New revelations about the terrorist attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, could pose more trouble for the Obama administration.
In a new book by the first Western eyewitness to the deadly attacks, security contractor Morgan Jones describes in detail the compound’s inadequate security measures, multiple warnings that an attack was imminent, and the State Department’s repeated denials of urgent pleas for more protection. In “Embassy House,” Jones also expresses his frustration that the administration continued to insist for weeks that the attack grew out of a protest over an anti-Islam video, despite the fact that he told State Department and FBI officials just days after the tragedy that it was a well-planned attack by al-Qaeda militants.
U.S. Ambassador to Libya Christopher Stevens, based in Tripoli but visiting Benghazi that day, and three other Americans were killed in the attack.
When Jones first arrived in Libya, in early April 2012, the compound in Benghazi was so unprotected that not a single guard was securing the main entrance, he writes in the book. In addition, basic security measures were missing: no coils of razor wire atop walls, no security lights, and no watchtowers, in additiion to non-functioning CCTV cameras. “In short, it looked as if it would be easy for a determined force of attackers to scale the wall and get inside.” And worst of all, Jones’s guard force was unarmed, as stipulated in the State Department contract with his employer, Blue Mountain, a private security company. While Jones was not allowed to carry weapons, the Libyan militia members paid to serve as guards strutted around with AK-47s, often shooting them off in the middle of the night after getting drunk on “homemade hooch.” The next night, someone threw a live grenade over the walls of the compound.
“We had a lone American tasked with defending the entire U.S. Mission in Benghazi, and the streets were crawling with a heavily armed militia allied to al Qaeda. I wondered how it could get any worse. The Benghazi Embassy [sic -- it was actually a consulate, as embassies are located typically in capital cities] was a disaster waiting to happen. It was an invitation to an al Qaeda massacre and/or a kidnapping.”
Less than two months before the attack, the British ambassador’s convoy was ambushed and the British soon shut down their mission and pulled out of Benghazi. Yet though the American Mission had only half as many security guards as the British mission, the U.S. chose to stay in the increasingly lawless city. The Tunisian consulate was stormed by protesters, a UN convoy was hit in a grenade attack, and the Red Cross soon pulled out of the city after their building was hit by rocket-propelled grenades. But the U.S. stayed put, though the compound “was a target going begging,” writes Jones.
The situation was so tense, and the Libyan guards were so unreliable, that the head of security, Jeff Palmer, and deputy chief Silvio Miotto, sent an urgent email to the State Department, warning them that “if the compound comes under a sustained, organized attack it will be overrun.” He soon got his response: the State Department told him to “keep working with what we’d got,” he told Morgan, adding that they would reassess the security situation in December. “It’s no change, buddy,” Palmer told Jones. “No f--king change at all.” Jones writes: “He and Silvio had been battling daily to get what we needed in terms of security, yet they’d been given nothing. In fact, they’d been point-blank denied… The Benghazi Embassy [sic] was a disaster waiting to happen, and Washington seemed happy for it to stay that way.”
Sources involved in constructing the compound's physical defense and security measures told Jones that “they warned the Americans that they needed far greater physical security measures in place if they were to ensure the security of the Benghazi Mission.” They expressed shock that security wasn’t later tightened at the facility and warned the State Department that the mission remained vulnerable to attack.
On the morning of September 9, 2012, one of the Libyan guards gave Jones some worrying news: a man dressed in a Libyan policeman’s uniform was spotted on the roof of a three-story building across the street from the consulate taking photographs of the mission. Calls to the chief of police in Benghazi didn’t go anywhere and Jones warned his guards to be extra vigilant. Two days later, Jones was settling down with a barbecued chicken dinner in front of the TV at his villa, when he got a frantic phone call from his guard force commander. “We are under attack… There are armed men attacking the compound… Maybe one hundred! Maybe more!” As he rushed to the compound, Jones saw roadblocks put up by the militant Shariah Brigade blocking all the approach roads, which would likely slow down any quick reaction force from the nearby annex used by CIA and U.S. Special Forces. “The dark and bitter truth was starting to sink in now: this was a well-orchestrated, carefully planned attack.” Later, they were told that one of the attackers shot a Libyan guard in the leg, announcing: “We are not here to kill fellow Muslims; we came here to kill Americans only.”
Jones quickly scaled a back wall and made his way through the compound, slipping past armed Islamist fighters until one spotted him, shouting out a savage cry: “Hey! You! We kill them all! Death to America!” Jones approached him, speaking Arabic and when he got close enough, swung his gun and smashed the fighter in the face, knocking him out. After taking in the destruction and searching the compound for any Americans, to no avail, he left. Later, he realized that of the Westerners who worked at the mission, he was the last one alive. Jones described his experience recently in an interview with “60 Minutes.”
In the days after the attack, Jones was endlessly frustrated by the false narrative that the attack grew out of a protest over an anti-Islam movie. The day after the attack, he flew to Qatar and was questioned by phone by a team of State Department officials. He described in detail his account of the attack, explaining that the attackers were from the Shariah Brigade. Jones also emailed them his photos of the destruction and carnage left in the terrorists’ wake. Almost instantaneously, a State Department contact responded, “Thank you very much for all of them. Brilliant. This is all we have.” A few days later, back home in his native Wales, he was questioned by three FBI agents, a State Department official and a federal prosecutor from New York. He repeated his description of the attack, praising the American security guards at the mission for coping with few resources: “They continuously asked for more manpower, weaponry and equipment and they were continuously denied. If they’d got it we wouldn’t be here now, obviously.”
Despite giving government officials his firsthand account that it was a carefully-planned attack, the Obama administration continued for two weeks after the attack to insist that it was a spontaneous demonstration against the “Innocence of Muslims” video. “Bearing in mind that immediately after the attack I gave my detailed testimony and photographic evidence to an alphabet soup of American agencies -- the State Department and FBI among others -- and that my evidence was arguably the most detailed the U.S. administration possessed immediately following the attack, I cannot understand how the administration argued that this was a spontaneous demonstration that got out of hand. From my testimony alone it clearly was not.”
Jones condemns the State Department’s Accountability Review Board convened by then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for not recommending any disciplinary action against anyone for ignoring security concerns raised by the staff at the Benghazi compound. “No one in Washington seemingly takes the rap for any of this, yet at the same time justice is somehow seen as being done.” He also criticizes the report for concluding that the responses of his Blue Mountain guards were “inadequate” and for not acknowledging their role in searching the compound to find the Americans.