What's the latest from Benghazi?
It's been three weeks since the horrible events in Benghazi where 4 Americans (The Ambassador, two former Navy SEALS and an Air Force veteran) were killed by parties unknown. At the time I was in Senegal, and hoping against all hope that the USMC unit I was with would get mobilized to head in, and I could be the first reporter on the scene. Well, turns out I wouldn't have been first, since CNN was there the whole time, as shown by the fact that they found the Ambassador's diary the morning after the attacks. Either way, I have been following the investigation, and it hasn't been difficult, since there's barely been any.
Take for instance this video of Anderson Cooper from last week:
OK, so we are a week on from that point, what new info do we have? Very little.
Today we get these two reports, the first from The New York Times, which talks about the security, or lack thereof:
An effective response by newly trained Libyan security guards to a small bombing outside the American diplomatic mission in Benghazi in June may have led United States officials to underestimate the security threat to personnel there, according to counterterrorism and State Department officials, even as threat warnings grew in the weeks before the recent attack that killed Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other Americans.
The guards’ aggressive action in June came after the mission’s defenses and training were strengthened at the recommendation of a small team of Special Forces soldiers who augmented the mission’s security force for several weeks in April while assessing the compound’s vulnerabilities, American officials said.
“That the local security did so well back in June probably gave us a false sense of security,” said one American official who has served in Libya, and who spoke on condition of anonymity because the F.B.I. is investigating the attack. “We may have fooled ourselves.”
On the eve of his death, U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens was ebullient as he returned for the first time in his new role to Benghazi, the eastern Libyan city that embraced him as a savior during last year’s civil war. He moved around the coastal town in an armored vehicle and held a marathon of meetings, his handful of bodyguards trailing discreetly behind.
But as Stevens met with Benghazi civic leaders, U.S. officials appear to have underestimated the threat facing both the ambassador and other Americans. They had not reinforced the U.S. diplomatic outpost there to meet strict safety standards for government buildings overseas. Nor had they posted a U.S. Marine detachment, as at other diplomatic sites in high-threat regions.
A U.S. military team assigned to establish security at the new embassy in Tripoli, in a previously undisclosed detail, was never instructed to fortify the temporary hub in the east. Instead, a small local guard force was hired by a British private security firm as part of a contract worth less than half of what it costs to deploy a single U.S. service member in a war zone for a year.
The two U.S. compounds where Stevens and three other Americans were killed in a sustained, brutal attack the night of Sept. 11, proved to be strikingly vulnerable targets in an era of barricaded embassies and multibillion-dollar security contracts for U.S. diplomatic facilities in conflict zones, according to interviews with U.S. and Libyan officials and eyewitnesses in recent days.
The Washington Post article does discuss the contractors, and look at how we did this one on the cheap:
The Benghazi compound was an anomaly for U.S. diplomatic posts. It was not a formal consulate and certainly not an embassy. It was a liaison office established before Gaddafi’s ouster. It was staffed by the Bureau of Conflict and Stabilization Operations, a State Department office that dispatches government officials to hardship posts for short tours. Instead of signing a costly security contract similar to those the government has for facilities in Iraq and Afghanistan, the State Department this summer awarded a contract to Blue Mountain, a small British security firm, to provide local guards at the Benghazi compound. The year-long contract, which took effect in March, was worth $387,413, a minuscule sum for war-zone contracting. Blue Mountain and the State Department declined to comment for this article.
Security in eastern Libya deteriorated sharply in recent months. A string of attacks, some linked to fundamentalist groups, made clear that Westerners were no longer safe. The International Committee of the Red Cross suspended operations and evacuated staff in the east after an attack June 12 on its compound in the port city of Misrata. In Benghazi, convoys transporting the U.N. country chief and the British ambassador were attacked in April and June, respectively. The British government shut down its consulate soon afterward.
Honestly, I am somewhat flabbergasted. Who thought it was a good idea to only spend $387000 on the security of our Ambassador? I know that DynCorps was getting paid $202,000 for every shooter it had on the Karzai protective detail, and we also had a platoon of US troops there augmenting them. And beyond that we had Ducth helicopters and Norwegian tanks ready to roll if anything went down.
And yet our Ambassador was there with such paltry protection?
I get we are worried about our finances, but with all of our foreign aid we send out, this is the best we could do to protect our own people?