Most of what the Washington Post reports today we already knew — the security at our consulate in Benghazi obviously didn’t meet even minimal standards, let alone the requirements of a diplomatic mission in an area where radical Islamist terrorist networks operate openly. The results of the terrorist attack attest to that much. The Post confirms, though, that the State Department never took those security concerns seriously, and implies that the late Ambassador Chris Stevens didn’t either:
On the eve of his death, U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens was ebullient as he returned for the first time in his new role to Benghazi, the eastern Libyan city that embraced him as a savior during last year’s civil war. He moved around the coastal town in an armored vehicle and held a marathon of meetings, his handful of bodyguards trailing discreetly behind.
But as Stevens met with Benghazi civic leaders, 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.
A U.S. military team assigned to establish security at the new embassy in Tripoli, in a previously undisclosed detail, was never instructed to fortify the temporary hub in the east. Instead, a small local guard force was hired by a British private security firm as part of a contract worth less than half of what it costs to deploy a single U.S. service member in a war zone for a year.
The discovery of Stevens’ journal by CNN in the burnt-out consulate — which the FBI still has yet to visit — indicated that Stevens had become increasingly in fear of his life, and wrote that he’d been put on an al-Qaeda hit list. However, earlier incidents should have made clear that State needed to provide better security, and that the need was increasing:
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.
Geoff Porter, a risk and security analyst who specializes in North Africa, said the sudden and stark shift from “predictable violence to terrorism” in the east over the summer was unmistakable.
“The U.S. intelligence apparatus must have had a sense the environment was shifting,” he said.
Ernesto Londono and Abigail Hauslohner report that his friends didn’t hear any complaints from Stevens, and that he was excited to be back in Benghazi. However, their Libyan contacts tried to dissuade the Americans from any kind of public appearance, warning that security was deteriorating:
But if Stevens was deeply worried about deteriorating security, as CNN has reported he wrote in an entry in his journal, he kept quiet, said the Libyan friend who was with him the day before the attack.
“We didn’t talk about attacks,” the friend said. “He would have never come on the anniversary of September 11th if he had had any concerns.”
Three days before the attack, a U.S. official in Benghazi met with security leaders to ask them about the threat level, a senior Libyan official in the east said on the condition of anonymity to discuss an ongoing investigation.
The American did not disclose the ambassador’s visit.
“They told him, ‘Look, if there’s going to be any foreign presence [in the city], it better be discreet,’ ” the Libyan official said.
In other words, the State Department had plenty of indicators that the consulate in Benghazi was at high risk. The British had pulled out of the city entirely due to the deteriorating conditions in eastern Libya. Instead of bolstering security or moving diplomatic personnel back to the embassy in Tripoli, State did nothing — and sent Stevens into the city for a very public tour. Ironically, the US now won’t send FBI investigators within 400 miles of Benghazi now for the investigation into the terrorist attack because of security concerns in the Benghazi region.
Most of this has already been known or assumed, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t note the confirmation of the incompetence that left four Americans dead and a diplomatic installation an open target for radical Islamist terrorists.