Friday, October 12

On the killing of an American ambassador

Okay; who wrote to ask Pundita whether the Benghazi compound is a consulate or embassy?  Getting into the weeds is one thing; that far into the marshes is ridiculous. However, from the way the question is worded, I think the reader is trying to learn if there's a difference between those diplomatic missions when it comes to security considerations. So I'll answer the question.

The Benghazi compound, which for now seems to have been abandoned, wasn't a consulate. There wasn't a consul in residence; all consular business was handled through the embassy in Tripoli.

It wasn't an embassy, either, unless you want to be very technical and say it was an embassy when the ambassador was in residence there. The State Department travel section at its website, under its August 27, 2012 entry, describes the place as an "embassy office:"
June 2012, an unknown group of attackers detonated an improvised explosive device outside the compound of the U.S. embassy’s office in Benghazi.
But the mention was given only by way of warning that the situation in eastern Libya was dangerous for American travelers there; it wasn't meant to inform people about the office. The website provided no address or contact information. There wasn't even a sign announcing the compound's business, from photographs I've seen of it.

As to why it came to called a consulate -- there was confusion at first in the press about how to term it, after news of the attack broke. Calling it a consulate was the simplest way to refer to something that was neither fish nor fowl, and the term stuck.

As to whether there are different security considerations for a consulate and an embassy -- there are probably fortifications associated with an embassy that aren't found in a consulate, at least not under normal circumstances. However, with regard to providing adequate security guards for State Department employees abroad, there's not supposed to be any distinction related to where the employees are sited. This is the ideal; as to how often it's met, the reader would have to ask someone who specializes in the subject.

Now with specific regard to whether security for the Benghazi consulate was adequate, much of the congressional inquiry on Wednesday was taken up with just that question, which could have been what precipitated the reader's query.

The hearing, which included opening statements, lasted a little over four hours. I missed about 40 minutes of the Q&A period, which I'll try to make up next weekend. But from what I heard of the questions, the inquiry focused on the issue of guards rather than fortification. And within that area of questioning, it focused on security for the entire compound rather than security for the person of the ambassador.

This very narrow focus let the State employees who were being questioned off the hook in some ways.  So while the employees stated in one way or another that the attack on the compound was virtually unprecedented and that no number of armed guards could have repelled such a massive attack, this had nothing to do with key questions that might not have been asked.

One such question would be:  How many bodyguards does the State Department provide to a U.S. ambassador in a high-level threat environment, and was this regulation number provided to Ambassador Christopher Stevens?

It could be that such a question would be considered off limits to State for security reasons, but there would be a way to pose the question without asking for a specific number.

It's a question that was posed by Daniel Bongino, a former Secret Service agent who also served as an officer on the New York City police force:
Bongino said he has heard from his own back channels that there is great unrest about the situation in Libya among agents at Secret Service and Department of State Security, the agency that protects diplomats. [...]

"From what I am hearing, there may have been just a two-person detail.  I cannot confirm that but that is what I am hearing,” he said. "A two-person detail? A two-person DSS detail -- in our parlance, that is not even for a low-level threat, that is a nonexistent-threat detail.  To protect an ambassador in Benghazi with a two-person detail, you might as well put a bull’s eye on his back.”
Other observations Bongino makes in the same report point to a problem with State's oversight of security for American foreign service personnel that is both systemic and specific to the Obama administration's policy on Libya. 

Yet the thing is that I don't recall President Obama boasting about the great success of the American intervention in Libya or crowing about the 'new' democratic Libya.  I'm not saying he didn't do this; I take in so much news every day that several items are bound to escape my recollection.  But you see I do recall some ranking members of Congress going on television day after day, and pushing and pushing and pushing and pushing for Obama to intervene in Libya.  Members of Congress such as John McCain. And I well remember Mr McCain proudly and somewhat defensively talking about the great success of democratic elections in Libya.

Just as I remember BBC America and CNN pushing day after day, week after week, for the "international community" to intervene in Libya. As to how the international community was to ride herd on Libya once Gaddafi was overthrown --  Don't worry, McCain told a perplexed Fox News anchor. "We know these people who will be running the government. One of them went to the University of Pennsylvania."

And I also remember quite clearly, as if it all happened just yesterday, how desperately hard Obama was working at that time to hold the ISAF coalition together and gain support from NATO governments for a post-2014 U.S. strategic pact with Afghanistan's government.

Here's the link to the C-SPAN video of Wednesday's congressional inquiry into security for the Benghazi compound.  But somehow I don't think you'll ever see the congressional inquiry that the American public needs to see. That would be the inquiry into just who, and which governments, are actually running American foreign policy and what connections those governments might have with several ranking members of Congress.

But that's where you'd need to start, if you really wanted to know how an American ambassador was killed in Libya.  You'd first need to drill down to bedrock.

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