“It’s a catastrophic intelligence loss,” said one American official who has served in Libya and who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the F.B.I. is still investigating the attack. “We got our eyes poked out.” – Deadly Attack in Libya Was Major Blow to C.I.A. Efforts
QUESTIONS start mounting around the Benghazi terrorist attack, but so far no one has uttered or written the name David Petraeus, which should last long considering the intelligence gap that allowed this attack to happen in the first place.
Having been against the Libya bombing in the first place, the terrorist attack in Benghazi on 9/11 is a reminder of how quickly people take a political victory lap, when ousting a dictator has proven the beginning of tumult not the end, whether it’s Libya or Iraq, Bush or Obama.
A report in the New York Times today begins to further color in the unstable atmosphere in Libya in which a U.S. diplomat was trying to work.
Foreign diplomats say that under security circumstances like those now in Libya, it is generally standard procedure to have a “safe house” in the vicinity of a main diplomatic facility that can be easily defended and evacuated.
“Normally, you try to keep the location of such a safe house secret, but in Benghazi right now, I think this was next to impossible,” Col. Wolfgang Pusztai, who until early August was Austria’s defense attaché to Libya and visited the country every month, wrote in an e-mail. “There are not too many foreigners hanging around, and it is quite easy to track them.”
As the story has unfolded after the assassination of Ambassador Chris Stevens, the one vague component was the lack of intelligence on a pending attack, which was complicated when Stevens’ journal was reported by Anderson Cooper on CNN, introducing a dramatic twist into the panic after the terrorist attack.
What is now coming into focus is the chaos on the ground in Libya in which Ambassador Stevens was stationed in the first place.
The attack has raised questions about the adequacy of security preparations at the two American compounds in Benghazi: the American mission, the main diplomatic facility where Mr. Stevens and another American diplomat died of smoke inhalation after an initial attack, and an annex a half-mile away that encompassed four buildings inside a low-walled compound.
In Benghazi, both compounds were temporary homes in a volatile city teeming with militants, and they were never intended to become permanent diplomatic missions with appropriate security features built into them.
Permanence isn’t the issue, but it’s clear that Ambassador Stevens didn’t have close to the security required for the situation he was in. Why not? Did President Obama know what was going on in Libya? Did Secretary Clinton? The C.I.A. had a lot of people on the ground in Libya, even surprising members of the interim Libyan government, so where is David Petraeus in all of this?
Though the agency has been cooperating with the new post-Qaddafi Libyan intelligence service, the size of the C.I.A.’s presence in Benghazi apparently surprised some Libyan leaders. The deputy prime minister, Mustafa Abushagour, was quoted in The Wall Street Journal last week saying that he learned about some of the delicate American operations in Benghazi only after the attack on the mission, in large part because a surprisingly large number of Americans showed up at the Benghazi airport to be evacuated. “We have no problem with intelligence sharing or gathering, but our sovereignty is also key,” said Mr. Abushagour.
David Petraeus and the C.I.A. got thoroughly humiliated on this one.
Among the more than two dozen American personnel evacuated from the city after the assault on the American mission and a nearby annex were about a dozen C.I.A. operatives and contractors, who played a crucial role in conducting surveillance and collecting information on an array of armed militant groups in and around the city.
“It’s a catastrophic intelligence loss,” said one American official who has served in Libya and who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the F.B.I. is still investigating the attack. “We got our eyes poked out.”
As this part of the story unfolds, the other side of it happened over the weekend when State Dept. spokesman Philippe Reines slammed CNN’s use of Stevens’ journal, with the network’s problem not the use of it, but the non-disclosure of the sourcing.
The entire drama now playing out in Libya is much more fundamental and it goes a lot higher than the State Department, though Michael Hastings and Ben Smith at Buzzfeed want to place it at Secretary Clinton’s doorstep. Hastings did add one element, reporting that the State Department allegedly didn’t know Stevens had a journal. From Hastings:
But in reality, the fiasco appears to be largely — if not entirely — a State Department botch. It was the State Department that failed to provide its ambassador adequate security; it was the State Department that fled Benghazi in the aftermath of the attack, apparently failing to clear or secure the scene, leaving Stevens’ diary behind; and it was State that had taken the lead on the ground after the Libya intervention.
“When it comes to specific critiques about the attack, if either [the White House or State] should be getting blamed, it seems to me the primary one to be getting blamed should be State itself more than the [White House],” says one former State Department official with extensive experience in the region. “I mean if you take away the ‘buck stops here’ parsing of this stuff, if Stevens was issuing warning or expressing concerns he was doing so primarily through his own chain of command. The security on the ground belongs to State.”
The policy in Libya comes from President Obama. However, Secretary Clinton is obviously responsible for her ambassadors and their safety. On both accounts, however, it is the C.I.A. who is on the ground and providing both Obama and Clinton with intelligence on which they make decisions, because neither leader is on the ground. So, another name that should be mentioned when pointing questions is C.I.A. director David Petraeus, whom no one has cited so far.
Security in Libya was clearly much worse than was being reported by the American press, which missed this story completely.
The feelings of Ambassador Stevens about his own security haunt this tale.
If President Obama felt it imperative to keep a consulate in Libya to maintain a presence after ousting Gaddafi, because to not have an ambassador there would have sent a harrowing message, what was the President asking of Secretary Clinton by having her keep Ambassador Stevens in a dangerously volatile country where security was obviously non-existent and our intelligence clearly flawed? What does Secy. Clinton do: fortify a garrison inside Libya to house Stevens or try to hide him inconspicuously?
This all stems from the NATO bombing that ousted Gaddafi, which Samantha Power and Susan Rice pushed, with Secy. Clinton finally signing on and getting the Arab League to come along. President Obama deciding to employ his now signature “lead from behind” strategy, which worked brilliantly to oust the dictator.
The aftermath of what was left in the wake of the intervention culminated in the assassination of Ambassador Chris Stevens on 9/11, 2012, with no one foreseeing what might happen in a country like Libya once Gaddafi was removed, which left the C.I.A.’s efforts under David Petraeus in shambles, because they got caught with their pants down.
This is a systematic American foreign policy debacle, which is shared by both political parties that can’t break out of the 20th century model for intervention in an area of the world we clearly do not understand fully enough to become engaged as our policies over two presidents have shown. Bush in Iraq, Obama in Libya, very different, but both with cataclysmic repercussions.