There are a great many lessons to be learned from the attacks on the American ambassador and the CIA station in Benghazi, Libya. Many of those deal with the exposure of American facilities (both diplomatic and military) in countries which insist on restricting American security activities. Surprise Attack explores both diplomatic security issues and solutions, as well as the actual attacks on the two Benghazi facilities – one of which appears to have been initially unknown to AFRICOM, the military command with overall oversight for Libya and North Africa. All that is in the book so I won’t revisit that here.
But there is also a “post-Benghazi” story, which continues to resonate politically, even after the work of a host of official investigations. And I’m betting that most people who continue to read the press have not read the reports of those investigations – which being the obsessive personality that I am, I did as part of the Surprise Attack research. Several things stand out in those investigations, perhaps the first being that virtually none of them followed a straight forward line of inquiry.
By that I mean that the obvious path would be to document what should have happened in response to the initial awareness of the attacks, who had command responsibility, what resources had been designated for such contingencies and how effectively they were deployed. Proceeding down that track would quickly identify corrective actions as well as highlight any performance deficiencies. I encourage readers to pick at least one of the several investigations and compare that to the path actually followed in taking testimony.
Your options include the independent review board led by career diplomat Thomas Pickering and retired Admiral Mike Mullen, the House Intelligence Committee, the Senate Intelligence Committee, the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, the House Armed Services Committee, the House Foreign Affairs Committee, the Senate Armed Services Committee and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee – of course the current Benghazi Committee is still ongoing and you can follow its “email” focus in the news. For Surprise Attack’s purpose, I primarily reference the Armed Services committee reports as well as statements from the actual security personnel involved on the ground (both those of the seeming unreliable foreign contract employees and the experiences of the highly experienced CIA paramilitary employees).
The story that emerges is actually quite clear – much more so than the reports of the various committees – and has a great deal to do with covert CIA operations. That is an aspect either missing or intentionally understated in the official investigations, either due to a lack of focus by the committee members and staff or more likely an understanding that such things are restricted to the discussions of the actual Senate and House intelligence committees – and legally restricted from discussion elsewhere.
Of course that is a considerable legal handicap for those called on as witnesses, who are forced to limit their own testimony and to stick to approved cover stories in the face of any and all questions submitted to them. That reality is almost totally ignored by the media, it’s something we discussed at length in Shadow Warfare but given that it provides immense political opportunity during such inquiries, it’s something members of neither party are likely to forego.
However once you tune in to that aspect of official government committee investigations, a very definite pattern of post-event behavior tends to emerge. It’s a pattern that stretches across the decades, from the Warren Commission and the Gulf of Tonkin “attacks” to the Liberty and Pueblo losses and on to 9/11 and Benghazi. It a pattern that I tried to capture in Surprise Attack and I will blog on it in more detail in my next post, on the subject of crisis control.