The Why Behind the Benghazi Attack

The story behind the Benghazi attack was not the political cover-up that the Right has pushed, but rather how the U.S. consulate had grown into a CIA base, making it an inviting target for militants. The primary security failure was in not anticipating the danger, writes ex-CIA analyst Melvin A. Goodman.

By Melvin A. Goodman

Nearly two months ago, on the eleventh anniversary of 9/11, a group of militants attacked the American diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya, killing the U.S. ambassador to Libya and three other Americans.

The Romney campaign has accused the Obama administration with a cover-up of the details of the attack, and various pundits have sown great confusion over a tragic event that points to a failure of intelligence analysis and operational tradecraft at the State Department and the Central Intelligence Agency.

CIA Director David Petraeus has stayed in the background regarding the Sept. 11, 2012, security failure at the CIA-dominated Benghazi consulate, in contrast to his high-profile role as a U.S. general in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The unwillingness of the White House’s senior adviser on counter-terrorism, John Brennan, to play a public role in the aftermath of this tragedy left the Obama administration without an authoritative voice on the event.

It’s now apparent that the U.S. consulate in Benghazi was no ordinary consulate; in fact, it probably was no consulate at all. The consulate’s primary mission was to provide an intelligence platform that would allow the CIA to maintain an operational and analytical role in eastern Libya.

The region is home to myriad militant and terrorist organizations that threaten Western interests in North Africa and, more importantly, the creation of a stable state in Libya. In other words, the consulate was the diplomatic cover for an intelligence platform and whatever diplomatic functions took place in Benghazi also served as cover for an important CIA base. Both the State Department and the CIA share responsibility for seriously underestimating the security threat in Libya, particularly in Benghazi.

Any CIA component in the Middle East or North Africa is a likely target of the wrath of militant and terrorist organizations because of the Agency’s key role in the global war on terror waged by the Bush administration and the increasingly widespread covert campaign of drone aircraft of the Obama administration.

U.S. programs that included the use of secret prisons, extraordinary renditions, and torture and abuse involved CIA collaboration with despotic Arab regimes, including Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi. The U.S. campaign to overthrow Gaddafi didn’t clean the slate of these abuses; it merely opened up the opportunity for militants and Islamists to avenge U.S. actions over the past ten years.

At home, Americans are devoting far too much attention to whether a so-called proper level of security in Benghazi could have prevented the attack, instead of trying to learn the motives and anticipate the actions of these militant organizations.

The CIA failure to provide adequate security for its personnel stems from degradation in the operational tradecraft capabilities of the CIA since the so-called intelligence reforms that followed the 9/11 attacks. Nearly three years ago, nine CIA operatives and contractors were killed by a suicide bomber at their base in Khost in eastern Afghanistan in the deadliest attack on CIA personnel in decades.

Virtually every aspect of sound tradecraft was ignored in this episode as an unvetted Jordanian double agent was allowed to enter a sensitive CIA facility (instead of a CIA safe house), where he was met by the entire base leadership (a breach of longstanding tradecraft).

The base commander in Khost had insufficient training and experience for the posting and had been promoted regularly by the CIA’s Directorate of Operations despite having been cited in a CIA internal review on 9/11, according to the Washington Post, for failing to warn the FBI about two al-Qaeda operatives who had entered the country in 2000.

No reprimands were assessed in the aftermath of the 2009 bombing, although high-level Agency officials had to approve the assignment of the base commander as well as the entry of the Jordanian double agent onto the Agency’s most sensitive facility in eastern Afghanistan.

The security situation in Libya, particularly Benghazi, was obviously deteriorating; the consulate was a target of a bomb in June and the British consulate closed its doors in the summer, leaving the U.S. consulate as the last official foreign presence in the city.

Overall security for the consulate had been in the hands of a small British security firm that placed unarmed Libyans on the perimeter of the building complex. The CIA contributed to the problem with its reliance on Libyan militias and a new Libyan intelligence organization to maintain security for its personnel in Benghazi.

On the night of the attack, the CIA security team was slow to respond to the consulate’s call for help, spending more than 20 minutes trying to garner additional support from militias and the Libyan intelligence service that never responded.

Although nearly 30 Americans were airlifted out of Libya in less than ten hours, there is no indication that these individuals were debriefed in order to get a better understanding of the militia attacks. The lack of such essential information from those who had been under attack contributed to the confused assessments in the wake of the attacks.

There were other complications as well. Ambassador Christopher Stevens was an extremely successful and popular ambassador in Libya, but he had become too relaxed about security in a country that had become a war zone.

UN Ambassador Susan Rice was too quick to pronounce judgments on the Benghazi attack before the facts were known, which could be attributed to her interest in assuming a public role in order to buttress her case for becoming Secretary of State in a second Obama administration.

