Wednesday, October 31, 2012


This is one of those issues where I find myself walking a narrow path between cynicism and naivete.  My inner cynic knows that all administrations lie about national security in general and war in particular, so I'm not surprised that the Obama Administration is spewing contradictory stories to sow confusion like an octopus squirts ink.

But my inner naif keeps telling me that the American people deserve a straightforward accounting before they vote.  (Well, before a lot of them vote.  Some of us have already pulled the trigger.)

So let's see if we can organize the giant mudslide of data into something vaguely coherent.

This much we seem to know:

  1. A 16-man security team, after having its tour extended for four months, was pulled out of Libya on August 14.
  2. There were at least two requests for enhanced security that went from State's regional security manager to his superiors.  Both were either ignored or denied.
  3. The US consulate was attacked twice prior to the 9/11/12 attack, although one of the attacks was conducted by recently fired Libyan guards.  The British ambassador had also been attacked and the Brits had withdrawn their mission.
  4. There was no spontaneous riot at the consulate.  The attackers moved directly on the consulate with small arms and at least RPGs.  By the time of the battle at the annex, they had a mortar crew in place.  We do not know if the attack was spontaneous in response to the rioting elsewhere, a pre-planned attack that was moved up to capitalize on the riots, or a planned attack that may have incited the riots elsewhere for greater impact.
  5. There was a drone overhead throughout most of the attack.  The annex was feeding situation reports in real time back to at least the CIA.
  6. Panetta says he was aware of the attack shortly after it began, but the intelligence was too poor to mount a rescue.
  7. The President says that he directed has National Security team to "make sure we are securing our personnel and doing what we need to".
  8. Fox News reports that the CIA annex asked for permission to go to the aid of the consulate and were told to stand downDavid Ignatius's reporting indicates that this command may have only lasted a half hour while the CIA checked with friendly militias.  These two reports are somewhat in conflict.
  9. The same Fox News report indicates that after the battle for the annex began, repeated requests for military support were made to the CIA.  These requests was denied.  The CIA denies this.  The same report indicates that one of the men in the protective detail had painted targets from the roof of the annex with a ground laser designator.
  10. On 9/12/12, Obama did indeed use the words "acts of terror" but if he was referring to the Benghazi attack, jeez, talk about burying the lede.  Read the transcript for yourself.
  11. The official Presidential Daily Brief version of the attack still referred to protests over the film the day before Susan Rice went on the Sunday shows, so she may have been acting on the best official assessment she had.  Per this report, the CIA reassessed at just about the time Rice was floating the "protesting the film" story to anybody who'd put her on camera.
  12. Jay Carney stated that the attack was in protest of the movie on 9/20/12, long after the PDB had been updated.  Obama's UN speech of 9/25/12 never mentioned terrorism but referred to the protests and the movie repeatedly.
  13. Carter Ham's replacement as commander of AFRICOM was announced on 10/18/12.  Per Jennifer Griffin, this action had been planned for some time, contrary to speculation that he was relieved while attempting to send in a rescue.
This much we either suspect or can infer:
  1. It's possible that the White House was unaware of the requests for extra security but, given the IED attack, the attack that destroyed one of the walls around the consulate, and the June attack on the British ambassador, it seems incredible (aka "unbelievable") that the White House didn't know that there was a problem.  They clearly didn't act.
  2. It's possible that the CIA stovepiped the situational reports and didn't share them with the Pentagon, but it's inconceivable that they withheld them from the White House.  Given Panetta's comments, it's almost certain that DoD was looped in pretty early.
  3. Several bloggers, most notably Blackfive,  commented that nobody paints a target with a GLD unless there's an air asset in the area, because the GLD is visible in night vision goggles and gives away your position.  This seems to contradict statements that the drones were unarmed and/or that no other armed air assets were in the area.  If that's true, then somebody told them to hold fire, which could only have come from the White House, the Pentagon, or General Ham, the AFRICOM commander.
  4. While it's possible that Susan Rice didn't get the word, either deliberately or inadvertently, the White House must have known that there was more to this than a riot that got out of hand.  And there's no way that they kept Jay Carney in the dark on this without some ulterior motive.
There are some important outstanding questions:
  1. Why were the security requests ignored?  Was there a diplomatic rationale?  Was there a political rationale (i.e. because extra security weakened the narrative of an acceptably orderly aftermath of the Arab Spring, or that organized Islamist militants were in decline)?
  2. What was the nature of the attack in Benghazi? Was it pre-planned or extemporaneous to capitalize on the protests about the move?
  3. Why did the Obama Administration muddy the waters so much after the attack?  Was it incompetence, political strategy, or something else?
And, finally, we can make some judgements:
  1. The President has allowed a massive management failure to occur on his watch.  There is some sort of serious dysfunction between State, CIA, and DoD, both in escalating threat assessments to the President and in managing an emerging military situation.
  2. The most charitable thing that can be said about the messaging in the aftermath of the attack is that the White House was hopelessly confused.  More likely, it knew it had a political liability on its hands and it muddied the waters as much as possible, while deliberately burying the truth in a bunch of untruths that could plausibly be interpreted as the "fog of war".
  3. The President has been ignorant or at least incurious about how well his foreign policy narrative jibes with reality.  That disconnect has cost American lives and severely diminished American soft power.
Is this a disqualifying event for a second Obama term?  Not all by itself.  But it is a rather stunning sequence of situational misjudgement, risk-averse crisis management, and craven obfuscation.

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