The Independent reports that the attack in Libya is likely the result of a security breach. Ambassador Stevens had just returned to Libya from Europe. His visit to Benghazi was confidential. The US embassy’s regional security officer determined the trip could be undertaken safely.
Did the attackers know the Ambassador’s travel plans?
Forty members of the consulate staff were evacuated to a secret safe house for extraction. As the Libyan security forces and eight Americans sent from Tripoli to rescue the staff arrived at the safe house, they came under mortar attack. “I don’t know how they found the place to carry out the attack. It was planned, the accuracy with which the mortars hit us was too good for any ordinary revolutionaries,” said Libyan Captain Obeidi. “It began to rain down on us, about six mortars fell directly on the path to the villa.” Clearly, the safe house location was compromised.
The Independent also claims that, according to senior diplomatic sources, the US State Department had credible warning, two days before the attack, that American missions might have been targeted, but no warnings were given to diplomats in the field.
The security situation in Benghazi had deteriorated for months. The U.S. compound in Benghazi was bombed twice prior to this attack. In April, a bomb blast hit a convoy carrying the head of the UN mission to Libya. The offices of the Red Cross were hit by a rocket propelled grenade in May. After a professional ambush of British Ambassador’s convoy with rocket propelled grenades in June, the British, the French and International Red Cross pulled out of Benghazi.
Another possible target of the attack were records kept in the consulate. Reports indicate that sensitive documents were taken from consulate the in Benghazi listing names of Libyans working with Americans.
The Regional Security Officer at the Tripoli Embassy made repeated requests for security augmentation in Benghazi and Tripoli. State Department managers in Washington denied the requests. The Department of State demanded the embassy transition to normalized security operations. The fledgling Libyan government was supposed to be protecting the consulate, but lacked the ability to provide an effective security force.
The State Department told the RSO not to request extension of the Department of Defense Mobile Security Detachment support in either Tripoli or Benghazi.
It is impossible to predict every terror attack. There are many false threats. The State Department has a difficult job and security is often seen as an impediment to diplomacy. Just as soldiers die in combat, diplomats sometimes die for diplomacy. We must honor the memories of American diplomats as we do America’s soldiers.