If four Americans get killed it is not optimal," President Barack Obama said last week in response to a question from Comedy Central's Jon Stewart about his administration's response to the attack on our consulate in Benghazi on 9/11/2012.
The president wasn't being as callous as this will sound in Republican ads. He was responding to this question from Mr. Stewart: "I would say, and even you would admit it was not the optimal response -- at least to the American people, as far as all of us being on the same page."
The administration's response has indeed been sub-optimal:
• State Department officials said they knew immediately this was a terrorist attack, because they were watching it in "near real time" in feeds from the consulate's security cameras. The CIA station chief said the same thing in a cable to Washington the day after the attack. But for nearly two weeks, Mr. Obama and his senior aides claimed it was a "spontaneous" response to a video posted on YouTube that was critical of the Prophet Muhammad.
• The site wasn't secured, even though the CIA was running sensitive intelligence operations from the consulate's annex. A CNN reporter wandering through the grounds of the razed consulate the day after found the journal of Ambassador Chris Stevens lying on the floor.
• The FBI team that was supposed to investigate the attack didn't arrive in Benghazi until Oct. 5 -- three weeks after the attack.
• Mr. Obama told Mr. Stewart he would bring those responsible "to justice." The Libyan government says the ringleader was Ahmed Abu Khattala. He has yet to be "brought to justice," but not because he's been hard to find. A reporter for the New York Times interviewed Mr. Khattala for two hours at a luxury hotel in Benghazi, where he was "sipping a strawberry frappe on a patio and scoffing at the threats coming from the American and Libyan governments."
But it wasn't the administration's sluggish response that got Mr. Stevens, diplomat Sean Smith, and former Navy SEALs Glen Doherty and Tyrone Woods killed. It's what the administration did -- and didn't do -- in the months leading up to 9/11/2012.
• It is customary for diplomatic installations to be guarded by U.S. Marines. But the first time Mr. Stevens had a Marine guard was when his casket was returned to Dover AFB. The consulate was guarded by a handful of unarmed, inexperienced Libyans hired by a British firm.
• Physical security was so substandard it required a waiver signed by the secretary of state, the head of diplomatic security, or the heads of foreign building operations.
• Mr. Stevens made repeated requests for additional security, but was turned down, despite the fact there had been more than a dozen Islamist attacks on Western missions and the Red Cross since April, including an attack on the British embassy in May, and an attempt in June to assassinate the British ambassador.
• A Special Forces site security team was ordered out of Libya in August, over the protests of its commander and Mr. Stevens.
This suggests something more than gross negligence. Security in Libya was deliberately kept low.
It wasn't for lack of funds, said every State Department witness at a hearing Oct. 10. There were lots of Marine guards at embassies in Europe that were not under threat.
So why was Mr. Stevens denied adequate security? Who made that decision? Did the president make it? If he didn't, did he know about it?
From the reporting of their subordinates, the secretary of state and the CIA director knew -- or ought to have known -- within 24 hours that there was no protest, that this was a terrorist attack. So why for nearly two weeks did Mr. Obama place the blame on the YouTube video? Wasn't he briefed on what the CIA station chief reported and the security cameras at the consulate showed? If he wasn't, who withheld the information from him? Why? When did he learn the truth?
Why did it take the FBI so long to get to Benghazi? If the New York Times can find the leader of the terror attack, why can't the CIA?
Mr. Obama won't say. But the American people deserve answers.jackkelly
Jack Kelly is a columnist for The Press and The Blade of Toledo, Ohio. firstname.lastname@example.org, 412 263-1476.