Defense & National Security

Obama admin’s story on embassy attacks changes

Obama admin's story on embassy attacks changes

Until now, the Obama administration has strenuously insisted that the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya was an entirely spontaneous event, as “unexpected” as each new unemployment report.  But that seems to be changing, as Fox News reports White House spokesman Jay Carney announcing an FBI investigation into “the precipitating cause of the protest and violence based on the information that we have had available.”

The Libyan government has been saying that the consulate attack was premeditated, and entirely separate from the furor over the “Innocence of Muslims” video.  In fact, Fox News has an intelligence source who maintains “there was no major protest in Benghazi before the deadly attack which killed four Americans.”

Libyan president Mohammed el-Megarif has been growing rather irritated about the narrative put forth by the Obama Administration.  In an NPR interview, he went as far as saying, “The idea that this criminal and cowardly act was a spontaneous protest that just spun out of control is completely unfounded and preposterous.  We firmly believe that this was a pre-calculated, preplanned attack that was carried out specifically to attack the U.S. Consulate.”

Megarif says the attack was orchestrated by foreigners with al-Qaeda ties, who infiltrated his country and recruited Libyan assistance.  The scale of the attack, involving something like 150 terror operatives equipped with serious firepower and rocket-propelled grenades, argues rather strongly against the “spontaneous protest” storyline.

So do the increasing, and disturbing, reports that the State Department was warned up to 48 hours in advance to expect violence.  The UK Independent says it has “reported diplomatic sources who said that the threat of an attack against US interests in the region was known to the US administration 48 hours before it took place.”  The White House has repeatedly denied this report, but it uses rather specific denials about receiving “actionable intelligence,” which are not wholly incompatible with the Libyans’ assertions that they reported a more general threat against American interests.

There is also the question of what the State Department might have been aware of, but the White House was not.  And in any event, it was September 11, in an area with a notable history of al-Qaeda activity, at a consulate that had been attacked with explosives fairly recently.  The precautions in place for the safety of the Ambassador and his staff seem inexcusably lax based on that general knowledge alone.

Reuters is also reporting that a classified cable sent from intelligence agents in Washington to the U.S. Embassy in Cairo on September 10 warned the embassy of “possible violence in response to Arabic-language broadcasts of clips from an anti-Muslim film.”  Excerpts from the notorious video were evidently broadcast on an Egyptian satellite TV network as early as September 8, setting social media networks ablaze.

The embassy nevertheless seemed caught by surprise when trouble erupted.  The initial response, which now seems to have been concocted with forethought rather than issued in the heat of the moment, was the now-deleted apologetic for “continuing efforts by misguided individuals to hurt the religious feelings of Muslims.”  The U.S. media obligingly flushed this down the memory hole after Mitt Romney criticized it, leaving casual news consumers on the following day to scratch their heads and wonder what Romney was talking about.

So, the Administration is slowly sliding toward at least a subdued admission that they knew trouble was coming on September 11, in both Egypt and Libya.  Negligence by the White House and State Department had deadly consequences in the latter case, which makes it easy to understand why they clung so tightly to the “spontaneous protest spiraling out of control” narrative during the turbulent hours of the initial news cycle.  But was it ever reasonable to believe that all of this came as a total surprise to the entire intelligence and diplomatic apparatus of the U.S. government?

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