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Since 2008 – Progress Through Politics

Known Knowns: A Benghazi Hypothetical

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


  1. For the right, it is the bitter reminder that if they had only gotten people to care about this non-issue, they would have had a President Mitt Romney. It worked so well for them in the past, they were stunned that a non-scandal would not gain traction.

    For the left, it is a bitter reminder that the Republicans will give no ground in their Obama hatred, their Hillary hatred and continuing to try to undermine everything the administration is planning to do to make the lives of ordinary Americans better.

    You can’t have an intelligent conversation about anything when this is a headline: Inhofe Suggests Obama May Be Impeached Over Benghazi.

    There were 53 embassy attacks during George W. Bush’s presidency, some with loss of life. Why aren’t we investigating those? Because it is a monumental waste of time just like this focus on Benghazi.

    Here is what I learned from reading the news accounts: Congress has been cutting funds for embassy security staff along with cutting funds for every other damn thing that the government needs funds for.

    Let’s fix a white hot light on Congressional Republicans and get them out of there so we can get the good government we deserve.

  2. HappyinVT

    along with this …

    Wendy Chamberlin, a career foreign-service officer who was serving as the US Ambassador to Pakistan when Al Qaeda struck the World Trade Center on 9/11, says being a target is part of the job for diplomats serving in risky areas.

    “High-profile targets like ambassadors have always been in danger because they’re the symbol of the United States,” Chamberlin says. “What you don’t want to represent is that you distrust the people, that you don’t want to engage with the people, that you hate being there. It’s an important part of your mission and get out and mix with the population.” Moreover, under the 1961 Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations it is actually the host country that is responsible for the security of diplomatic facilities, not the Marines. The primary responsibility of the Marine Corps’ Embassy Security Group states that its “primary mission” is “to prevent the compromise of classified material vital to the national security of the United States,” while their “secondary mission” is to “provide protection for US citizens and US government property” during “exigent circumstances.” Their first responsibility is to guard secrets, not diplomats.

  3. HappyinVT

    They [Republicans] want us to believe attacks by terrorists can be completely prevented but gun slaughters in schools and movie theaters and shopping malls are just part of the inherent risks that come along with Freedom.

    Preach it, sister.

  4. HappyinVT

    Last night, Chris Hayes was talking to a couple of DC types about Bengazi, and he noted that this type of scandal quickly is disconnected from whatever was its nominal topic and becomes a scandal simply because people keep talking about it, i.e., it’s self-generating and not just Fox keeps it going. The story now is not what happened in Bengazi, but how this “scandal” is going to affect Hillary Clinton’s 2016 prospects. It’s easy to fall into that narrative such that the question of whether there really was a scandal to begin with is obscured. Part of the reason it isn’t is a scandal is that fucked up things like this happen in government operations, particularly overseas, hence expressions like FUBAR and SNAFU. Regular people tend to know that.

  5. Brian Beutler at TPM

    … [to spin this] into a fatal liability for either Obama or Hillary Clinton requires pretending that the territoriality and defensiveness of government agencies is unprecedented, which doesn’t really pass the laugh test. So why’s the GOP training all of its artillery on this piece of the story?

    I suspect part of it is just a rote exercise in throwing sticky things at walls. The fact that everyone expects Clinton to run for president and be very difficult to beat augments that suspicion – her opponents want to damage her early and in any way possible. But it’s also a narrative that must be established if the full-bore Benghazi conspiracy theory is to ever have chance of breaking out of the conservative echo chamber. The CYA storyline needs to capture the public imagination to give flight to a much uglier claim that the ass covering went wildly further than evidence supports.


    David Corn at Mother Jones

    The latest revelations about the Benghazi talking points-as opposed to what actually happened at the US diplomatic facility at Benghazi, where four Americans died-do not back up Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham’s hyperbolic and absurd claim that the Benghazi controversy is Obama’s Watergate. But neither are they nothing.[…]

    Despite Carney’s statement, there was politically minded handling of the talking points. Yet in today’s hyperpartisan environment, such a matter cannot be evaluated with a sense of proportion. Obama antagonists decry it as a deed most foul, and White House defenders denounce the the critics.

  6. princesspat

    Former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates forcefully defended the Obama administration on Sunday against charges that it did not do enough to prevent the tragedy in Benghazi, telling CBS’ “Face the Nation” that some critics of the administration have a “cartoonish impression of military capabilities and military forces.”

    The video plays automatically when the link opens, but there is also a written summary of the interview.

  7. Robert Gates Calls Benghazi Critics ‘Cartoonish’ (VIDEO)

    Gates also dismissed the notion that the U.S. could have deployed a fighter jet to Libya in an effort to thwart the attackers, saying he would not have “approved sending an aircraft, a single aircraft, over Benghazi under those circumstances.”

    “It’s sort of a cartoonish impression of military capabilities and military forces,” Gates said.

    Well, of course they are cartoonish. All you need to do is remember Mitt Romney’s distress over the Navy having fewer ships than it had in 1916.

    Maybe the Republicans would have sent horses and bayonets to Benghazi.

  8. …and of course it took the Estimable Mr Appleby TM to provide it.

    I must admit I zoned out of this months ago thanks the the partisan peddling (and pre-emptive Hillary 16 bashing). Now the whole secrecy and kerfuffle makes much more sense. A concealed CIA base

    And the State Department take the rap for it.

    To answer your question:

    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

    Yes, yes, and triple damn yes. There’s so much bloviation out there, so much terrible gotcha journalism and spin “he said rudely what she said loudly was not what they said crudely” that I lose the will to live, and the chaotic noise just becomes a wall of sound – as effective as any propaganda

    So I await the Estimable Mr Appleby’s next post

    (Booman, boo!)

  9. Obama: Debate Over Benghazi Talking Points A ‘Sideshow’ (VIDEO)

    “The whole issue of talking points, frankly throughout this process, has been a sideshow,” Obama said. “What we have been very clear about throughout was that immediately after this event happened, we were not clear who exactly had carried it out, how it had occurred, what the motivations were.”

    The President said Republicans are fueled more by politics than unearthing the truth.

    “So the whole thing defies logic and the fact that this keeps on getting churned out, frankly has a lot to do with political motivations,” Obama said. “We’ve had folks who have challenged Hillary Clinton’s integrity, Susan Rice’s integrity, Mike Mullen and Tom Pickering’s integrity. It’s a given that mine gets challenged by these same folks. They’ve used it for fundraising.”

  10. virginislandsguy

    The CIA annex was involved in tracking and buying shoulder fired surface-to-air missiles loosed from the Libyan arsenal. This in order to keep them out of the hands of AQ and others.

    Arms dealers, notably Russian, opposed this effort. Somehow (insert CT here) they were the driving force behind the attack.

    Pure, pure speculation, but this diary is safe grounds for it.

  11. Portlaw

    There is nothing wrong with not knowing where Benghazi is, by the way. What is wrong is claiming it represents the biggest political scandal in American history when you don’t know where it is.

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