The public role belonged to Brennan, but he had previously mishandled duties in the wake of the attempt of a young Nigerian to board a commercial airliner with explosives in December 2009 as well as in the immediate aftermath of the killing of Osama bin Laden in May 2011.

The systemic failures surrounding the Nigerian bomber involved the entire intelligence community, including the CIA, the National Counter-Terrorism Center, and the National Security Agency. The Benghazi tragedy points to continued systemic failures in the intelligence community as well as within the State Department. A failure to conduct proper threat assessments will predictably lead to security failures.

he Benghazi failure is one more reminder of the unfortunate militarization of the intelligence community, particularly the CIA, in the wake of 9/11 that finds our major civilian intelligence service becoming a paramilitary center in support of the war-fighter.

Last year’s appointment of Gen. David Petraeus as CIA director; the CIA’s increased role in drone attacks in Southwest Asia, the Persian Gulf and the Horn of Africa; and the insufficient attention to providing strategic intelligence for the policy-maker have weakened the Agency’s central missions.

The success of the Bush and Obama administrations in compromising the CIA’s Office of the Inspector General has ensured that the Agency’s flaws have gone uncorrected. The politicization of intelligence in the run-up to the Iraq War in 2003 was the worst intelligence scandal in the CIA’s history, but there were no penalties for those who shared CIA Director George Tenet’s willingness to make phony intelligence a “slam dunk.”

If more attention is not given to the biblical inscription at the entrance to the CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia, that only “the truth will set you free,” the decline of the intelligence community will continue.

Melvin A. Goodman is a senior fellow at the Center for International Policy and the author of the forthcoming “National Insecurity: The Costs of American Militarism” (City Lights Publishing, January 2013).


15 comments for “The Why Behind the Benghazi Attack

  1. Mike Springmann
    November 4, 2012 at 10:58 am

    Gee, a CIA Base operating like a consulate? How new & exciting! Now, what about the Lack of Intelligence Agency’s Base at Jeddah? Nearly all of the U.S. staff there work for that Agency & the National Insecurity Agency as well. Their task is to spy on Americans, the 55-odd consulates in town, the Saudis, and what they can get from East Africa.

    If America wants peace & security, why not abolish the Directorate of Operations and cut the intelligence services’ budgets by 25%–THIS YEAR. And by a like amount for several succeeding years.

  2. Jym Allyn
    November 4, 2012 at 11:28 am

    The irony is that the same gullible fools who bought the CIA lies of Weapons of Mass Destruction leading up to the 2003 “War of Retribution” against Saddam are the ones most critical of accusing President Obama for malfeasance when it is likely that Obama was actually just trying to protect the credibility of the CIA.

    If President Obama told the real truth it would expose our CIA’s lies and ineptitude and validate the accusations that Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld violated US (as well as International Law) in declaring war against Iraq in 2003. However, the truth would also make the relatives of the 4000+ American soldiers who died in Iraq during that war feel that those lives were lost in vain.

    THAT dilemma is the great conundrum that President Obama faces, or as was said in “A Few Good Men” by Col. Nathan R. Jessup (Jack Nicholson) “You can’t deal with the truth.”

    When you have 46% of the American electorate NOT believing in Evolution, it documents that they “can’t deal with the truth.”

  3. Antonio Cafoncelli
    November 4, 2012 at 12:07 pm

    The sad episode of Benghazi attack is another example of our flawed and erroneous foreign policy. Is not that people in the moslem world they do not like us because ” they hate our freedom, our democracy”. What they hate is our foreign policy. They resent our hegemonic and subjugation of middle Eastern countries with occupation and humilliation. As the great Edward Said said in his monumental work Orientalism, Middle Eastern world does not need patronizing, “THEY HAVE TO WRITE THEIR OWN HISTORY”. Close to Benghazi and in the city itself, there was notorious, the existence of well organized and armed Jihadist and violent extremist that fought in Irak after Saddam was deposed, during the violent civil war. They were more Lybians fighting in Irak, than other foreign fighter groups. How irrational, and hypocritical is to blame President Obama, when Benghazi is the most entrenched pocket of violent Jihadist and antiamerican elements. What do they want the neocons and reactionary elements that critize the President?.Do they want USA to put boots on the ground or invade Lybia?. Surely they want always more war, that the majority or our country does not want. Again our foreign policy is at the crux of the proliferation of antiamericanism and Jihadist in these parts of the world.

  4. Vivek Jain
    November 4, 2012 at 1:38 pm

    “Western interests in North Africa”?

    Why is imperialism not discussed further?

    Why is the illegal war on Libya not discussed?

