For a controversy which has played in so many committee rooms the factual narrative of events in Benghazi seems pretty hard to follow and has been largely subsumed in partisan assumptions. The State Department Accountability Review Board report gives an impressively coherent blow-by-blow of the tragic events at the Special Mission compound; though it fails to mention, by name, the CIA operation it is publicly alleged that the ‘mission’ was largely established to conceal and protect:
The U.S. effort in Benghazi was at its heart a CIA operation, according to officials briefed on the intelligence. Of the more than 30 American officials evacuated from Benghazi following the deadly assault, only seven worked for the State Department. […]
The CIA worked from a compound publicly referred to as the “annex,” which was given a State Department office name to disguise its purpose. The agency focused on countering proliferation and terrorist threats, said an American security contractor who has worked closely with CIA, the Pentagon and State. A main concern was the spread of weapons and militant influences throughout the region, including in Mali, Somalia and Syria, this person said.
Adam Entous, Siobhan Gorman and Margaret Coker – CIA Takes Heat for Role in Libya WSJ 1 Nov 12
Interestingly, if the ARB report is searched by the keyword ‘Annex’ a State Department narrative emerges which seems to confirm the primacy and the security authority of the covert operation:
On June 1, 2011, a car bomb exploded outside the Tibesti Hotel, and shortly thereafter a credible threat against the Special Envoy mission prompted [Ambassador] Stevens to move to the Annex. On June 21, 2011, he and his security contingent moved to what would become the Special Mission Benghazi compound (SMC). […]
Later that afternoon, the Ambassador visited the Annex for a briefing. […]
Later that morning they inspected the area where the individual was seen standing and informed the Annex of the incident. […]
The TDY RSO was also informed of the Cairo compound breach by his Regional Security Officer counterpart in Tripoli and shared the information with colleagues at the Annex. […]
The TDY RSO also alerted the Annex and Embassy Tripoli by cell phone. […]
ODAA Accountability Review Board Report US State Department
And so forth. One sympathises with the authors whom had to construct this and the classified version of the report, which also fails to identify the motive of the attack and cites ‘systemic failures and leadership and management deficiencies’ at the reluctant State Department.
So, in spite of earlier withholding information from the public, the media agrees that the CIA was a major actor in the response to the Benghazi tragedy:
WASHINGTON – Security officers from the C.I.A. played a pivotal role in combating militants who attacked the American diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya, on Sept. 11, deploying a rescue party from a secret base in the city, sending reinforcements from Tripoli, and organizing an armed Libyan military convoy to escort the surviving Americans to hastily chartered planes that whisked them out of the country, senior intelligence officials said Thursday.
Eric Schmitt – C.I.A. Played Major Role Fighting Militants in Libya Attack NYT 1 Nov 12
The motive, apparently, still eludes us. OK, so what gives? Republicans, predictably, are making as much national security hay out of this as they can reap, but surely they know they are playing in a national security grey area; plenty of them are on precisely the intelligence committees and boards that should have known, and indeed may have funded, whatever it was the CIA was engaged in doing.
As for Democrats, it is pretty hard to assume there is no ‘there’ there when a significant CIA presence was so diligently engaged in some activity well below the radar of current stated policy of the administration. Either way it suggests to me that both parties are distracted in a proxy battle that leaves our foreign policy, covert or otherwise, at the mercy of domestic politics. This is no way to run a modern superpower.
If readers are interested perhaps a next instalment of this diary could explore what is known or credibly alleged about the activities of the CIA in Benghazi at the time and how that might fit in to broader contemporary regional geopolitics in the Middle East. Then it might be possible to provide some credible guesswork on the possible identity and motive of the attackers.
Cross-posted at Booman Tribune