The scene above shows an Ansar al-Sharia terrorist celebrating the sacking of our Consulate in Benghazi on the night of September 11th. The quote superimposed over it is from Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for International Programs Charlene Lamb, in sworn testimony before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee on October 11th, one month after the attack.
There are two distinct issues at play here – the situation on the ground in Benghazi leading up to the attack; and, the administration’s reaction to the events of September 11th. That the latter is even in play is, of course, entirely self-inflicted.
Lieutenant Colonel Andrew Wood (19th US Special Forces/Airborne, ret) led the 16-member Site Security Team (SST) in Libya from 12 February to 14 August of this year, and spoke eloquently about the deteriorating security situation in Libya, generally, and in Benghazi, specifically. His daily SitReps went to AFRICOM, which forwarded them to the Joint Chiefs. The picture is grim. “State Department’s decision not to extend SST’s security work beyond August 5th terminated our work,” Colonel Wood told the committee. “Fighting between militias was still common. Some militias appeared to be degenerating into organizations resembling free lance criminal operations. Targeted attacks against westerners were on the increase. In June the Ambassador received a threat on Facebook with a public announcement that he liked to run around the Embassy compound in Tripoli,” he continued.
“When I arrived in February there were 3 Mission Security Details (MSD) teams on the ground. Ambassador Cretz was confronted with having to loose one of these and requested an equal number of regular diplomatic security agents [denied]. The Ambassador also struggled with renewing the SST beyond April 5th. The second MSD team was withdrawn shortly after his departure, and the last MSD team was restricted from performing security work and limited to only training local guard force members in July. The remaining MSD was withdrawn at about the same time the SST security work was terminated [August].”
There were IED attacks on the Benghazi Consulate in April and June. There was an assassination attempt on the British Ambassador’s motorcade in June. So, as stability was deteriorating, we were gearing-down our diplomatic security levels in-country. And then there is the matter of multiple pleas from Ambassador Stephens for increased security at the Benghazi Consulate. All rejected.
We were, for whatever reason, leaving the security of our diplomats increasingly up to a shaky interim government in Tripoli that couldn’t manage the inter-tribal rivalries and free-roaming criminal activity in Libya. It was a risky bet that we lost.
Once the consulate and safe house were sacked and four Americans were killed, the administration, for some reason, went into a circular firing squad of finger-pointing and handy excuses. First it was a video (actually a trailer for a video). That line was pursued by the White House long after it was revealed that the trailer had been on YouTube since January (somewhat weakening the “spontaneous” demonstration claim). The State Department gave up the “demonstration that went bad” line after it was pointed out that there was no demonstration in Benghazi when the terrorists showed up at the consulate. Many Congressional Democrats pivoted to “the Republicans cut funding for diplomatic security” until the above mentioned hearing, where Ms Lamb was asked directly by Representative Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA-49) if, in her decision to reject repeated requests from Benghazi for increased security, budget considerations ever entered into the equation. She answered simply, “No, sir.” By this time, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney had interestingly revealed that “Obviously, the attack on our Consulate was a terrorist attack.” That clarity of view was apparently opaque to his boss, SecState Hillary Clinton (thrown under the bus), Director of National Intelligence James Clapper (thrown under the bus), UN Ambassador Susan Rice (driving the bus), and the besieged Charlene Lamb (hung out to dry).
As always in these cases, the cover-up is more damaging to the administration’s credibility than the event itself. They appear to be either witless or without principles. Trying to spin events to one’s political advantage is expected, to fabricate a mythology around events is troubling.
I’m sure the timing of the revelation of a catastrophically poor decision – less a month before the election – was a primary concern of the White House. Why they didn’t use the standard non-answer (“We are vigorously investigating the events of September 11, and will let you know as soon as we do” – i.e., after the election), I’ll never know. But it is telling. An administration that takes a step back to consider an unexpected turn of events is one thing, one that begins a frantic search to find a scapegoat is quite another.
 It’s also interesting to note that a substantial special operations effort was inserted into Libya on September 13th, two days after the attack, indicating that the administration knew exactly what had happened.