Libya time­line sug­gests cover-up in at­tack

The Washington Times Weekly - - Geopolitics - BY ROWAN SCAR­BOR­OUGH

The Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion’s pub­lic ver­sions of events in the at­tack on the U.S. Con­sulate in Libya have been rid­dled with dis­crep­an­cies, start­ing soon af­ter the Amer­i­can dead and sur­vivors left be­hind a charred diplo­matic com­pound and bul­let-scarred CIA build­ing in Beng­hazi.

The ad­min­is­tra­tion’s in­con­sis­ten­cies go be­yond its false as­ser­tion for days af­ter­ward that a made-in-Amer­ica anti-Mus­lim video spurred “spon­ta­neous” Sept. 11 as­saults in which U.S. Am­bas­sador J. Christo­pher Stevens, his in­for­ma­tion of­fi­cer and two for­mer Navy SEALs were killed. Key is­sues in­clude:

The level of se­cu­rity at the con­sulate pro­vided by the State Depart­ment.

Of­fi­cials’ state­ments about a Beng­hazi protest that did not oc­cur.

The avail­abil­ity of U.S. troops to come to the res­cue dur­ing the as­sault.

The nearly month­long lag in get­ting FBI in­ves­ti­ga­tors into Beng­hazi.

Still lin­ger­ing is the is­sue of an ex­act time­line for Pres­i­dent Obama on Sept. 11 af­ter the White House re­ceived a State Depart­ment email about 4 p.m. (10 p.m. Libya time) stat­ing that the con­sulate was un­der at­tack. The White House has not said what he was told by his ad­vis­ers and what or­ders, if any, he is­sued dur­ing the eight-hour on­slaught.

“If you look at the time­line, in ret­ro­spect, it’s ob­vi­ous they were ly­ing through their teeth,” said Ken Al­lard, a re­tired Army colonel and na­tional se­cu­rity colum­nist. “It seemed like the truth was be­ing pulled out of them, piece by piece. It re­minds me of Water­gate. The con­stant drip, drip, drip.”

Pro­test­ers or ter­ror­ists?

No larger dis­crep­ancy ex­ists than the one sur­round­ing the mo­tive for the at­tack on the con­sulate by scores of mil­i­tants, who used diesel fuel to set fire to its four main build­ings.

On Sept. 12, Di­rec­tor of Na­tional In­tel­li­gence James R. Clap­per told the White House that a spon­ta­neous demon­stra­tion over the In­ter­net video grew into a vi­o­lent at­tack. Two days later, then-CIA Di­rec­tor David Pe­traeus echoed that ac­count in closed-door com­ments to sen­a­tors, ac­cord­ing to news re­ports.

At the time, Mr. Pe­traeus had ended an ex­tra­mar­i­tal af­fair with his bi­og­ra­pher, Paula Broad­well, who was at the cen­ter of an FBI in­ves­ti­ga­tion over threat­en­ing emails to a women she saw as a ro­man­tic ri­val. Con­ser­va­tives have asked whether the Pe­traeus scan­dal prompted the di­rec­tor to toe the ad­min­is­tra­tion line. Mr. Pe­traeus has since re­signed.

The facts

The CIA’s sta­tion chief in Tripoli, Libya, im­me­di­ately branded the at­tack as the work of mil­i­tants.

The De­fense In­tel­li­gence Agency on Sept. 12 briefed the Pen­tagon that An­sar al-Shariah, a Libyan group linked to al Qaeda, likely car­ried out the at­tack. An email from the U.S. Em­bassy in Tripoli that ar­rived at the White House about 5 p.m. said An­sar al-Shariah had claimed re­spon­si­bil­ity.

Over the next two days, Libyan se­cu­rity of­fi­cials told the Western press that the at­tack was planned to co­in­cide with the 11th an­niver­sary of the Sept. 11 ter­ror­ist at­tacks in the United States.

In Wash­ing­ton, Patrick F. Kennedy, the State Depart­ment un­der­sec­re­tary in charge of diplo­matic se­cu­rity, told con­gres­sional staffers on Sept. 12 that the as­sault bore all the hall­marks of a well-or­ches­trated ter­ror­ist op­er­a­tion.

