Across 166 pages of internal State Department documents — released Friday on the Benghazi terrorist attack — slain U.S. Ambassador to Libya Chris Stevens and the security officers assigned to protect him repeatedly sounded alarms to their superiors in Washington about the intensifying lawlessness and violence in Eastern Libya, where Stevens ultimately died.
On Sept. 11 — the day Stevens and three other Americans were killed — the ambassador signed a three-page cable, labeled “sensitive,” in which he noted “growing problems with security” in Benghazi and “growing frustration” on the part of local residents with Libyan police and security forces. These forces the ambassador characterized as “too weak to keep the country secure.”
Roughly a month earlier, Stevens had signed a two-page cable, also labeled “sensitive,” that he entitled “The Guns of August: Security in Eastern Libya.”
Writing on Aug. 8, the ambassador noted that in just a few months’ time, “Benghazi has moved from trepidation to euphoria and back as a series of violent incidents has dominated the political landscape.” He added, “The individual incidents have been organized,” a function of “the security vacuum that a diverse group of independent actors are exploiting for their own purposes.”
“Islamist extremists are able to attack the Red Cross with relative impunity,” Stevens cabled. “What we have seen are not random crimes of opportunity, but rather targeted and discriminate attacks.” His final comment on the two-page document was: “Attackers are unlikely to be deterred until authorities are at least as capable.”
By Sept. 4, Stevens’ aides were reporting back to Washington on the “strong Revolutionary and Islamist sentiment” in the city.
In the days leading up to Sept. 11, warnings came even from people outside the State Department. A Libyan women’s rights activist, Wafa Bugaighis, confided to the Americans in Benghazi in mid-August: “For the first time since the revolution, I am scared.”
The documents were released by two lawmakers who have been active in probing the Benghazi case, Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., the chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, and Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah. In a letter to President Obama, dated Oct. 19 and accompanied by the documents, the lawmakers faulted the administration both for providing inadequate security before Sept. 11, and for allegedly obfuscating the nature of the events on Sept. 11.
“Multiple warnings about security threats were contained in Ambassador Stevens’ own words in multiple cables sent to Washington, D.C., and were manifested by two prior bombings of the Benghazi compound and an assassination attempt on the British ambassador,” the congressmen wrote. “For this administration to assume that terrorists were not involved in the 9/11 anniversary attack would have required a willing suspension of disbelief.”