Thursday, September 20, 2012

Obama Administration Hid Existence of 'Secret Safe House' Even After Ambassador Christopher Stevens Was Killed

Guy Benson rightly calls this devastating, at Townhall, "Whoa: Devastating CBS News Benghazi Report Slams Obama Administration."

Plus, at the Wall Street Journal, "Miscues Before Libya Assault: Limited Security in Benghazi, Secrecy Over Safe House, Contributed to Tragedy":
The deadly assault on a U.S. diplomatic mission in Libya on Sept. 11 was preceded by a succession of security lapses and misjudgments, compounded by fog-of-battle decisions, that raise questions about whether the scope of the tragedy could have been contained.

U.S. officials issued alerts and ordered security precautions in neighboring Egypt ahead of protests and violence on Sept. 11, but largely overlooked the possibility of trouble at other diplomatic postings in the region.

The State Department chose to maintain only limited security in Benghazi, Libya, despite months of sporadic attacks there on U.S. and other Western missions. And while the U.S. said it would ask Libya to boost security there, it did so just once, for a one-week period in June, according to Libyan officials.

The U.S. didn't seriously consider sending in the military during the attack. It summoned rapid-response teams of Marines only after the U.S. ambassador was dead. State Department officials said they doubted the Pentagon could have mobilized a rescue force quickly enough to make a difference during the fighting. The Pentagon waited for guidance from State, which is responsible for diplomatic security, a senior military official said.

Adding a new dimension to the chain of events, the siege also engulfed what officials now describe as a secret safe house used by American officials and security personnel involved in sensitive government programs after last year's Libyan revolution.

Even when that building, also known as the "annex," came under attack, U.S. officials were reluctant to divulge its existence, and the secrecy complicated the Libyan response and the eventual American evacuation, according to Libyan security officials.

The Obama administration has defended levels of security in place. Though intelligence officials are investigating indications al Qaeda's North African affiliate had connections with militants who mounted the attack, U.S. officials say the evidence still indicates it was a spontaneous response to protests in Cairo against an anti-Islamic video. But a detailed review based on interviews with more than a dozen U.S. and Libyan officials shows months of ominous signals suggesting the need for better security, along with missed chances for delivering it.

President Barack Obama, in his re-election campaign, gets high marks from voters on national security, but has drawn Republican criticism over his handling of the anti-American protests.

After a classified briefing to lawmakers by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton Thursday, Sen. Susan Collins (R., Maine) called the security "woefully inadequate, given the security-threat environment." The State Department has convened an Accountability Review Board to investigate the attack, something it is required to do after such an incident.

U.S. officials still are struggling to piece together details of the attack. For more than a week after U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens was killed, the State Department couldn't say why he was in Benghazi. On Thursday, officials said they believed he was there to attend the launch of a joint U.S.-Libyan cultural and educational program.

Mr. Stevens and Sean Smith, an information officer, were killed at the consulate, in the first wave of the attack. Former Navy SEALs Glen Doherty and Tyrone Woods died later, at the sensitive safe house or annex a kilometer away. It remains unclear to U.S. and Libyan officials whether the militants knew of that facility or just followed a U.S. convoy to it after the consulate attack.

The apparent lapses extended to firefighting equipment. Rescue attempts at the main building were thwarted in part by the absence of smoke-protection masks and fire extinguishers, said Libyan guards. Senior State Department officials said these wouldn't have provided sufficient protection against the diesel-fueled inferno.

State Department officials said security for the consulate was frequently reviewed and was deemed sufficient to counter what U.S. officials considered to be the most likely threat at the time: a limited hit-and-run attack with rocket-propelled grenades or improvised explosive devices, or IEDs.

There was a string of attacks in Benghazi in the months before Sept. 11, including a June 6 IED explosion outside the consulate compound. "These types of incidents were the ones that were our principal concerns," a senior State Department official said. Based on the outcome of the June 6 attack, in which a perimeter wall was damaged but no Americans hurt, a second State Department official added: "Our security plan worked."

Current and former officials said the security choices in Benghazi reflected efforts by Mr. Stevens to maintain a low-profile security posture and show faith in Libya's new leaders, despite questions about their ability to rein in heavily armed bands of militants. Officials say Mr. Stevens personally advised against having Marines posted at the embassy in Tripoli, apparently to avoid a militarized U.S. presence.

The security plan for the consulate also reflected confidence Mr. Stevens felt in a city where he worked for months with rebels battling Moammar Gadhafi's rule. State Department officials said he didn't consult with Washington before traveling to Benghazi, located in an area that has become notorious for its volatile mix of Islamist militancy and heavy weaponry.

"This is what happens when you're relying on a government that's not in control of the whole country," said Randa Fahmy Hudome, a former U.S. official. Benghazi "was awash with weapons in the hands of various brigades who were all in combat with one another. It wasn't a secret."