De­spite the mount­ing ev­i­dence, Mr. Clap­per and other Obama of­fi­cials stuck to the video-made-them-do-it pro­nounce­ment, al­though the pres­i­dent made vague ref­er­ences to ter­ror­ism on two oc­ca­sions.

Per­haps the height of the dis­con­nect oc­curred Sept. 19, when Matthew G. Olsen, di­rec­tor of the Na­tional Coun­tert­er­ror­ism Cen­ter, be­came the first ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cial to tes­tify in pub­lic about the at­tack.

“They were killed in the course of a ter­ror­ist at­tack on our em­bassy,” he told the Se­nate Home­land Se­cu­rity and Gov­ern­ment Af­fairs Com­mit­tee.

A se­nior in­tel­li­gence of­fi­cial told The Wash­ing­ton Times that Mr. Clap­per aban­doned the video ar­gu­ment five to six days af­ter the at­tack and had in­formed the White House.

But Sen. Dianne Fe­in­stein, Cal­i­for­nia Demo­crat and chair­woman of the Se­nate Se­lect Com­mit­tee on In­tel­li­gence, told re­porters that Mr. Clap­per stuck to that opin­ion for 10 days.

‘This is the way we work’

There is also con­flict over a re­ported demon­stra­tion out­side the U.S. Con­sulate in Beng­hazi.

The most con­spic­u­ous of­fi­cial to back that ver­sion is Su­san E. Rice, U.S. am­bas­sador to the United Nations, who made the Sun­day talk-show rounds on Sept. 16 to drive home the point that Libyan demon­stra­tors in­censed over the video had turned vi­o­lent.

“The in­for­ma­tion, the best in­for­ma­tion and the best as­sess­ment we have to­day, is that in fact this was not a pre­planned, pre­med­i­tated at­tack,” Mrs. Rice said on “Fox News Sun­day.”

“What hap­pened ini­tially was that it was a spon­ta­neous re­ac­tion to what had just tran­spired in Cairo as a con­se­quence of the video.

“Peo­ple gath­ered out­side the em­bassy, and then it grew very vi­o­lent, and those with ex­trem­ist ties joined the fray and came with heavy weapons, which un­for­tu­nately are quite com­mon in postrev­o­lu­tion­ary Libya, and that then spun out of con­trol. But we don’t see at this point signs this was a co­or­di­nated plan, pre­med­i­tated at­tack,” she said.

That may have been con­sis­tent with Mr. Clap­per’s briefing, but not with a lot of other ev­i­dence, in­clud­ing Western press in­ter­views with eye­wit­nesses who said there were no pro­test­ers.

Two weeks later, a State Depart­ment of­fi­cial held a con­fer­ence call with re­porters and dis­owned the pub­lic re­marks of one of its own. The of­fi­cial said the State Depart­ment never con­cluded that an an­tiMus­lim video pro­voked the at­tack.

“That was not our con­clu­sion,” the of­fi­cial said.

What’s more, the of­fi­cial ac­knowl­edged that there had never been a demon­stra­tion.

Their on­rush raised an­other key ques­tion. Why did mis­sion se­cu­rity seem so thin? There were a hand­ful of Libyan pri­vate se­cu­rity guards out­side the wall. Three mem­bers of a friendly mili­tia resided in a bar­racks inside. Mr. Stevens had five Amer­i­can se­cu­rity guards; ul­ti­mately, they were no match for the in­vaders. Some re­ports said a Libyan guard joined the at­tack­ers.

Two days later at the State Depart­ment’s press briefing with spokes­woman Vic­to­ria Nu­land, a re­porter as­serted that “very few” se­cu­rity per­son­nel were there.

“I’m go­ing to re­ject that,” Mrs. Nu­land said. “Let me tell you what I can about the se­cu­rity at our mis­sion in Beng­hazi. It did in­clude a lo­cal Libyan guard force around the outer perime­ter. This is the way we work in all of our mis­sions all around the world, that the outer perime­ter is the re­spon­si­bil­ity of the host gov­ern­ment.

“There was ob­vi­ously a phys­i­cal perime­ter bar­rier, a wall. And then there was a ro­bust Amer­i­can se­cu­rity pres­ence inside the com­pound,” she said. “This is ab­so­lutely con­sis­tent with what we have done at a num­ber of mis­sions sim­i­lar to Beng­hazi around the world.”

