The Benghazi Incident, or Benghazi attack, is an event that occurred on the night of September 11, 2011, in this case an insurgent group was successful in attacking the U.S. Diplomatic mission to Libya as “a heavily armed group of between 125 and 150 gunmen attacked the American diplomatic mission at Benghazi, in Libya, killing U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and another diplomat. Several hours later in the early morning of the next day, a second assault targeted a nearby CIA annex in a different compound about one mile away, killing two embassy security personnel. Ten others were injured in the attacks” (Wikimedia Foundation)
Benghazi “is the second largest city in Libya, the capital of the Cyrenaica region (or ex-Province), and the former provisional capital of the National Transitional Council. The wider metropolitan area (which includes the southern towns of Gimeenis and Suluq) is also a district of Libya. The port city is located on the Mediterranean Sea. During the Kingdom era of Libya's history, Benghazi enjoyed a sort of joint-capital status (alongside Tripoli); possibly because the King used to reside in the nearby city of Bayda and the Senussis (royal family) in general were associated with Cyrenaica rather than Tripolitania. Benghazi continues to hold institutions and organizations normally associated with a national capital city. This creates a constant atmosphere of rivalry and sensitivities between Benghazi and Tripoli and by extension between the two regions (Cyrenaica and Tripolitania). The population of the entire district was 500,120 in the 1995 census and had increased to 670,797 in the 2006 census.” (Wikimedia Foundation)
The Benghazi attack was not the first time that a U.S. diplomatic mission had been attacked, “On November 4, 1979, Iranian militants stormed the United States Embassy in Tehran and took approximately seventy Americans captive. This terrorist act triggered the most profound crisis of the Carter presidency and began a personal ordeal for Jimmy Carter and the American people that lasted 444 days.” (The Hostage Crisis in Iran) And on October 23, 1983 “a suicide bomber drives a truck filled with 2,000 pounds of explosives into a U.S. Marine Corps barracks at the Beirut International Airport. The explosion killed 220 Marines, 18 sailors and three soldiers. A few minutes after that bomb went off; a second bomber drove into the basement of the nearby French paratroopers' barracks, killing 58 more people. Four months after the bombing, American forces left Lebanon without retaliating. The Marines in Beirut were part of a multinational peacekeeping force that was trying to broker a truce between warring Christian and Muslim Lebanese factions.” (A&E Television Networks) Given all of this information it should not have come as a surprise that U.S. diplomatic missions have been targets of insurgent attacks in the past and it would stand to reason that they would be the target of insurgent attacks in the future so additional efforts should have been put in place to protect U.S. Embassy staff, case in point, recent government investigations have revealed that the Benghazi attack could have been prevented.
A Senate Intelligence Committee report indicated that “the State Department failed to increase security at its mission despite warnings, and blamed intelligence agencies for not sharing information about the existence of the CIA outpost with the U.S. military.” (Goldman, and Gearan) In addition “The committee determined that the U.S. military command in Africa didn’t know about the CIA annex and that the Pentagon didn’t have the resources in place to defend the State Department compound in an emergency.” (Goldman, and Gearan) At the very least this is the second time that U.S. government officials did not take seriously threats made toward diplomatic missions and have not been willing to increase security in and around Embassy facilities.
FBI investigations into this event have identified Libyan insurgents as being responsible for the attacks. “The FBI has charged 13 people in connection with the attacks in sealed criminal complaints. More charges are expected. Members of the terrorist group Ansar al-Sharia, based in the Libyan city of Darnah, have been implicated. The report says that “key information gaps remain about the potential foreknowledge and complicity of Libyan militia groups and security forces, the level of pre-planning for the attacks, the perpetrators and their involvement in other terrorist activities and the motivation for the attacks.” (Goldman, and Gearan) While law enforcement authorities have been able to determine the responsible parties, questions still remain as to why security at the U.S. Embassy was not increased in the fact of increasing unrest in Benghazi. Intelligence reports clearly indicated that some sort of attack was to occur but nothing was done to prevent the attacks.
The Benghazi attacks are an example of an intelligence failure, there was more than ample intelligence to indicate that there was a clear and present threat to U.S. interests in Libya but the U.S. government took no steps to mitigate those dangers. It has been said that “it (The Obama Administration) could not tolerate the idea that the armed assault on the Benghazi consulate was a premeditated act of Islamist terrorism. That would carry a whole world of unhappy political implications, and demand certain actions. And the American presidential election was only eight weeks away. They wanted this problem to go away, or at least to bleed the meaning from it.” (Noonan) If the threat to the Libyan Embassy was identified as an act of terrorism the Obama administration would have been forced to take some action to prevent the attacks and/or indicate that the GWOT (Global War on Terrorism) has been a complete failure and that terrorist actions are continuing to take place and that insurgent ideology is spreading. Identification as this being an act of insurgency would require that the U.S. Administration would have to take some military action in retaliation for the attacks. Instead no action was taken.
