Across 166 pages of internal State Department documents -- released Friday by a pair of Republican congressmen pressing the Obama administration for more answers 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."
In the document, Stevens also cited a meeting he had held two days earlier with local militia commanders. These men boasted to Stevens of exercising "control" over the Libyan Armed Forces, and threatened that if the U.S.-backed candidate for prime minister were to prevail in Libya's internal political jockeying, "they would not continue to guarantee security in Benghazi."
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.
Scarcely more than two months had passed since Stevens had notified the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Justice and other agencies about a "recent increase in violent incidents," including "attacks against western interests." "Until the GOL (Government of Libya) is able to effectively deal with these key issues," Stevens wrote on June 25, "the violence is likely to continue and worsen."
After the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi had been damaged by an improvised explosive device, earlier that month, Stevens had reported to his superiors that an Islamist group had claimed credit for the attack, and in so doing, had "described the attack as targeting the Christians supervising the management of the consulate."
"Islamic extremism appears to be on the rise in eastern Libya," the ambassador wrote, adding that "the Al-Qaeda flag has been spotted several times flying over government buildings and training facilities ..."
The documents also contain evidence that the State Department's denials of requests for enhanced security in Benghazi in the months leading up to the attack may have contributed to the ability of the attackers to plan their assault on the consulate and annex grounds without being detected. (Continues)