It may have been con­sis­tent with mis­sions around the world, but in this case the con­sulate sat in a city that was be­com­ing home to an in­creas­ing num­ber of Is­lamic mil­i­tants.

Trou­bling signs

Whistle­blow­ers inside the State Depart­ment be­gan leak­ing in­ter­nal memos that found their way to the House Over­sight and Gov­ern­ment Re­form Com­mit­tee, and told a story that dif­fered from the of­fi­cial line.

Per­son­nel on scene told Wash­ing­ton that se­cu­rity was in­ad­e­quate. Lt. Col. An­drew Wood, an Army Green Beret who headed three site-se­cu­rity teams, said he re­peat­edly asked to keep them in Libya, but was re­buffed by State Depart­ment of­fi­cials.

“The se­cu­rity in Beng­hazi was a strug­gle and re­mained a strug­gle throughout my time there,” tes­ti­fied Col. Wood, whose last men were pulled out a month be­fore the at­tack. “The sit­u­a­tion re­mained un­cer­tain, and re­ports from some Libyans in­di­cated it was get­ting worse. Diplo­matic se­cu­rity re­mained weak.”

The ad­min­is­tra­tion also as­serted it had no in­tel­li­gence that fore­told the at­tack. That may be true, if in­tel­li­gence means an in­ter­cepted phone call or hu­man source. But if the mount­ing num­ber of at­tacks on Western tar­gets be­fore Sept. 11 was deemed as a sign, then the at­tack on the con­sulate was pre­dictable.

Mil­i­tants re­peat­edly at­tacked the In­ter­na­tional Red Cross build­ing. Ter­ror­ists planted a bomb at the U.S. Con­sulate that blew a hole in one wall. Is­lamists am­bushed the British am­bas­sador’s con­voy, prompt­ing Lon­don to pull all its diplo­mats out of Beng­hazi.

“When that oc­curred, it was ap­par­ent to me that we were the last flag fly­ing in Beng­hazi,” Col. Wood tes­ti­fied. “We were the last thing on their tar­get list to re­move from Beng­hazi.”

De­lays all around

There also were con­flict­ing state­ments from the Pen­tagon on why U.S. forces never showed up in Beng­hazi, es­pe­cially dur­ing the long siege on the CIA an­nex, where the two for­mer SEALs were killed by mor­tar fire early Sept. 12.

At first, De­fense Sec­re­tary Leon E. Panetta said no forces were used be­cause he did not have a good pic­ture of con­di­tions on the ground.

He said Sept. 27 that he op­er­ated un­der a “ba­sic prin­ci­ple is that you don’t de­ploy forces into harm’s way with­out know­ing what’s go­ing on, with­out hav­ing some real-time in­for­ma­tion about what’s tak­ing place. And, as a re­sult of not hav­ing that kind of in­for­ma­tion, the com­man­der who was on the ground in that area … and I felt very strongly that we could not put forces at risk in that sit­u­a­tion.”

But it turns out there were no forces, based on a Pen­tagon time­line re­leased two weeks ago. Mr. Panetta or­dered two spe­cial­op­er­a­tions units, one in the U.S., one in Croa­tia, to po­si­tion them­selves in Si­cily, across the Mediter­ranean from Beng­hazi. He did not give the or­der un­til two to four hours af­ter the at­tack had be­gun. The troops did not arrive in Si­cily un­til the night of Sept. 12, more than 12 hours af­ter the last Amer­i­cans had left the mis­sion and flown to Tripoli.

The Wash­ing­ton Times has re­ported that U.S. Africa Com­mand, which has mil­i­tary ju­ris­dic­tion over North Africa, has no quick- re­ac­tion force. One is be­ing set up, but is not ready.

Also late in ar­riv­ing was the FBI. Head­quar­ters in Wash­ing­ton said agents did not show up in Beng­hazi un­til Oct. 4 be­cause of se­cu­rity con­cerns. But up to that time, Western re­porters had rum­maged through the charred re­mains of the con­sulate unim­peded and found sen­si­tive doc­u­ments, in­clud­ing Mr. Stevens’ di­ary. CNN re­ported that the jour­nal showed the am­bas­sador wor­ried about the rise of vi­o­lence and Is­lamic ex­trem­ism in Beng­hazi and feared he was on an al Qaeda hit list.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.