The reason that the Benghazi attack had not been identified as an intelligence failure and the U.S. Administration chose to down play the attacks for the following reasons “Because the White House could not tolerate the idea of Benghazi as a planned and deliberate terrorist assault, it had to be made into something else. So they said it was a spontaneous street demonstration over an anti-Muhammad YouTube video made by a nutty California con man. After all, that had happened earlier in the day, in Cairo. It sounded plausible. And maybe they believed it at first. Maybe they wanted to believe it. But the message was out: Provocative video plus primitive street Arabs equals sparky explosion. Not our fault” (Noonan) Again, this was done to maintain the idea that the GWOT has been at least somewhat successful. If terrorists/insurgents were able to attack and kill U.S. diplomats and members of the military in a Country that is not currently hostile to the United States (by hostile I mean not currently engaged in armed conflict) would indicate that the war in Afghanistan and Iraq were both abject failures and like it or not the ideology of fundamentalist Islam is spreading and will continue to be a threat to U.S. interests.
The more important question to U.S. national security is what if any connection the Libyan insurgents responsible for the Benghazi attacks had/have to Al Qaeda, Obama Administration officials have also attempted to down play the potential connections. The U.S. Intelligence community has a different opinion:
But current and former U.S. officials, congressional sources and outside analysts briefed on the attack told The Washington Times on Monday that the U.S. intelligence community’s assessment about al Qaeda’s links to the Benghazi tragedy has not changed.
The consensus, they said, remains today, as it has for more than a year, that Islamic extremists with ties to al Qaeda and its evolving North African affiliates executed the attack, which was preceded by some degree of planning despite being launched during a spontaneous opportunity that presented itself on the 11th anniversary of al Qaeda’s horrific Sept. 11 attacks on the United States. (Taylor 2013)
This attack indicates that Al Qaeda still poses a clear and continuing threat to U.S. national security and that the organization has been able to restructure and spread it’s ideology into Northern Africa. Al Qaeda has not been destroyed or even totally crippled, it still has the ability the inflict harm on the United States and its interests.
National Security, intelligence and government officials need to continue to monitor and track insurgent activity as insurgent attacks may still occur and be directed against the United States. These organizations need to maintain constant vigilance to prevent future attacks.
What we are seeing at this point is Al Qaeda becoming an ideology instead of an insurgent group. Smaller organizations are now accepting the Al Qaeda ideology and are willing to perpetrate attacks in the name of the organization. ““The intelligence community has not changed its position from Day One as far as its position of al Qaeda and its involvement in the attack,” Rep. Lynn A. Westmoreland, Georgia Republican and a key member of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, said in a telephone interview Monday. “As far as the intelligence community goes, they still understand that it was definitely al Qaeda-linked.” (Taylor 2013)
It is also important to understand that the U.S. led GWOT has managed to turn Osama Bin Laden and Al Qaeda to martyrs to the cause and with the ease in spreading information across the internet, it is becoming more and more likely that smaller groups will develop around an ideology that they are able to identify with and are able to use similar tactics.
All of this is indicating that an insurgent ideology is spreading through the Arab world, this ideology is being spread through the internet, now insurgents from other nations are now able to organize and train themselves using Al Qaeda as an example and as an umbrella for insurgent actions.
The GWOT has done nothing but spread insurgency over a wider area and the internet has made it much simpler to spread this type of ideology.
Wikimedia Foundation. "2012 Benghazi attack." Wikipedia. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2012_Benghazi_attack (accessed January 28, 2014).
Goldman, Adam, and Anne Gearan. "Senate report: Attacks on U.S. compounds in Benghazi could have been prevented." Washington Post. http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/senate-report-attack-on-us-compound-in-benghazi-could-have-been-prevented/2014/01/15/5e197224-7de9-11e3-95c6-0a7aa80874bc_story.html (accessed January 28, 2014).
Noonan, Peggy. "Peggy Noonan: The Inconvenient Truth About Benghazi." Wall Street Journal. http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB10001424127887324244304578473533965297330?mg=reno64-wsj&url=http%3A%2F%2Fonline.wsj.com%2Farticle%2FSB10001424127887324244304578473533965297330.html (accessed January 30, 2014).
Taylor, Guy. "Intel community: NY Times wrong, al Qaeda links in Benghazi are clear." Washington Times, December 30, 2013. http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2013/dec/30/intel-community-still-insists-on-al-qaeda-ties-in-/ (accessed January 30, 2014).
"The Hostage Crisis in Iran." The Hostage Crisis in Iran. http://www.jimmycarterlibrary.gov/documents/hostages.phtml (accessed January 30, 2014).
A&E Television Networks. "U.S. Embassy in Beirut hit by massive car bomb." History.com. http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/us-embassy-in-beirut-hit-by-massive-car-bomb (accessed January 30, 2014).