Benghazi update: New questions raised on intelligence, decision-making failures (Updated November 6, 2012)

Latest Reports and Opinion

Adam Housley, “Exclusive: Security officials on the ground in Libya challenge CIA account,” Fox News, November 3, 2012.

Jennifer Rubin, “Obama’s legacy: The blunder in Benghazi,”

Washington Post, November 5, 2012 (12:20 ET). Rubin cites the Lake and Bing articles cited below.

Eli Lake, “Ansar al-Sharia’s Role in Benghazi Attacks Still a Mystery;The U.S. didn’t consider Ansar al-Sharia a threat—until they showed up in Benghazi on Sept. 11,” The Daily Beast, November 5, 2012 (4:45 a.m. EST).

Bing West, “Cynicism Confirmed,” National Review Online, November 3, 2012 (5:59 P.M).

Brett Baier, “CBS Held Damaging Obama Benghazi Tape: What President Obama really said in that ’60 Minutes’ interview about Benghazi,” Fox Nation, November 5, 2012.

The Intelligence Failure in Benghazi, and Beyond

Lake reports that the U.S. was not following Ansar al-Sharia before September 11, as follows:

Before the attacks, the U.S. intelligence community didn’t consider Ansar al-Sharia a threat to American interests, and the group wasn’t a priority target for the CIA officers monitoring jihadists in Libya, according to U.S. intelligence officials with knowledge of the investigations into the Benghazi attacks.

This assertion underlies a fundamental weakness in U.S. intelligence capabilities: As the CIA has become increasingly focused on conducting drone strikes and preparing kill lists, it has also increasingly failed to adequately perform its core mission, which is to collect and disseminate intelligence information that serves the strategic interests of the United States.

One need only reflect on the intelligence debacle which led to the Khost tragedy, where a CIA commander lacking field experience was responsible for the poor tradecraft that enabled a double agent to penetrate to the core of the outpost and explode his suicide vest, without being searched.


The Trenchant Observer, “Intelligence Matters: CIA Capabilities in Afghanistan, March 20, 2010.

The Trenchant Observer, “Intelligence Matters: Khost, The Flynn Report, and a Few Hypotheses,” March 17, 2010.

Over and over, the U.S. has been blindsided by developments which the CIA and other intelligence agencies should be picking up but aren’t. The Ansar al-Sharia attack on the Benghazi consulate in the only the latest example.

The sheer incompetence of the intelligence failure at Benghazi, when there was a CIA operation based right there reportedly tasked with monitoring jihadist groups in Libya, is staggering.

Questions Regarding the Incompetence of the Security Precautions in Place on September 11

Second, a number of questions have been raised regarding the adequacy of the security forces and precautions in place in Benghazi, and the denial by the Obama administration of repeated and urgent requests for more protection.

One aspect is of particular significance. A striking fact about Ambassador Stevens’ death was that he was reportedly in the “safe room” at the Consulate, but nonetheless succumbed to smoke inhalation. Housley reports,

One former Special Op now employed by a private company in Benghazi said that even the safe room wasn’t properly set up. He said “the safe room is one of the first measures you take” and that he is “not sure how you can set a safe room without fire suppression and ventilation in case of fire.” He also said, “Ambassador Stevens would likely be alive today if this simple and normal procedure was put into place.”

Questions Regarding the Incompetence of the Response

A third issue is raised by the incompetence of the responses of American officials to the impending and then ongoing attack. Security officials were reportedly aware of roadblocks being set up hours before the attack. The attack itself, according to sources on the ground, began at least an hour before the time stated by the administration. See Housley.

The Manipulation of the Truth

A fourth issue involves the very obvious manipulation of the truth by the Obama administration in statements to the American people about what had occurred at Benghazi. See the Trenchant Observer articles cited above.

Of particular note are Obama’s words in the third presidential debate on October 22 denying any misrepresentation, when he stated he had characterized the attack on the Consulate as a terrorist attack in his comments in the Rose Garden on September 12.

On rebuttal, Obama seemed rehearsed, but indignant. “The day after the attack, Governor, I stood in the Rose Garden, and I told the American people and the world that we are going to find out exactly what happened, that this was an act of terror… And the suggestion that anybody in my team, whether the secretary of state, our U.N. ambassador, anybody on my team would play politics or mislead when we’ve lost four of our own, Governor, is offensive. That’s not what we do. That’s not what I do as president. That’s not what I do as commander in chief (emphasis added).”

–Brett Baier, “CBS Held Damaging Obama Benghazi Tape: What President Obama really said in that ’60 Minutes’ interview about Benghazi,” Fox Nation (Fox News), November 5, 2012.

CBS held video footage of the president’s remarks on “60 Minutes” which effectively refuted the claim that he had stated there had been a terrorist attack, but withheld it and did not finally release it publicly until November 4. See Baier.

Particularly striking is the similarity of the language used by Obama here, and the language he used in a June 8 press conference when he denied that the White House had been the source of leaks regarding targeted killings by drone strikes and other covert operations.

In the June 8 press conference, President Obama was asked directly the following question:

There are a couple of books out with, essentially, details about national security issues. There are reports of terrorist kill lists that you supervise and there are reports of cyber-attacks on the Iranian nuclear program that you ordered. Two things. First of all, what’s your reaction of this information getting out in public? And secondly, what’s your reaction to lawmakers who accuse your team of leaking these details in order to promote your reelection bid?

In response the President stated, among other things, the following:

(S)ince I’ve been in office, my attitude has been zero tolerance for these kinds of leaks and speculation.

