What stands out the most from the Benghazi attack is that America lost four great men. Chris Stevens was a very sharp Ambassador who understood Libya like few other Americans. Sean Smith was a dedicated communications specialist for the State Dept and an Air Force veteran who got caught in the wrong place at the wrong time. Glen Doherty and Ty Woods were two of America’s best, showing intense moral and physical courage the night and following morning of the attack.
Beyond an epitaph for the fallen, Benghazi must also be viewed in the context of American foreign policy and counter-terrorism strategy. What lessons can be learned from the failures of Benghazi? It is beyond concerning how the media lied and distorted the truth around the attack, caught up in the fervor of the 2012 Presidential election, much of both the mainstream and alternative media got it wrong. The lesson to Americans is clear in this case. Take what you hear with a grain of salt and always question the narratives, and the authors background of the stories being sold to you. Even if it is coming from your favorite source of trusted news. None of these outlets constitute a paragon of the truth.
The security failures at the consulate are appalling, however, in the aftermath of any attack it is natural to focus on a lack of security. After any attack, be it 9/11/01 or 9/11/12, security will always be seen as inadequate when viewed in hindsight of a devastating terrorist assault. Still, a more permanent solution should have been implemented in Benghazi much sooner. Ambassador Stevens pushed for this, knowing how important Benghazi would be for US interests.
Instead, it was labeled as a Temporary Mission Facility and never given the support that this mission required. This was the key institutional failure from a security standpoint, that there was not enough support for the mission and there was little continuity between the personnel stationed there on temporary duty as they rotated in and out of Benghazi so fast. Currently, Congress is looking over how budgets will be allocated and how security can be upgraded but these measures have already taken place after previous embassy attacks such as in Kenya and Tanzania and the tangible end result seems ambiguous at best. This is especially true with the amount of political posturing being done by those in Congress.
Immediately after the attack in Libya, the State Department and the Obama White House indicated that the attack occurred because of an inflammatory Internet video filmed in America which insulted Islam. The US government later had to retract these statements and reverse course as the controversy around the attacks grew and it became increasingly apparent that there was no protest outside the consulate in Benghazi and that it had little to do with some offensive internet video.
However, the media frenzy around whether or not there was a protest, whether or not the attack was motivated by a YouTube video, why security at the consulate was weak, and innuendo about Obama refusing to support the GRS team while they were under attack were also false stories that played right into the administrations hands because the truth paints a far grimmer picture.
The last thing the White House wanted was journalists digging into what was really going on in Libya, namely, secret weapons transfers from Libya to Syria, a program that exists as a periphery issue to the Benghazi attack. More importantly, they did not want the press investigating the true motivations for the Benghazi attack.
Did Ansar Al-Sharia get inspired after seeing the Egyptians storming the US embassy in Cairo the day prior? Did they get offended by an internet video? Did they choose 9/11 as the date of the attack because of the obvious symbolism? Maybe. But another contributing factor was JSOC operations in Libya which kicked the hornets nest and pissed off the militia.
It is an open secret in Washington, DC that John Brennan is a World-class windbag. Previous investigations by SOFREP partially exposed some of Brennan’s antics in our e-book “No Easy Op.” The other media circus of the last year was about high level leaks coming from the White House after the Bin Laden raid in Pakistan. One of these leaks came from John Brennan who fed information to the New Yorker. Nicholas Schmidle was then spoon fed the story because his father is a General. The New Yorker had to sit on the story for months in order to make it appear as if Schmidle was consulting with sources, to create the illusion of actual investigative journalism as opposed to government propaganda, which is what the resulting article “Getting Bin Laden” is. Schmidle’s work on the Bin Laden raid was wildly inaccurate as John Brennan was feeding him garbage designed to make the Obama administration look good.
Brennan’s antics have continued unabated since then as he runs highly compartmentalized secret operations from his seat as Obama’s counter-terrorism adviser. He has long had his eye on becoming the Director of Central Intelligence or Director of National Intelligence but will find it challenging going through the confirmation process because of the political baggage he carries due to past support for so-called “Enhanced Interrogation Techniques.”
With tacit support from Michael Vickers and James Clapper, Brennan works to exploit a number of loop holes and utilize the Obama administrations creative interpretations of Title 10 and Title 50 powers to launch operations across North Africa and the Middle East, with Admiral McRaven no doubt happy to be along for the ride.
These operations may very well be warranted. One of the main targets is known to be Yasin al-Suri, one of the last major league Al-Qaeda leaders. For sure the world would be a better place after JSOC puts a bullet in his head. Al-Suri is the architect behind Al-Qeada’s current open-front strategy which emphasis self radicalizing cells to work independently in a sort of “plug and play” strategy. Dawinism has taken effect after over a decade of the War on Terror. The dumb terrorist leaders are all dead and now it is the masterminds who are left.
The end game for terrorists like Al-Suri is an Islamic Caliphate, something which would probably never happen even without US opposition due to larger geo-political issues, but the idea of a united Sunni insurgency spreading across the middle east is enough to have Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states nervously wringing their hands in a cold sweat.
The problem occurs when a bunch of 18th Century tribesmen in sandals with rusty AK-47’s are permitted to wag the dog, that is, that their actions move a multi-billion dollar counter-terrorist apparatus across the world to the point that these operations begin to get out of control…all with a non-elected political appointee running the show.
