The attack was expected by many, not the least of which was the small group of Americans inside the building. Still, the ferocity and organization of the assault was startling and confirmed their worst fears. For weeks, requests for reinforcements had come to naught. Situated deep inside a hostile foreign country as they were, their vulnerability should have been obvious to all. But inexplicably, no help was sent.
The assault continued in waves throughout the day. Within a few hours of the firing of the first shots, the facility was aflame and the walls were breached. The remaining defenders were driven from the first building to a smaller one where they made their final stand, dying at the hands of pitiless intruders. The leader of the Americans was a young, charismatic, handsome lawyer who was liked by all who met him. In the weeks before the attack, he had personally requested more personnel to defend the facility. In the confusion of the final assault he had dreaded and tried to prepare for, he was separated from the group and died alone, a short distance away from the rest.
So died William Barret Travis, the commander of the Alamo on March 6, 1836. His last letter requesting reinforcements contained this poignant plea:
“I call on you in the name of Liberty, of patriotism & everything dear to the American character, to come to our aid, with all dispatch. The enemy is receiving reinforcements daily and will no doubt increase….”
Sadly, this situation should sound tragically familiar to Americans this month. The facts are eerily similar. Like the Alamo, a group of Americans, including Ambassador J. Chris Stevens, found themselves in an extremely vulnerable position deep inside a foreign country. Recognizing the risk, Ambassador Stevens, according to the Daily Mail, added his voice to the chorus of security personnel who had requested reinforcements over the past few months in an urgent cable sent on the morning of September 11, 2012. He was dead by the end of the day. That morning, approximately 125 heavily-armed attackers moved on the consulate, and in the ensuing battle, Ambassador Stevens and three other men died.
I have worked as the chief FBI investigator on a consulate attack (Karachi, Pakistan, 2002), and I know well the security threats of a consulate situated deep inside a country of hostile citizens, if not a hostile government. In recent months, I have testified twice before congress on State Department activities overseas. I am also aware of how threats to FBI investigative teams are dealt with overseas. My team was threatened with a terrorist attack while in Karachi and I know what precautions were necessary and I know what precautions were taken. I know that reinforcements were sent.
Make no mistake, the tragic death of Ambassador Stevens was unnecessary and avoidable. In 1836 Texas/Mexico, efforts were at least made to reinforce the beleaguered garrison. But the technology of the time, the weather and logistics conspired to defeat attempts to arrive at the Alamo in time. Benghazi’s requests simply fell on deaf ears.
The events before, during and after the assault must be investigated and lessons learned. The actions of the State Department have raised many legitimate questions. And those questions must be answered.
1. Was security for the Ambassador adequate?
Adequacy of security is easily evaluated empirically by its success or by its failure. It’s not a gray area. There is no other way to evaluate security qualitatively and quantitatively. Security at the consulate is to protect the facility and the personnel, most importantly the Ambassador. In this case, the facility was sacked and burned; the Ambassador and his security team were murdered. Is there a worse outcome?
There can be no other conclusion but that security at the consulate was tragically, cruelly and negligently inadequate. To assert anything else is self-delusion. Due to State Department decisions, the odds against the Ambassador and his team were insurmountable. They were, for all intents and purposes, abandoned to their fate. The multiple decisions to deny security to Benghazi’s American personnel were made NOT by State Department security people with boots on the ground in Benghazi; they were denied by State Department Executives sitting in air conditioned offices in Washington, D.C.
Under Secretary of State for Management Patrick Kennedy defended the denial of multiple requests for additional security at Benghazi, using the bewildering explanation that the assault on the Benghazi compound was, "an unprecedented attack by dozens of heavily armed men." That answer begs the question; “What did you think you were defending against?”
Sadly, in a kind of “Flat Earth Society” intentional denial of the obvious, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for International Programs Charlene Lamb told the Congressional House Oversight Committee that State "...had the correct number of assets in Benghazi.”
Really Ms. Lamb?? Do you think you'd get an Amen from the late Ambassador Stevens?
Oversight Committee chairman, Darrell Issa of California (a Lebanese-American) responded with the obvious: “To start off by saying you had the correct number, and our ambassador and three other individuals are dead ... doesn’t seem to ring true to the American people.”
One can only assume Ms. Lamb meant that based on what the State Department in Washington thought might happen, security was adequate. The problem with that is that they had been warned for months--MONTHS, by experts in Benghazi that a greater threat existed. The question remains: "Why did you ignore the facts supplied to you by experts that you hired to give you the appropriate intel?"
2. Who is responsible for the inadequate security at the consulate?
Easy. The State Department. This is one of the few facts State's executives are not denying. Now, it is left only to determine who ignored the frantic pleas for more security and to ensure that such a dereliction of duty never recurs.
3. Why was added security not given?
This is an open question. It is almost incomprehensible that no further security was provided. This must not be skipped over, sideswiped, or swept under the rug. A decision made at State killed four brave men just as certainly as the fire in the safe-house did.
The former State Department RSO for Benghazi , Eric Nordstrom, was apparently feeling the same sense of what I like to call ‘betrayal by inertia.’ In a conversation about security at Benghazi with his boss, Nordstrom complained;
"You know what makes it most frustrating about this assignment? It's not the hardships. It's not the gunfire. It's not the threats. It's dealing and fighting against the people, programs, and personnel who are supposed to be supporting me.”
