late. That strongly suggests that the terrorist network(s) that conducted this attack had significant data on the American mission in the eastern part of Libya, and attacked it not just for reasons of prestige. These networks have begun operating much more openly since the US-led NATO military mission deposed Moammar Qaddafi, and the CIA needed to keep track of groups like al-Qaeda in the Islamic Magreb and Ansar al-Sharia.
Now that we know that this station was critical to American intelligence efforts in an area rife with the kind of terrorist networks we have been fighting for the last eleven years, one has to ask why it was left so poorly secured. That question was relevant even without the CIA connection, as the terrorist networks had already made Benghazi an unsafe place for the US to conduct normal diplomatic tasks. If this was as critical an intelligence post as the NYT report suggests, the weak security arrangements can only be seen as staggeringly incompetent — and worthy of a major Congressional investigation.
The bottom line, though, is that we’ve lost an important post to keep track of the radical Islamists set loose by the NATO intervention Obama championed. It’s nothing short of a “catastrophe” for American security.