Now, we have mechanisms in place where if we can root out folks who have leaked, they will suffer consequences. In some cases, it’s criminal — these are criminal acts when they release information like this. And we will conduct thorough investigations, as we have in the past.

The notion that my White House would purposely release classified national security information is offensive. It’s wrong. And people I think need to have a better sense of how I approach this office and how the people around me here approach this office (emphasis added).

See the following articles by The Trenchant Observer:

“The Obama Leaks: The issue is not the leaks, but whether the president lied to the American people,” July 4, 2012.

“Holder’s Investigations into Torture and Covert Operations Leaks–An Obama Cover-up?” June 26, 2012.

“Did the White House authorize recent leaks on covert programs?” June 10, 2012.

The Failure of the Press to Find and Report the Truth

Finally, the failure of the press corps to uncover and publish the facts relating to the attack on the Benghazi consulate and annex, over a period of some seven weeks, is truly shameful. To be sure, there have been some exceptions. But the studious way in which the national media avoided addressing obvious questions in their reporting, and their equally obvious failure to uncover the underlying facts in a timely manner, reveal both an overdependence on information fed to reporters by government officials, frequently speaking on background, and an apparent reluctance to delve too deeply into matters which could lead to revelations that might hurt Obama in the his reelection campaign.

The last point is addressed with forceful logic by Bing West in an op-ed piece on November 3.

See Bing West, “Cynicism Confirmed,” National Review Online, November 3, 2012 (5:59 P.M).

He asserts,

The intent is to cause the press and the public to lose interest in a story that seems exhaustively repetitive, while the key issues are never addressed:

1. Why did the State Department ignore repeated warnings that security at Benghazi was deficient?

2. Did operations centers in Washington receive or monitor requests for help during the attack on 9/11/12?

3. Did the president direct the military to use all means to save American lives?

4. If authorized to enter Libyan territory, why did the military not send a fighter aircraft overhead to frighten what the White House claimed was a mob? Why did the military not send an ad hoc rescue force from Sigonella Navy Base, while the CIA was sending six men as the rescue force from Tripoli, about equal distance from Benghazi? Is the U.S. military too rigid to do anything helpful during a seven-hour battle?

5. Why did the White House persist for weeks in spinning a false story about a mob enraged by a YouTube video, when no intelligence supported the story? Who gave our ambassador to the U.N. her “talking points” that emphasized the video? Our intelligence community says it did not come from intelligence agencies.

The Duty of a Free Press:  Speak Truth to Power, at All Times

We need a national press corps that eagerly and passionately leaves no stone unturned in its pursuit of the truth, and which never pulls its punches to favor one candidate or party over another.  Holding Barack Obama to account for his administration’s actions and statements is essential for the foreign policy of the United States to be successful.

The vocation and the duty of the true journalist is to speak truth to power, always.

Attempts to hold Obama to account do not reveal an intention to help his opponent, Mitt Romney, who may indeed be even more unqualified as a foreign policy leader. Rather, they reflect a dogged insistence that the President of the United States–and his administration–never lie to the American people, and always be held accountable.

Whoever the President may be.

The Trenchant Observer

About the Author

James Rowles
"The Trenchant Observer" is edited and published by James Rowles (aka "The Observer"), an author and international lawyer who has taught International Law, Human Rights, and Comparative Law at major U.S. universities, including Harvard, Brandeis, the University of Pittsburgh, and the University of Kansas. Dr. Rowles is a former staff attorney at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) of the Organization of American States OAS), in Wasington, D.C., , where he was in charge of Brazil, Haiti, Mexico and the United States, and also worked on complaints from and reports on other countries including Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Guatemala. As an international development expert, he has worked on Rule of Law, Human Rights, and Judicial Reform in a number of countries in Latin America, the Caribbean, Africa, the Middle East, South Asia, and the Russian Federation. In the private sector, Dr. Rowles has worked as an international attorney for a leading national law firm and major global companies, on joint ventures and other matters in a number of countries in Europe (including Russia and the Ukraine), throughout Latin America and the Caribbean, and in Australia, Indonesia, Vietnam, China and Japan. The Trenchant Observer blog provides an unfiltered international perspective for news and opinion on current events, in their historical context, drawing on a daily review of leading German, French, Spanish and English newspapers as well as the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, and other American newspapers, and on sources in other countries relevant to issues being analyzed. Dr. Rowles speaks fluent English, French, German, Portuguese and Spanish, and also knows other languages. He holds an S.J.D. or Doctor of Juridical Science in International Law from Harvard University, and a Doctor of Law (J.D.) and a Master of the Science of Law (J.S.M.=LL.M.), from Stanford University. As an undergraduate, he received a Bachelor of Arts degree, also from Stanford, where he graduated “With Great Distinction” (summa cum laude) and received the James Birdsall Weter Prize for the best Senior Honors Thesis in History. In addition to having taught as a Lecturer on Law at Harvard Law School, Dr. Rowles has been a Visiting Scholar at Harvard University's Center for International Affairs (CFIA). His fellowships include a Stanford Postdoctoral Fellowship in Law and Development, the Rómulo Gallegos Fellowship in International Human Rights awarded by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, and a Harvard MacArthur Fellowship in International Peace and Security. Beyond his articles in The Trenchant Observer, he is the author of two books and numerous scholarly articles on subjects of international and comparative law. Currently he is working on a manuscript drawing on some the best articles that have appeared in the blog.