    These policymakers don’t act on behalf or with the consent of the American people.
    Michael Parenti writes in “Against Empire”: “Why has a professedly peace-loving, democratic nation found it necessary to use so much violence and repression against so many peoples in so many places? An important goal of U.S. policy is to make the world safe for the Fortune 500 and its global system of capital accumulation. Governments that strive for any kind of economic independence or any sort of populist redistributive politics, that attempt to take some of their economic surplus and apply it to not-for-profit services that benefit the people – such governments are the ones most likely to feel the wrath of U.S. intervention or invasion.”

  5. Rehmat
    November 4, 2012 at 1:38 pm

    WOW – Mr. Goodman – do you want the sheeple to believe that the so-called “Islamic millitants” wanted to target CIA – for the CIA-Mossad for which these bloodthirsty Wahabi/Salafi have and still working for in Iraq, Libya, Iran, Yemen, Syria, Somalia and many other part of the Muslim world.

    Have CIA and Mossad not known for collaboration for decades?

    In July 2012 – three former CIA high-ranking officials, including a station chief in Israel, have claimed that they’re victims of Israeli espionage agencies.

    Benghazi terrorism has as much CIA-Mossad signatures as was 9/11.

  6. pat
    November 4, 2012 at 2:26 pm

    so it was a cia compound, we did not have an ambassador lose his life, he was a cover for the cia, and the other Americans, they were cia also, it makes sense now
    wow the news and the president and the spokespeople thought it was a movie they were protecting the cia then they said they were told it was the movie oh wow it is so clear now

  7. neoconned
    November 4, 2012 at 9:43 pm

    No one seems to remember that Libya owns one of the larger petroleum reserves remaining.

    With Gaddhafi gone, there was no organized government which could have prevented an opportunistic invasion to do in Libya what was not done in Iraq – capture and control the oil fields. It is for this reason that the neocons are blasting Obama so hard over Benghazi, and not the fact that there was little chance of protecting or rescuing these people once the Republicans forced funding cuts.

  8. Rehmat
    November 4, 2012 at 11:11 pm

    Pastor Fauntroy: ‘European soldiers massacred Libyan civilian’

    Former US Congressman, Rev. Walter Edward Fauntroy 78 (D 1971-90)),was a close friend of late Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. (1929-1968). Fauntroy is Pastor at the New Bethel Baptist Church and member of Sothern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) lead by Re. King.

    Fauntroy was among the 35 foreigners, mostly journalists, trapped in the Rexos Hotel in Tripoli when the capital city was over-run by NATO-supported rebels in August. Fauntroy went to Libya on a fact finding mission of the so-called West’s ‘humanitarian war’. Later some sources claimed Fauntroy was killed by pro-Qaddafi soldiers.

    Surprisingly, Faundroy reappeared in his hometown Northwest DC on August 31, 2011 – saved by his Lord Christ from the White Christian soldiers killing Libyan Muslim men, women and children. In an interview Faundroy gave to AFRO last week, he claimed that he watched in horor French and Danish troops storm small villages late at night beheading, maiming and killing rebels and Qaddafi loyalists for western propaganda photo-up of rebel victories.

  9. VivekJain
    November 5, 2012 at 1:29 am

    I would think that the US/NATO illegal war on Libya was rather de-stabilizing.
    Take a look at this article by Petras:

    Mr. Goodman writes, “The region is home to myriad militant and terrorist organizations that threaten Western interests in North Africa and, more importantly, the creation of a stable state in Libya. ”

    Are CIA analysts trained to have a blindspot for imperialism?

    Goodman writes, “Both the State Department and the CIA share responsibility for seriously underestimating the security threat in Libya.”

    Brother, the State Dept and the CIA and NATO ARE the security threat–they threaten the physical, economic, and social security of ordinary Libyan people.

    More Orwellian speak by Goodman: “Any CIA component in the Middle East or North Africa is a likely target of the wrath of militant and terrorist organizations because of the Agency’s key role in the global war on terror waged by the Bush administration and the increasingly widespread covert campaign of drone aircraft of the Obama administration.”

    Correct that to the war OF terrorism by the Bush and Obama administrations…

    Goodman mentions the Khost bombing and the deaths of CIA operatives and contractors, but omits any explanation of what the CIA is doing in Afghanistan, four decades after the Carter administration supported anti-communist guerillas there.

    Goodman says, “Christopher Stevens … had become too relaxed about security in a country that had become a war zone.”

    Yes, how did Libya become a war zone?

    Susan Rice’s premature, inaccurate comments, and possible ambitions for promotion are mentioned, but no acknowledgement of her lies about Viagra is made.
    Why is it that American warmakers, propagandists and liars get a pass?

    Why does Goodman not name Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the Nigerian implicated in the December 2009 plot? Why does Goodman leave out any mention of Kurt Haskell who has raised questions about the case?

