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Thursday, October 11, 2012

Some thoughts on yesterday’s 9/11 Benghazi hearing



As I watched the hearing committee go back and forth over the circumstances surrounding the 9/11 Benghazi attack it became painfully evident that there were two issues being discussed, almost entirely independently from each other.

The first of these was the security failure. Key personnel asked for more security and Deputy Assistant Secretary Lamb rejected the request. In retrospect this was a supremely bad move on her part. Ms. Lamb obviously has a lot on her plate, and the security demands of Benghazi were evidently just one among dozens of locations demanding attention and resources.

This is the sort of unpleasant, boring, and banal allocation work that is the hallmark of mid-level management - the drudgery of budgetary concerns combined with the sort of administrative decision-making that inspires resentment in your subordinates and contempt in your superiors. The type of work that exists in the middle strata of corporations, schools, government agencies, militaries, and any other top-down mass human endeavor where someone is needed to nitpick over financial minutia.

DAS Lam was most likely doing her job the way she's always done it – attending to the letter of the law, with less of an eye towards its spirit. A different string of decisions on her part probably wouldn’t have enabled the security staff to repel the attacks, but some of those who died that night might still be alive today.

This is certainly an awful state of affairs, and Ms. Lamb should've had the decency to tender her resignation sometime over the past month, but it’s hardly a cause for a Congressional hearing. Deadly attacks on embassies and consulates are far less common now than they were during the Regan years, but they still happen on a regular basis. Note the following:

·         June 14, 2002, U.S. consulate in Karachi, Pakistan - Suicide bomber kills 12 and injures 51. 
·         February 20, 2003, international diplomatic compound in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia - Truck bomb kills 17.
·         February 28, 2003, U.S. consulate in Karachi, Pakistan - Gunmen on motorcycles killed two consulate guards. 
·         July 30, 2004, U.S. embassy in Tashkent, Uzbekistan - Suicide bomber kills two.   
·         December 6, 2004,U.S. consulate in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia - Militants stormed and occupied perimeter wall. Five killed, 10 wounded.   
·         March 2, 2006, U.S. consulate in Karachi, Pakistan - Suicide car bomber killed four, including a U.S. diplomat directly targeted by the assailants. 
·         September 12, 2006, U.S. embassy in Damascus, Syria - Gunmen attacked embassy with grenades, automatic weapons, and a car bomb (though second truck bomb failed to detonate). One killed and 13 wounded.
·         July 9, 2008, U.S. consulate in Istanbul, Turkey - Armed men attacked consulate with pistols and shotguns. Three policemen killed.   
·         September 17, 2008, U.S. embassy in Sana'a, Yemen - Militants dressed as policemen attacked the embassy with RPGs, rifles, grenades and car bombs. Six Yemeni soldiers and seven civilians were killed. Sixteen more were injured. 

The second issue at play in the hearing was a very different one: the shifting statements regarding the attack that were issued by the State Department and the White House. This is where pundits grow shrill, and certain committee members start to yell. This is also where ignorance and idiocy vigorously rears its head.

Why did the State Department, and in particular ambassador Rice, make such an obviously incorrect statement regarding the nature of the attacks on the Embassy? And why did they maintained that line for almost a week when everyone knew that any connection between the notorious anti-Islamist video and this specific attack was minimal at best?

The answer to this is simple, and for those who were watching the testimony of Ambassador Kennedy it should have been painfully obvious. The official statements by Susan Rice and the others during the first week after the attacks were strictly limited to what they were given permission to say by the CIA.

It wasn’t based on the “intelligence we had at the time”. It was very strictly controlled messaging under orders from the CIA. In spite of the clear inconsistencies between Rice’s statement and the obvious facts on the ground, the script that the White House and the State Department had to stick to was the one they had been given by the CIA. Until the D/CIA gave them a new script, it's all they could say.


The building that was attacked in Benghazi was a base of operations for the CIA, and a consulate in name only. This attack was a major intelligence failure on the part of the CIA, and they are in the middle of a very serious investigation into the particulars (which is why yesterday’s committee didn’t get access to the security videos, among other things). As such, any information about their intelligence capacity before, during or after the event is going to be heavily scripted, controlled, and often times deliberately misleading.

You can be assured that the White House and the State Department know far more about the incident than they can publicly admit, and they’re not going to formally acknowledge any of it until the CIA says they can.

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