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News Analysis

State Dept. Issues Whitewash Report on Benghazi Embassy Attack

Sun, December 23, 2012

The American consulate in Libya burns during the attack. (Photo: © Reuters)

The American consulate in Libya burns during the attack. (Photo: © Reuters)

by: 
Clare Lopez

On December 19, 2012, Ambassador Thomas Pickering, Chairman of the State Department (DoS) Accountability Review Board (ARB) delivered the ‘White-Out” report on Benghazi that he’d been selected to provide.

White-Out” is the perfect term for this report, as Diana West notes, because the entire senior national security leadership of the U.S. is completely missing from it. There is simply no mention whatsoever of President Barack Obama, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, UN Ambassador Susan Rice, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper or the disgraced former CIA Director David Petraeus.

According to Pickering, who was hand-picked by the Obama administration to head the ARB, none of these officials had anything to do with the failure to provide the reliable, armed and trained security that the Benghazi Mission asked for repeatedly and was denied, or for the catastrophic outcome of the terror assault on the mission the night of September 11, 2012 that took the lives of Ambassador Christopher Stevens, Information Officer Sean Smith and two former Navy SEAL CIA security contractors, Glen Doherty and Tyrone Woods.

Instead, four lower-ranking State Department officials took the fall: Eric Boswell, the assistant secretary of state for diplomatic security; Charlene Lamb, the deputy assistant secretary responsible for embassy security; Raymond Maxwell, the deputy assistant secretary of state for North Africa; and an unidentified official in the Bureau of Diplomatic Security all resigned on  December 19, after the Pickering report cited a “grossly inadequate” security posture at the Benghazi mission.

This is very convenient, of course, because none of those truly responsible for what happened at Benghazi that night is called to account in the Pickering White-Out for establishing the policies in the first place that sent Americans to work with treacherous Al-Qaeda militias in Libya that ultimately turned on their long-time comrade-in-arms, Christopher Stevens, and killed him.

It is strange, though, that the report would mention that there were “known gaps…in the intelligence community’s understanding of extremist militias in Libya and the potential threat they posed to U.S. interests, although some threats were known to exist.”

Al-Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahiri’s September 10, 2012 video call for revenge for the June 2012 drone killing of his deputy, the Libyan Abu Yahya al-Libi, doesn’t seem to have made the cut for “immediate, specific tactical warning” and the Pickering White-Out doesn’t even mention the possibility that this message from the commander of Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) affiliates just possibly could have been the “green light” for the September 11 attack.

In any case, though, the White House, State Department and Intelligence Community should have been extremely familiar with some of these militia characters, having engaged together with them in the jihad struggle against Libyan dictator Muammar Qaddafi for so many months.

There was Abdelhakim Belhadj, for instance. He was the former self-described jihadist leader of the Al-Qaeda-linked Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LFG) who, on behalf of the new, liberated Libyan government, later went on to join forces with the similarly Al-Qaeda-linked Syrian Free Army rebels.

Hard to imagine Ambassador Stevens helped coordinate U.S. assistance to the Benghazi-based Libyan revolution for seven months without getting to know Belhadj pretty well. He was named military commander in Tripoli after Qaddafi’s ouster. Not known is whether Stevens and Belhadj continued their relationship after the U.S. helped set up Libya’s new Muslim Brotherhood-dominated government—the one that gave its approval to the jihadi and weapons pipeline from Libya to the Syrian rebels, by way of Turkey.  

Then there was Wissam bin Hamid, who led the Libyan Shield Brigade under the black flag of Islam during the 2011 Libyan revolution. The Libyan Shield Brigade is the one that met the Tripoli rescue team at the Benghazi airport the night of the attack and held them all up for around four hours before escorting them into a waiting ambush at the CIA Annex (not actually mentioned either in the Pickering White-Out) from which the militia members apparently all escaped unscathed.

Apparently, though, the Libyan Shield performance was deemed to have been satisfactory, because in early November 2012, a delegation of CIA operatives traveled from the U.S. Embassy in Tripoli to Benghazi to recruit some of their fighters. The Washington Post report about it doesn’t mention whether they will be working for the CIA under the black jihad flag or some other one. Important thing is, the US knows these guys and has known these guys for quite some time now.

There was no “gap in the intelligence community’s understanding” about them (except perhaps an understanding of their fundamental hatred for all things American and Western besides weapons). But when Ambassador Pickering and Vice Chairman for the ARB, former Joint Chiefs Chairman Michael Mullen, wrote their White-Out report, somehow there was no mention of these close working relationships.

And although the Pickering White-Out states right up front that “there was no protest prior to the attacks” in Benghazi, the rest of the report offers absolutely no explanation for the weeks-long campaign of deceit waged by the Obama administration (including DoS employee, UN Ambassador Susan Rice) in coordination with the Organization of Islamic Cooperation and the U.S.-based Muslim Brotherhood network that proclaimed in perfect global unison that the Benghazi attack was precipitated by demonstrators angry over a YouTube video.

The take-away on that messaging was supposed to have been that free speech curbs will just have to be accepted if murderous Muslim mobs are not to rampage at every perceived slight to Islam or the Muslim prophet Muhammad.

For its part, the State Department quickly copped to the lesser plea of failure to provide adequate security at Benghazi, and Deputy Secretary of State William J. Burns contritely told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on December 18, 2012, “We have to do better.”

The real issue -- which is what the CIA, the State Department or anyone in the U.S. government has been doing backing regime change operations across the Middle East and North Africa region in the company of and for the benefit of Al-Qaeda and Muslim Brotherhood jihadis -- never gets addressed, much less explained by the ARB or anyone else.

Clare Lopez is a senior fellow at RadicalIslam.org and a strategic policy and intelligence expert with a focus on the Middle East, national defense and counterterrorism. Lopez served for 20 years as an operations officer with the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).