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by Clare M. Lopez
Our first clue came as early as 15 September 2012, when CNN reported that murdered State Department information management officer, Sean Smith, who was an avid online gamer, posted on a gaming site that he’d seen Libyan police taking photos of the Benghazi mission. An experienced career Foreign Service Officer, Smith knew that what he was looking at is called “pre-attack casing” or “Indicators and Warning.” His deep unease came through in the posting he left for his fellow gamers that fateful day, when he wrote “…assuming we don’t die tonight. We saw one of our ‘police’ that guard the compound taking pictures.”
Now, on 1 November 2012, the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) has posted a new report from the United Arab Emirate (UAE)’s Alaan TV, in which an intrepid young reporter shows viewers how she found pages of documents strewn about the U.S.’s Benghazi Tactical Operations Center (TOC) in the wake of the 11 September 2012 attack.
As the cameras follow her through the trashed interior of that building, one of several in the compound, it focuses in on two documents in particular that she found there (weeks after an FBI team supposedly went through the place). Both are dated September 11, 2012 and provide the observations of Sean Smith and others at the Benghazi base that morning.
One report was addressed to Mohamed Obedi, head of the Libyan Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ office in Benghazi and the other to the “Benghazi Police Chief.” According to the Alaan report, the letters complained about an incident which had occurred outside the Benghazi compound where Sean Smith and the Ambassador would be killed later that night.
Describing the incident as “troubling,” the report states that at 6:30 that morning, one of the Libyan guards (likely a member of the “February 17 Martyrs Brigade” that had been hired to protect the facility) reported that he’d seen someone he identified as a member of the local police force in the upper level of a building across from the American compound photographing the interior of the compound.
The Libyan guard further identified the police car present on the street and gave its identification number as “322.” The letters concluded with the expressed hope that the Libyan authorities would conduct an investigation into the incident, especially as the Americans had been requesting additional Libyan security assistance since September 9, in anticipation of Ambassador Stevens’ visit to Benghazi.
They’d asked for a round-the-clock police presence to cover the front and back of the Benghazi compound in addition to a mobile patrol and a bomb-sniffing dog. As of September 11, 2012, the letters stated, “We are saddened to report that we have only received an occasional police presence at our main gate. Many hours pass when we have no police support at all.” The predictable, even inevitable, consequences of that failure became tragically obvious just hours later that night.
There is no doubt but that the U.S. Department of State (DoS) would have received an official cable traffic from Sean Smith (probably signed off on by Ambassador Stevens) about the Libyan police surveillance activity as well as the Libyan failure to provide the security previously requested. Such traffic would have been marked with a high level of urgency.
But, just as with earlier requests from America’s diplomats in Libya, these concerns also were dismissed, and no additional U.S. security was provided — even with the knowledge that Christopher Stevens would be visiting Benghazi on the 11th anniversary of the original 9/11 attacks and that Al-Qaeda terror camps had been sighted all over Benghazi.
Citing once again from the Foreign Policy account, when asked to explain DoS’s shocking refusal to heed its own diplomats’ deepening worries about their ability to survive another attack on the Benghazi compound, DoS deputy spokesman Mark Toner brushed off inquiries about the documents found at the Center, claiming that an independent assessment was still underway.
Libyan officials also tried to dodge responsibility for failing to respond to the American requests for more security, claiming alternatively that either they hadn’t received any such letter or that all security requested had been provided.
It is striking that this failure makes Libyan officials the third of three among the Libya-Turkey-U.S. tripartite alliance whose actions or failure to act almost predictably ensured that a terror attack on the American presence in Benghazi would face no meaningful obstacles. Appropriate attention to security by any one of the three—the U.S. DoS, the Libyan security services or the Turkish Consul General—might have sufficed to prevent or at least mitigate the circumstances of that fatal attack.
Despite repeated and explicit requests for more security that date back weeks before the September 11 attack, the DoS had refused to help them. As we now know, too, the Turkish Consul General to Benghazi, Ali Sait Akin, was in a position to warn Ambassador Stevens and his staff about the bearded jihadis in machine-gun-mounted pick-up trucks bearing the logo of the Ansar al-Shariah militia that had cordoned off the streets around the U.S. compound in the hour before the attack commenced.
Yet, there is no public reporting so far to indicate that he phoned any warning at all to his diplomatic colleague, Ambassador Stevens, after he passed, apparently untroubled, out through the jihadi’s blockade following a late-day meeting with Stevens at the compound.
The Libyans tried to dodge official responsibility for failing to protect a foreign diplomatic mission in their country; the Turks aren’t talking at all; and the U.S. DoS doesn’t want to discuss anything related to its systematic policy of refusing desperately needed and asked-for security to its Benghazi mission before or even during the Sept. 11 attack.
There’s something else the State Department apparently wants to make go away: Its 18-month-long alliance with the Muslim Brotherhood-dominated, Al-Qaeda-riddled ranks of the Syrian Free Army (SFA) and its political sponsor, the Syrian National Council (SNC).
Speaking in Zagreb, Croatia on October 31, 2012, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced that the SNC no longer would be considered the “visible leader” of the Syrian opposition. Although it is not clear what the Turks think about the U.S. move to jettison their favorite jihadis, the Arab League reportedly is sponsoring meetings during this entire week of November in Doha, Qatar to focus on a post-Assad government for Syria.
It is not known whether any SNC members will even attend. While the U.S. decision to work with a wider representation of the Syrian opposition comes at a juncture that can only be termed “better late than never,” lame statements about “efforts by extremists to hijack the Syrian revolution” do nothing to disguise the fact that it has been official U.S. policy deliberately and knowingly, to back precisely such “extremists” (actually Muslim Brotherhood and Al-Qaeda jihadis) in country after country of the Middle East North Africa (MENA) region since at least the 2011 beginning of the “Islamic Awakening.”
Does this surprise announcement signal the break-up of the tripartite alliance among Libya, Turkey and the U.S. to direct a pipeline of weapons support to the Syrian opposition? The attack on the U.S. mission in Benghazi wouldn’t have anything to do with that, would it?
Clare M. Lopez