    Goodman laments the militarization of the intelligence community but what does such a development tell us about the structure of power in DC?

    The name of Bob Gates isn’t even uttered in this piece, when it was Goodman who courageously reminded people about Gates’ involvement in Iran Contra and the arming of Saddam Hussein

    Why did Obama end up keeping Gates on as imperial, er, “defense” secretary? What does such a decision tell us about who it is that’s dictating policy?

  10. F. G. Sanford
    November 5, 2012 at 7:15 am

    Great piece. Kinda begs the $64,000.00 question: Is there really a cost-benefit justification for any of our intelligence operations, when you consider the steady stream of disasters starting with cold war debacles, recruitment of Nazis to contain the “Red Menace”, one “Banana Republic” after another dashed into chaos by fascist dictators, the ouster of Mossadegh in 1953, and that tin-horn antics of that perpetrator Ollie North and his Iran-Contra shenanigans. Somehow, the OSS and Walter C. Langer came out of WWII looking like they had managed to divine the inner-workings of Hitler’s Germany, and the power elite somehow bought the goods. The truth is, a homosexual mathematical genius named Turing cracked the enigma code, and Ernst Hanfstaengl defected to the United States. Somehow, those successes continue to justify a steady stream of intelligence failures ever since.

  11. Cockalorium
    November 5, 2012 at 9:47 am

    For an honest, clear-eyed understanding of the CIA from its inception, I recommend the writings of Lt Col. L.Fletcher Prouty. His best book entitled,
    THE SECRET TEAM – The CIA and Its Allies in Control of the United
    States and the World, is online here:

    What better announcement to the world about the abuse of this agency than that a military general in charge of two illegal wars was to be made its Director?

  12. TheAZCowBoy
    November 5, 2012 at 11:58 am

    So, we lost a faggot Ambassador and some CIA ‘spooks’ doing what they do best ‘dismembering’ Gaddafi’s wonderful country – so what?
    Remember Hillary’s: “We came – We saw – He died!’ comment (after the US armed and financed al-Qaeda ‘rebel’s sodomized (bayonet?) and then murdered a hapless Saddam in cold blood?).

    Yup, every dog has his day, huh Hillary?

    BTW: Deminuative war criminal Leprachaun Gen’l Petraeus should be rotting in a Bagram style prison – with a cellmate by the name of Gen’l (War criminal) Stanley McChrystal.

  13. W. James
    November 5, 2012 at 3:38 pm

    So that. Was the reason. The insufficient protection and evacuation. procedures appear to have been lacking. A friend of mine who works in security said he intuitively wondered at the reason for the Consulate being in Benghazi. Now his doubting is satisfied. Wasn’t it a classic case of naïveté in an era with a rampant Taliban/ El Quada? My friend’s hunches were on the button.

  14. W. James
    November 5, 2012 at 3:54 pm

    So that. Was the reason. The insufficient protection and evacuation. procedures appear to have been lacking. A friend of mine who works in security said he intuitively wondered at the reason for the Consulate being in Benghazi. Now his doubting is satisfied. Wasn’t it a classic case of naïveté in an era with a rampant Taliban/ El Quada? My friend’s hunches were on the button.

  15. Terry
    November 9, 2012 at 6:35 am

    I dare to speculate that from the very beginning the Benghazi “scandal” was a dirty, GOP “October Surprise” set-up intended to try to unseat Obama. Recall that the attack on American embassies appeared to have been sparked by a hate video produced by a rather mysterious person with a far-right wing political orientation and criminal background.

    The attackers and seemingly reactionary demonstrators in Banghazi and other Middle Eastern countries may have been paid off to behave in such a way (in a similar fashion that Kermit Roosevelt precipitated the overthrow of the democratic government of Prime Minister Mosaddeq of Iran to usher in the return of the Shah of Iran to the Peacock Throne).

    This interpretation is supported by the fact (as I heard reported) that the demonstrations were not really spontaneous, but well-planned and organized in advance. The publication of the anti-Muslim hate video appears to have been created as a cover to make the demonstrations appear to be spontaneous, and not necessarily timed to come just a few weeks before an important election in the US.

    There is precedent for such treasonous intrigue just before a US election which callously puts American lives in danger. I refer to the 1980 election when President Carter was working diligently to try to have the American hostages in Iran released BEFORE the election all the while that Ronald Reagan and GHW Bush were secretly working behind the scenes (mostly through surrogates) with their intelligence contacts in the Iranian regime to keep the American hostages remaining captive in Iran until AFTER the election so that Reagan-Bush could take credit for their release.

    This story and the evidence to support it is well reported by the journalist Robert Parry himself in his book Lost History, but also available in excerpted form on this website.

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