Damning details about this national scandal continue to emerge, even as the administration hunkers down and tries to wait it out on a political timetable. ABC News' Jake Tapper describes the succession of appalling revelations as a slow drip, but the stream is picking up. Let's pick through what we've learned over the last 48 hours alone (if you're short on time, skip down to item number five, which is the biggest story of the bunch):
(1) As Katie reported yesterday, secret cables sent from US personnel in Libya to the State Department offered dire and specific warnings that our diplomatic mission in Benghazi was extremely susceptible to a coordinated attack. Such a raid was a significant cause for concern, the document said, because the US team had identified no fewer than ten Islamist militias operating in the city (some of which had already launched attacks against Western targets). And yet numerous subsequent requests for additional security measures were denied -- and the American security presence was actually scaled back. Watch Fox News' national security correspondent Catherine Herridge explain why she views the newly-unearthed documents (authored by Amb. Stevens and sent to Hillary Clinton's office prior to the attack) amount to a "smoking gun:"
"The warning that came from Benghazi was very specific. It said 'we cannot sustain an attack. The militias are everywhere, Al Qaeda was here.' This was known to the US intelligence community as well...this comes three and half weeks before the attack."
(2) Six weeks after the assault, and after the FBI had finally picked through the wreckage, journalists were still discovering sensitive State Department items in the burned-out compound. In a stunning expose, Foreign Policy reports that several of these documents indicated that on September 11th itself, members of our diplomatic core were deeply concerned about their own personal safety and distressed over the lack of security. Someone even drafted an ominous letter expressing suspicions about apparent potentially problematic surveillance of the compound being undertaken by at least one of the local Libyans charged with protecting it:
When we visited on Oct. 26 to prepare a story for Dubai based Al Aan TV, we found not only Stevens's personal copy of the Aug. 6 New Yorker, lying on remnants of the bed in the safe room where Stevens spent his final hours, but several ash-strewn documents beneath rubble in the looted Tactical Operations Center, one of the four main buildings of the partially destroyed compound. Some of the documents -- such as an email from Stevens to his political officer in Benghazi and a flight itinerary sent to Sean Smith, a U.S. diplomat slain in the attack -- are clearly marked as State Department correspondence. Others are unsigned printouts of messages to local and national Libyan authorities. The two unsigned draft letters are both dated Sept. 11 and express strong fears about the security situation at the compound on what would turn out to be a tragic day. They also indicate that Stevens and his team had officially requested additional security at the Benghazi compound for his visit -- and that they apparently did not feel it was being provided.
One letter, written on Sept. 11 and addressed to Mohamed Obeidi, the head of the Libyan Ministry of Foreign Affairs' office in Benghazi, reads: "Finally, early this morning at 0643, September 11, 2012, one of our diligent guards made a troubling report. Near our main gate, a member of the police force was seen in the upper level of a building across from our compound. It is reported that this person was photographing the inside of the U.S. special mission and furthermore that this person was part of the police unit sent to protect the mission. The police car stationed where this event occurred was number 322."
How inadequate was the security provided by the locals? Read on:
“We were given assurances from the highest authorities in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs that all due support would be provided for Ambassador Stevens’ visit to Benghazi. However, we are saddened to report that we have only received an occasional police presence at our main gate. Many hours pass when we have no police support at all.”
This would have been less of a problem if our own government had provided resources to adhere to its own bare minimum security standards, but as we know, that never happened. Watch Fox News' national security correspondent Catherine Herridge explain why she thinks the newly-unearthed cables
(3) According to Newsweek's Eli Lake, the State Department made the decision not to request military back up during the hours-long, ongoing raid. The CIA has already disclaimed responsibility for that egregious call, and now Defense officials are pointing the finger at the Obama State Department:
Military backup may have made a difference at around five the following morning, when a second wave of attackers assaulted the CIA annex where embassy personnel had taken refuge.
