“Overall, the number of Bureau of Diplomatic Security (DS) security staff in Benghazi on the day of the attack and in the months and weeks leading up to it was inadequate, despite repeated requests from Special Mission Benghazi and Embassy Tripoli for additional staffing. Board members found a pervasive realization among personnel who served in Benghazi that the Special Mission was not a high priority for Washington when it came to security-related requests, especially those relating to staffing.” – State Department’s After Action Report
Although the media has repeatedly referred to the compound that Ambassador Stevens was staying in the night of the 9/11/12 attack as a “consulate” the State Department actually designated it a Temporary Mission Facility. For the sake of clarity we will continue to call the compound a consulate, or just compound, since it served a similar purpose and readers are already accustomed to the term.
(The key difference between an actual consulate and a Temporary Mission Facility is that a consulate is well established and serves as a miniature embassy that can conduct diplomatic services in other parts of the country whereas the Temporary Mission Facility was something set up on a much more ad hoc basis and not given the same level of support.)
In the run up to the attack there were multiple indicators that threats exists against the consulate in Benghazi. As noted previously, Ambassador Stevens was well aware of the jihadist threat in Libya. The Regional Security Office in Tripoli also, “compiled a list of 234 security incidents in Libya between June 2011 and July 2012, 50 of which took place in Benghazi.”
It was clear from both classified intelligence reports and open source information that there was an escalating threat to Western targets in Libya as the Jihadist presence became more pervasive in Eastern Libya. The Senate’s “Flashing Red” report points to four particularly important incidents which should have served as warning signs in the run up to the attack:
On May 22, 2012, the International Committee for the Red Cross/Red Crescent (ICRC) building in Benghazi was hit by two RPG rounds, causing damage to the building but no casualties. Several days later, the Brigades of the Imprisoned Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman claimed responsibility for this attack, accusing the ICRC of proselytizing in Libya.
On June 6, 2012, the U.S. Temporary Mission Facility [referred to as a consulate in most media reports] in Benghazi was targeted by an IED attack that blew a hole in the perimeter wall. Credit for this attack was also claimed by the Brigades of the Imprisoned Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman, which said it carried out the attack in response to the reported drone strike on al Qaeda leader Abu Yahya al-Libi in Northern Waziristan.
On June 11, 2012, an attack was carried out in Benghazi on the convoy of the British Ambassador to Libya. Attackers fired an RPG on the convoy, followed by small arms fire. Two British bodyguards were injured in the attack. This attack was characterized afterwards in an incident report by the Department of State’s Bureau of Diplomatic Security as a “complex, coordinated attack.”
On June 18, 2012, the Tunisian consulate in Benghazi was stormed by individuals affiliated with Ansar al-Sharia Libya (AAS), allegedly because of “attacks by Tunisian artists against Islam.”
The Flashing Red report also makes the point that while there was sufficient evidence to warn that there was a threat against American personnel and facilities in Libya, enough that it should had elevated their security posture, there was no specific intelligence information that pointed towards a specific targeted attack on the Consulate on 9/11/12.
Full Timeline of Security incidents from the State Departments Report leading up to September 11th, 2012
- March 18, 2012 – Armed robbery occurs at the British School in Benghazi.
- March 22, 2012 – Members of a militia searching for a suspect fire their weapons near the SMC and attempt to enter.
- April 2, 2012 – A UK armored diplomatic vehicle is attacked after driving into a local protest. The vehicle was damaged but occupants uninjured.
- April 6, 2012 – A gelatina bomb (traditional homemade explosive device used for fishing) is thrown over the SMC north wall.
- April 10, 2012 – An IED (gelatina or dynamite stick) is thrown at the motorcade of the UN Special Envoy to Libya in Benghazi.
- April 26, 2012 – Special Mission Benghazi principal officer is evacuated from International Medical University (IMU) after a fistfight escalated to gunfire between Tripoli-based trade delegation security personnel and IMU security.
- April 27, 2012 – Two South African nationals in Libya as part of U.S.-funded weapons abatement, unexploded ordnance removal and demining project are detained at gunpoint by militia, questioned and released.
- May 22, 2012 – Benghazi International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) building struck by rocket propelled grenades (RPGs).
- May 28, 2012 – A previously unknown organization, Omar Abdurrahman group, claims responsibility for the ICRC attack and issues a threat against the United States on social media sites.
- June 6, 2012 – IED attack on the SMC. The IED detonates with no injuries but blows a large hole in the compound’s exterior wall. Omar Abdurrahman group makes an unsubstantiated claim of responsibility.
- June 8, 2012 – Two hand grenades target a parked UK diplomatic vehicle in Sabha (800 km south of Benghazi).
- June 11, 2012 – While in Benghazi, the British Ambassador’s convoy is attacked with an RPG and possible AK-47s. Two UK security officers are injured; the UK closes its mission in Benghazi the following day.
- June 12, 2012 – An RPG attack is made on the ICRC compound in Misrata (400 km west of Benghazi).
- June 18, 2012 – Protestors storm the Tunisian consulate in Benghazi.
- July 29, 2012 – An IED is found on grounds of the Tibesti Hotel.
- July 30, 2012 – Sudanese Consul in Benghazi is carjacked and driver beaten.
- July 31, 2012 – Seven Iranian-citizen ICRC workers abducted in Benghazi.
- August 5, 2012 – ICRC Misrata office is attacked with RPGs. ICRC withdraws its representatives from Misrata and Benghazi.
