What a bitter--and ironic--twist. During the same week that The New York Times lambasted former President George W. Bush for "ignoring" the intelligence warning signs of 9-11, we learned that the current administration missed their cues, too.
Or put another way, now we know why the White House (and the State Department) were so anxious to blame escalating violence in the Middle East on that internet "film" that is offensive to Muslims.
Turns out the Obama team missed (or ignored) intelligence indicators of pending attacks across the Middle East:
Not surprisingly, it was a British newspaper, The Independent, which broke the story.
According to senior diplomatic sources, the US State Department had credible information 48 hours before mobs charged the consulate in Benghazi, and the embassy in Cairo, that American missions may be targeted, but no warnings were given for diplomats to go on high alert and "lockdown", under which movement is severely restricted.
Eight Americans, some from the military, were wounded in the attack which claimed the lives of [Ambassador Chris] Stevens, Sean Smith, an information officer, and two US Marines. All staff from Benghazi have now been moved to the capital, Tripoli, and those whose work is deemed to be non-essential may be flown out of Libya.
Since the account first appeared on The Independent's website last night, there has been a fair amount of speculation about its sourcing. Some have suggested that the information was leaked by members of the U.S. diplomatic corps, upset that senior officials ignored warnings that might have saved the lives of their colleagues. The American diplomats took the information to the British press, knowing U.S. reporters would never print (or broadcast) anything that would reflect badly on the Obama Administration.
But we'll take a different tack. The article wasn't datelined Washington, suggesting it was prepared by the Independent's domestic staff. And, we're guessing their sources were in the British diplomatic community, rather than the U.S. foreign service. If that supposition is accurate, it's even more damning for President Obama and Hillary Clinton, suggesting that warnings of possible attacks were known by several foreign intelligence services, which probably shared their information with the U.S.--and it was apparently ignored.
To be fair, no one knows what was in those reports, beyond vague warnings of a possible attack. But the Brits have long had better HUMINT in the Middle East, given their colonial and military history. And there's something else that tells us London was not only a source for U.K. press account, it was likely a source of the original intelligence.
Consider this: with the exception of Friday's attack against its embassy in Sudan, Britain has been largely immune from the current wave of anti-U.S. and anti-western violence. Do the Islamists simply like the Brits better than Americans? Hardly. Within hours the the Khartoum incident, Taliban fighters attacked a base in Afghanistan where Prince Harry is serving alongside U.S. Marines. Maybe the British have simply done a better job of reading the intel tea leaves and improving security at their diplomatic compoumds.
There's also the matter of exactly how the warnings were shared. The U.S. and Great Britain exchange plenty of raw intelligence data, but the report seems to suggest that attack predictions circulating before the Libyan massacre were in the form of finished intelligence. That raises other questions regarding the classification of the information, which government officials had access to it, when it was received, and why it was--or wasn't conveyed--to our staff in Benghazi.
In the wake of this week's tragedy, there have been bi-partisan calls for a Congressional investigation into what we knew before Ambassador Stevens and his colleagues were slaughtered in Benghazi. The American people have a right to know why Mr. Stevens and his associates were left so vulnerable when there were warnings of potential danger. We may learn the same thing we discovered about the intelligence before 9-11: it was so vague, there was little that could be done.
But Congress--and the public--have a right to make that judgment for themselves. So far, the State Department has refused to brief the House Intelligence Committee on what "it knew" before the slaughter at the U.S. consulate in Libya. Rather than getting at the truth, it looks like some in the administration would prefer to stonewall, for reasons that could be politically devastating.