It was during this second wave of attacks that two ex-SEALs working for the CIA’s security teams—Glenn Doherty and Tyrone Woods—were killed in a mortar strike. Normally it would be the job of the U.S. ambassador on location to request a military response. But Stevens likely died in the first two hours of the attack. The responsibility for requesting military backup would then have fallen to the deputy chief of mission at Benghazi or officials at the State Department in Washington. “The State Department is responsible for assessing security at its diplomatic installations and for requesting support from other government agencies if they need it,” a senior U.S. Defense official said. “There was no request from the Department of State to intervene militarily on the night of the attack.” The president, however, would have the final say as to whether or not to send in the military.
And where was the president as all of this happened? Back to the aforementioned report from Jake Tapper:
As he left his Marine One helicopter Wednesday evening and walked to the residence of the White House, President Obama did not respond to a question shouted out by ABC News’s Mary Bruce about when he would begin to provide answers to the numerous questions building up about what exactly what went wrong in Benghazi, Libya, on September 11, 2012. The president smiled and continued walking ... As of now, the White House has disclosed that President Obama was informed about the attack on the diplomatic outpost in Benghazi at roughly 5pm by his National Security Adviser Tom Donilon as he was in a pre-scheduled meeting with Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey. At that meeting, senior administration officials say, the President ordered that the U.S. begin moving military assets into the region to prepare for a range of contingencies.
But beyond that, the White House has punted, saying the Accountability Review Board established by the State Department is investigating the matter and what went wrong. No detailed tick-tock, no information about the president’s involvement in decision-making. In addition, they’re preparing for a closed-door hearing of the Senate’s Select Committee on Intelligence on November 15.
In other words, the White House is stonewalling -- at least through the election, and possibly beyond.
Someone made the ultimate call not to use force to save those Americans' lives. It might have been the president, despite his casual claims to the contrary. It might have been Secretary Clinton. We don't know because the administration continues to hide behind its "ongoing investigation." If there were bad decisions made by people at the highest level, no such inquiry is necessary. Top officials know exactly who made these decisions -- they just don't want the American people to share that knowledge, at least not yet.
(4) The president keeps telling interviewers that he's keenly interested in the results of this very, very important investigation. But then White House Press Secretary Jay Carney made an accidental admission yesterday:
Today, the White House press secretary let it slip during a press gaggle aboard Air Force One that President Obama’s inaction on the Benghazi situation now extends to inaction on the supposed investigation taking place. The administration has still not made clear what exactly is being investigated, or the extent of the investigation. And President Obama doesn’t much care.
Said Carney: "He has not participated in the investigation. He is anticipating results that show us exactly what happened and who is responsible and what lessons we can learn from it and ensure it never happens again. He expects the investigation to be rigorous."
The president is taking a hands-off approach to this sham of an investigation. What a surprise. I guess he's got his hands full with more important things these days, just as he evidently did before and during the 9/11 terrorist attack that killed four Americans, including a sitting Ambassador.
(5) The motherload, from CBS News:
CBS News has learned that during the Sept. 11 attack on the U.S. Mission in Benghazi, the Obama Administration did not convene its top interagency counterterrorism resource: the Counterterrorism Security Group, (CSG). "The CSG is the one group that's supposed to know what resources every agency has. They know of multiple options and have the ability to coordinate counterterrorism assets across all the agencies," a high-ranking government official told CBS News. "They were not allowed to do their job. They were not called upon." Information shared with CBS News from top counterterrorism sources in the government and military reveal keen frustration over the U.S. response on Sept. 11, the night ambassador Chris Stevens and 3 other Americans were killed in a coordinated attack on the U.S. consulate in Libya.
Counterterrorism sources and internal emails reviewed by CBS News express frustration that key responders were ready to deploy, but were not called upon to help in the attack ... Another senior counter terrorism official says a hostage rescue team was alternately asked to get ready and then stand down throughout the night, as officials seemed unable to make up their minds. "The response process was isolated at the most senior level," says an official referring to top officials in the executive branch. "My fellow counterterrorism professionals and I (were) not consulted."
"The process was isolated at the most senior level." These "senior level" officials are the ones clinging to the investigation excuse. It's now completely obvious why. An absolute disgrace.