- August 9, 2012 – A Spanish-American dual national NGO worker is abducted from the Islamic Cultural Center in Benghazi and released the same day.
- August 20, 2012 – A small bomb is thrown at an Egyptian diplomat’s vehicle parked outside of the Egyptian consulate in Benghazi.
In a Senate hearing after the attack, the director of the National Counter-Terrorism Center, Matthew Olsen stated that there was no evidence of, “significant advanced planning or coordination for this attack.” This is a view point shared by Matthew VanDyke who told Business Insider, “this was not a commando style raid, that’s ridiculous, this type of thing can be put together in a matter of minutes with a few cell-phone calls.” VanDyke has stated that some Libyans would have seen co-current protests at the US embassy in Egypt and else where on satellite television in response to an inflammatory youtube video that depicted the prophet Muhammad.
VanDyke laid out his take on the attack for Business Insider telling them about the extremist training camps in the nearby Green Mountains. “Those camps have been there. There’s no excuse for that. They’re about 2 hours from the consulate, so these guys probably saw it [the protests in Egypt] on TV, made a few cell-phone calls, grabbed some gear, and got on the road.” He goes on to state that there was probably no intention for the protest outside the Consulate to get violent but then the extremists showed up and used the protestors as a shield.
The problem with this thesis is that further investigation has clearly shown that there was no protest outside the consulate prior to or during the attack. There was an assault by armed gunmen on the Consulate that night of 9/11/12 and there was no protest, peaceful or otherwise.
There is evidence that there was at least some operational planning on the part of the Ansar Al-Sharia militia affiliate that attacked the compound. On the morning of 9/11/12 two Blue Mountain Security guards spotted a man in a Libyan police uniform taking pictures of the consulate from a nearby building which was under construction. The security guards briefly detained the man, who was taking the pictures with his cell phone, before telling him to get lost. He drove away in his police car and a complaint was made to the Libyan police station.
Sean Smith also commented on this surveillance, posting a comment about it on the internet before be was killed the night of the attack. As the IT guy for the consulate, Sean spent a lot of time on the internet, sometimes talking to friends and playing video games. That day of the attack he posted the following comment:
(12:54:09 PM) assuming we don’t die tonight. We saw one of our ‘police’ that guard the compound taking pictures
In regards to the local Blue Mountain security guards, the Diplomatic Security personnel and everyone else at the Consulate and the Annex had to have known the deal. They fled the moment the attack began some there is some speculation that they even opened the gate to allow the terrorists ingress into the Consulate.
When it comes to Third Country Nationals, you get what you pay for. On Forward Operating Bases that house soldiers in Afghanistan, our troops have gone to check on the tower guards on the perimeter to find that they are to busy engaged in homosexual sex to pull guard duty. In Iraq, imported Ugandan gate guards were known to have a “big man” pimping them out for drugs on one US run FOB. This isn’t to say that all TCN’s are bad, many served honorably alongside American servicemen and women, but no one can feign surprise that the Blue Mountain security men cut and run at the first sign of trouble.
With the Libyan government weak and unable to provide any kind of security, the State Department felt forced to rely on TCN’s for security. The Blue Mountain security firm had hired the February 17 militia for security. The contract with February 17 was allowed to lapse prior to the 9/11/12 attack because the militia no longer wished to be seen protecting Americans in Benghazi.
Without casting blame on local nationals, one of the key institutional failures to protect the consulate happened because the Diplomatic Security personnel were only rotated to the Consulate on a temporary basis. This made it very difficult to maintain a consistent security posture and ensure that security upgrades were made to the facility.
Imagine dropping a couple security guards into buildings built for civilian purposes and asking them to guard these buildings. Just as they are beginning to hire contractors and get a security plan put together, they are getting yanked out of the new Consulate and reassigned elsewhere. The newly assigned Diplomatic Security personnel now have to play catch up once they arrive at the Consulate and by the time they get things up and running they to are being reassigned somewhere else.
As the consulate was really a Temporary Mission Facility that would only be occupied for an unspecified period of time, it was never given the attention or funding that it should have. Instead, it was an ad hoc facility created to help build diplomatic inroads in Benghazi during a transitional period in Libya until some more permanent could be established.
That said, some security features were upgraded at the consulate. Jersey barriers were put into place, a safe room was established in one of the buildings, barb wire was strung along the top of the compound walls, windows were barred, flood lights were installed, as well as other upgrades to the gates; but it was too little too late.
Previous attacks on US embassies, consulates, and other facilities had resulted in a series of protocols and standard operating procedures when it came to security, but because the Benghazi consulate was designated as temporary in nature, many of these protocols were never carried out or enforced. Meanwhile, Diplomatic Security was pushing to have more agents assigned to Benghazi, and Ambassador Stevens was advocating a more permanent presence there.
One option mentioned prior to the attack was to co-locate the CIA annex and the consulate to help ensure mutual security, but because of the para-military nature of the GRS mission, it would not have been a good idea for diplomatic, if not legal, reasons to house the US Ambassador to Libya alongside these CIA sponsored activities.
Clearly, the Temporary Mission Facility that served as the Consulate in Benghazi was under-protected. Ambassador Stevens knew that the rise of Islamic extremism in Benghazi posed a threat and allegedly wrote words to this effect in his personal diary which was recovered four days after the attack.
Unfortunately, it took the 9/11/12 attack itself and the death of four brave Americans to motivate the State Department to improve security in Libya.
(Featured Image Courtesy: State Department)
— Coming Sunday, Feb. 3 – Chapter Four: 9/11/2012 —
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