Because John Brennan is running his own private war, he is not going through the normal chain of command and operations are not deconflicted. Ambassador Stevens for instance was not read on to the JSOC operations in Libya. He was kept in the dark and ultimately killed in a retaliation which he never could have seen coming. Likewise, the CIA never knew what hit them. They were trying to track down fissile material in Libya and had no way of knowing what was coming. In the days after the attack, even GRS employees thought that the consulate was hit because Ansar Al-Sharia was upset over some youtube video.
The problem only escalates when you consider the poor communication between different agencies. There has always been some bad blood between the CIA, the State Department, and the Department of Defense but this has only gotten worse because of the raid which killed Osama Bin Laden in Abbotabad, Pakistan.
SEAL Team Six executed the raid and conducted the SSE on the objective, however they were technically operating under the auspices of the CIA at the time, to skirt around the Title 10/Title 50 distinctions. Because of this the CIA got the SSE materials off the objective and has been analyzing them. Even though it was SEALs who recovered the information, the CIA has only shared a very small percentage of the intelligence windfall that resulted from the raid with DOD. DOD in turn has decided to stop sharing information with the CIA creating a frustrating situation when one is trying to carry out sophisticated counter-terrorist operations around the globe.
The issue of operations not being properly deconflicted is likely to be exacerbated as we move into the next phase of the War on Terror. Season 1 of the GWOT is just about over as America begins to withdraw from Afghanistan. Season 2 of the GWOT will be premiering soon, and it will be even more global in nature with an optempo previously unseen.
Ambitious bureaucrats like John Brennan need to be reigned or fired in order for these operations to be successful or we will see plenty more Benghazis happen. This happens on a fairly regular basis in Afghanistan where JSOC will raid a terrorist compound, kill the enemy, and the conventional units who patrol the area end up paying the price. Long after JSOC takes off in their black helicopters, the conventional forces are getting IED’ed along the roads by angry jihadists who are retaliating against any Americans they can find.
This is what really happened in Benghazi, and this is why the Obama Administration is more than happy to have the media fixated on red herrings like poor security at the consulate or wound up in an intellectual Gordian knot about some youtube video.
In 1987, Seymour Hersh wrote an article titled, “Targeting Gaddafi” which detailed how the White House’s National Security Council was exploiting a legal loophole in order to kill Gaddafi. He wrote that in the aftermath of the Iran-Contra scandal that, “Oliver North would emerge in the public’s perception as a unique and extraordinary player inside the National Security Council, a hard-charging risk-taker who was different from his colleagues. It is now apparent that North was but one of many at work in the White House who believed in force, stealth and operations behind the back of the citizenry and the Congress. He was not an aberration, but part of a White House team whose full scope of operations has yet to be unraveled.”
From Oliver North to John Brennan, this is just the way that the system works regardless of the administration. How many dead bodies they leave in their wake, men like Glen, Ty, Sean, and Chris, are at the end of the day just collateral damage in a war waged by those with political ambitions.
Nothing changes after Benghazi. The State Department claimed to have disciplined several employees but in truth they just shuffled personnel around a little. The politically powerful remain in power and the fun and games continue. As the Global War on Terror enters the next phase in North Africa and elsewhere, we can only hold our breath and wonder which of our friends will be killed in the next debacle.
Appendix I: Bios of the Four American Heroes
Chris Stevens was born and raised in northern California. He earned his undergraduate degree at the University of California at Berkeley in 1982, a J.D. from the University of California’s Hastings College of Law in 1989, and an M.S. from the National War College in 2010. He spoke Arabic and French. Prior to joining the Foreign Service in 1991, Ambassador Stevens was an international trade lawyer in Washington, DC. From 1983 to 1985 he taught English as a Peace Corps volunteer in Morocco. Stevens was a career member of the Senior Foreign Service. He arrived in Tripoli in May 2012 as U.S. Ambassador to Libya. Ambassador Stevens served twice previously in Libya. He served as Special Representative to the Libyan Transitional National Council from March 2011 to November 2011 during the Libyan revolution and as the Deputy Chief of Mission from 2007 to 2009.
Sean Smith grew up in San Diego, CA. He graduated from Mission Bay high school in 1995, enlisted in the Air Force in July 1995 and served for six years where he was a ground radio maintenance (2E) specialist and was promoted to staff sergeant in August 2000. He completed his military service in 2002. As a Foreign Service employee, he lived in The Hague Netherlands with his wife, Heather, and children, Samantha and Nathan
Tyrone (Ty) Woods led a distinguished Navy SEAL career for over 20 years. After retiring from the military Ty continued to serve his country as an independent security contractor for the CIA. His work included multiple deployments to some of the most hostile parts of the world to protect U.S. national interests.
Glen Doherty served as a U.S. Navy SEAL for nine years. He worked extensively as an independent security specialist throughout some of the most dangerous places on the planet, all in support of the freedoms we enjoy as Americans. Glen believed in working hard and playing harder; before giving up his life, he was frequently found skiing in Utah or surfing with friends at his home break in Encinitas, California.
(Featured Image Courtesy: DVIDS)
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