4. Why were the initial reports to the press and to congress by the State Department untrue?
The reports made by high State Department officials were not simply mistaken, they were demonstrably false at the time they were made. They reported situations that were plainly fabrications, and held on to those stories for days after they were disproved in almost every way. Even today, Leon Panetta, Secretary of Defense, states that far from unorganized mob action as sworn to by State, the attack instead was "clearly" planned and conducted by terrorists.
While Panetta concedes that it “took a while” for information to be gathered which resulted in that conclusion, it does not explain why the State Department was reporting almost immediately facts that had no basis in reality. If it “took a while” to learn that the assault was a planned terrorist attack, how did State allegedly know “immediately” that riots and demonstrations (which did not occur) were going on at the consulate prior to the attacks?
As horrible as the deaths in Benghazi were, I am just as horrified by the apparent attempt by the State Department to protect themselves rather than allow others to learn from their mistakes, and thereby protect their own people.
5. Why was the FBI investigative team held in Tripoli for three weeks, and who made that decision?
When the FBI responds to an attack against American interests overseas, it deploys an “Extra-Territorial” investigative squad. These are sometimes known as “Fly Teams.” There are only a handful of these squads in the United States, the most notable being based in the New York, Washington, DC, and Los Angeles offices. I was tasked with standing-up the Los Angeles Extra-Territorial Squad and was their first supervisor. In that capacity, my squad and I responded to attacks against many US assets around the world, including attacks against consulates.
Each ET squad is backed up by an FBI Rapid Deployment Team (RDT), consisting of crime scene and evidence collection experts, intelligence analysts, bomb technicians, weapons of mass destruction experts, SWAT team members for security, and various other specialty agents who would be needed at the site of a terrorist attack. In my time as the ET squad supervisor, one of my biggest jobs was simply to ensure that the FBI could gain access for my team to countries and terrorist crime scenes. I found that among all of the many impediments to access to crime scenes and successful investigation in foreign countries, the biggest impediment was almost always the US Department of State.
On June 14, 2002, a car bomb was detonated outside of the consulate in Karachi, Pakistan. 12 people were killed, and 51 injured. My team was deployed immediately, but we were stunned to find that we were limited by the State Department to four investigators. Total. Four investigators were in no way adequate to investigate a case on which the bomb scene itself was almost a half-mile in diameter.
In that incidence, the State Department cited the “political sensitivities” of the Pakistani government for its devastating investigative limitation. The FBI team was protected at Karachi by approximately 10 members of a deployed U.S. Marine Corps “Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU).”
A three week delay in reaching the crime scene (especially an unsecured crime scene) compromises any serious chance of finding certain types of evidence as well as the probative value of any evidence recovered.
A. Was the decision to detain the FBI team made by the Libyans?
Unlikely. The Libyans are in no political situation to dictate U.S. government actions in the country at this time, especially when an ambassador has been killed by Libyans.
B. Was the decision to hold the FBI team in Tripoli made by the FBI?
No. This would not be in character for the FBI; especially the current FBI. Director Robert Mueller is a former Marine who has shown no tendencies to be overprotective of his agents overseas. Mueller is not one to let the risk to agents keep the FBI from conducting important investigations, especially the murder of a U.S. Ambassador. It is also not in the makeup of ET teams to do anything but chomp at the bit to get working on scene. And a Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) of adequate size to protect the investigative team could be quickly deployed.
C. Did the CIA make the decision to keep the FBI away from the Benghazi consulate?
No. That assertion is almost silly. Never once has the CIA posed any objection to a full and complete investigation of these type of attacks. The FBI would never divulge CIA operations of which they became aware during an investigation. I know because I personally have conducted investigations at facilities overseas where the CIA operates. That the CIA is present at a location is germane only to the motive for the attack, not the attack itself. State would scream bloody murder (pun intended) if CIA tried to keep the FBI out of an investigation of the killing of one of their own. Sadly, dozens of times over the last few decades, State Department personnel have been murdered, many in facilities where CIA operations “may” be occurring. In fact, in every situation in which I have been involved, the CIA has been an invaluable partner in the investigation. The assertion that the CIA kept the FBI out of Benghazi is simply the latest in a series of epic misstatements about the truth of this attack and its investigation.
D. Did the State Department make the decision to keep the FBI away from the Benghazi consulate?
From my years of overseas experience, I believe that this is the only plausible explanation. When the FBI operates overseas, they do so through an Embassy or consulate. Travel, lodging, logistics and governmental contacts are all controlled by the U.S. State Department. In fact, frequently they attempted to control FBI investigations. They seemed at times to resent the presence of others in “their” turf and frequently relations were tense.
CIRCLING THE WAGONS
Saying, “I take responsibility,” isn’t the end. It’s the beginning. If action isn’t taken, it says to the American public that the men who died weren’t worth the job of the Secretary of State. You don’t leave a person in office who makes those kind of mistakes. Taking no further action in this matter will be tantamount to a cover-up.
The kind of people we send to out of the way places like Benghazi, or who flocked to defend the Alamo are the type of people whose bravery we sometimes don’t understand. These are the kind of people for whom personal responsibility is paramount. These are the kind of people who put their put their lives on the line (let alone their career) for what they believe in. This is not a common mindset in Washington. Sadly, a more common Washington mindset is the frequent State Department “circle the wagons and protect the guilty” mentality that not even armed Libyans can pierce. Group cowardice is a formidable wall.