How Can We Understand Benghazi Without Probing the CIA’s Role?

Conor Friedersdorf
The Atlantic
May 14, 2013


The attack that killed Ambassador Chris Stevens targeted a CIA operation, not a ‘diplomatic post.’

Benghazi: Chris Stevens

Photo: REUTERS/Stephen Lam

After catching up on coverage of the Benghazi attack over the weekend, there’s something that has me very confused: why are so many journalists ignoring the fact that the Americans there were mostly CIA? Here’s how The New York Times began a Benghazi story published online Sunday: “A House committee chairman vowed Sunday to seek additional testimony on the Obama administration’s handling of last year’s deadly attack on the American diplomatic post in Libya.”

Mark Steyn’s latest National Review piece on Benghazi doesn’t mention the CIA. Neither does this Weekly Standard piece, in which Victoria Toensing complains that a recent report about Benghazi “was purposefully incomplete and willfully misleading.” And Stephen F. Hayes, whose work on Benghazi is widely cited among conservatives, refers to “the assault on the U.S. diplomatic post” and CIA warnings about a “potential attack on U.S. diplomatic facilities in the region.”

Am I wrong in thinking that this is madness?

The compound in Benghazi was not just a “diplomatic post” or a “diplomatic facility.”

According to a Wall Street Journal article published way back in November 2012, “The U.S. effort in Benghazi was at its heart a CIA operation, according to officials briefed on the intelligence. Of the more than 30 American officials evacuated from Benghazi following the deadly assault, only seven worked for the State Department. Nearly all the rest worked for the CIA, under diplomatic cover, which was a principal purpose of the consulate, these officials said.”

Doesn’t that fact need to be acknowledged if the goal is to figure out what happened? I’m not invested in any outcome. If the Obama Administration is proved to have acted badly, I won’t be surprised: as someone who thinks that President Obama violated the U.S. Constitution and the War Powers Resolution when he unilaterally volunteered American forces for the rebellion against Colonel Gaddafi, it seems to me that he’s guilty of scandalous behavior in Libya regardless, and I am always eager for more transparency in the American government’s conduct abroad. At the same time, I have no faith in the Republican Party to make good use of its oversight authority, and presume they’re more interested in winning the next election than forcing transparency in foreign affairs, which they generally oppose, or improving State Department policy.

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