Dear GOP: Here are Some Basic Real Questions to ask about Benghazi & CIA

(By Michael G. Roskin)

With a Congressional committee about to seize on the Benghazi question (as part of the 2014 election campaign), some previously unasked but basic questions should come before the committee:

Who was the consul?

Yes, the person—a State Department Foreign Service Officer—-in charge of a consulate. (A consul general is in charge of a consulate general, which is a bigger State Department mission but not an embassy.) Oh, you don’t know who was the U.S. consul in Benghazi at the time of the 2012 attack? I’ll save you the trouble of looking it up: There wasn’t one.

Some follow-up questions: Do you have any State Department e-mails, phone calls, or radio messages signed by the consul at that time? Any requests to replace a lost passport or register a marriage or other standard work that a consulate does? No, of course not, because this was not a consulate like other consulates.

Where were the consul’s living quarters? Yes, where did the U.S. consul live? Were they in the consulate compound itself, or somewhere else? I’ll save you the trouble of looking it up: If there were living quarters designated for an eventual U.S. consul in Benghazi, they were unoccupied. Were any personal effects recovered after the attack?

You say a consul had been planned or designated but, in the interests of security, he had not yet taken up residence in Benghazi. And what was his (or her) name and previous postings? Was this a real appointment or a straw one, a placeholder to make it look right?
If the point is not yet clear: There was no consul because Benghazi was not a real consulate.

It was a front for the Central Intelligence Agency’s efforts in Benghazi to carry out two worthwhile missions: Get the names and structure of the extremist forces operating in Benghazi—chiefly the Al Qaeda affiliate Ansar al-Sharia (Partisans of Sharia)—-and seize or buy up the vast amount of weaponry freed by Gaddafi’s 2011 overthrow, weapons that indeed contributed to the Islamist rebellions in Mali and the Central African Republic (and maybe even Boko Haram in Nigeria).

For this praiseworthy effort, four brave Americans died: the U.S. ambassador, two ex-Navy SEALS, and one ex-Air Force communications specialist. Only Ambassador Christopher
Stevens was a real State Department official. The other three followed the typical CIA pattern of hiring highly trained U.S. military personnel.

The problem here is the drastically insufficient protection to secure the mission, whether you wish to call it State or CIA, a problem found in many parts of the world. Was Secretary of State Clinton derelict in not demanding such protection? Sure, she and many officials were living in a dream world, supposing that a handful of operatives could keep tabs on radical Islamists without them figuring out that they were the targets and striking back. And Congress has always been tight-fisted in funding physical security for U.S. missions. Only the gigantic, newly constructed U.S. embassy in Baghdad is physically secure—and it’s nearly empty. If you’re going to fight a war in the shadows, at least go armed.

Now we move on to the broader questions: State, are you sure you want to serve as a front and subordinate to the CIA? That’s not your original purpose. You should be a calm and somewhat detached observer, able to take the long view rather than second CIA decisions on immediate policy. Sure, we all want to fight terrorism, but we must distinguish between the tactical here-and-now fight and the broad strategic overview of how, in the long run, do we curb or outlast the current binge of Islamist rage. At present, no Washington officials play this latter role, or at least none that are listened to.

One could take this a step farther. Mark Mazzetti of the New York Times argued in his 2013 Way of the Knife that the CIA has become a paramilitary branch of the Defense Department. The Agency, he demonstrated, has shifted from chiefly gathering and analyzing intelligence to performing daring military missions. (Actually, that was the role of the CIA’s predecessor, the Office of Special Services, during World War II.)

In short, organizational boundaries have dissolved, what political scientists used to call “poor boundary maintenance,” a precursor to political chaos. Agencies no longer do what they were designed to do. The Defense Department (in Guantánamo and elsewhere) has turned itself into a quasi-judicial branch and (in Afghanistan and elsewhere) into a nation-building arm. The Agency has turned itself into a special-forces operation. And State has turned itself into a front for both the CIA and DoD.

In addition to restoring organization missions and boundaries, we must also face the unhappy truth that for every Libya there will be a Benghazi. Our finest intentions will come back to bite us. It comes with the territory. Save Somalia from the warlords? Then expect a “Blackhawk Down.” Save Afghanistan from the Taliban? Did anyone pause to think that the real enemy might be Pakistan, whose ISI founded and funds the Taliban and who hid Osama bin Laden? Save Iraq from a beastly dictator? Then expect a Fallujah and an Abu Ghraib. Obsession with short-term success has left us blind to longer-term consequences.

MICHAEL G. ROSKIN was Professor of Political Science at Lycoming College 1972-2008 and authored five political science textbooks. Professor Roskin earlier worked as a newsman and foreign service officer for the U.S. Information Agency before earning a Ph.D. in international studies at American University. He was a Fulbrighter at the University of Macau on 2008-09.


Related video added by Juan Cole:

CBS This Morning from last week: “Boehner launches select committee on Benghazi”

8 Responses

  1. Allowing your embassies and consulates to serve as a home and cover to agencies playing silly-buggers abroad is one of those jaw droppingly stupid decisions that always leaves me wondering who’s making those decisions.

    It’s one thing to consider them sacrosanct when they’re representing their country diplomatically and handling issues related to immigration, traveler support and whatnot. It’s something else to expect others to consider them sacrosanct when they realize they’re being used as a cover for foreign spies running around their cities doing who-knows-what.

    Benghazi is basically an American obsession so I’ve never paid it all that much attention. But if this post is correct, and the consulate was playing host to sneaky business instead of doing what consulates are supposed to be doing it seems less like a tragedy -avoidable or otherwise- and more like a successful attack on a legitimate target.

    Just something for governments to consider when they’re deciding how to make use of their embassies and consulates.

  2. If a certain number of personnel in the diplomatic offices in your country aren’t spies of some sort, you’re not very important. This has been standard procedure of every country for as long as there have been diplomatic offices. The problem here is that cover was maintained poorly.

    The reason the story on this incident has been so muddled is that the administration and the DoS can’t afford to admit what was going on out loud even though it’s obvious to any thoughtful observer. Whether you think to exposure of this operation was a good thing or not, it’s obvious that if a Dem congress was exploiting a GOP administration’s attempt to do the same thing in a similar situation, the accusations of treason would be flying thick and fast.

  3. Has it ever been established as to the exact makeup of additional security requested for this “outpost”? Given the circumstances of limited funds and many requests from real consulates and embassies it would seem that any positive response would have been quite limited and of no consequence in preventing this tragedy.

  4. Can this article be read into the record at the opening of the House Special Committee on Benghazi, please? It might speed things up.

    Seriously, thanks for this summation.

  5. Any more, “policy” is “whatever you can pay for or steal and get away with.” Organizational boundaries? Pffft. “Finest intentions”? Just what are those — honestly now, no BS about “spreading democracy.” link to

    And about “Obsession with short-term success has left us blind to longer-term consequences:” The post-supra-trans-national people who plan out the investments in the syndicate called “war” know pretty well by now that concerns about blowback and “consequences” and stuff are just for suckers. Follow the $4 or $5 or $6 or more trillion in Real Wealth being converted just by the US Imperium, albeit the largest player in the Game, into slagged matériel consumed in combat and other stupidities, link to , and into what they sure hope is a framework for uninterruptible conversion of the subsistence resources of all us ordinary people, in a hot and bleeding world that they are part and parcel of taking down, into that other stuff, that Infinite Weapons Development Programme (IWDP) and Enormous Idiot Bureaucracy (EIB) that feeds them.

  6. Roskin raises important points meriting much more attention than they have received. In addition we need to recognize this was not the first time an American facility abroad nominally diplomatic in nature had been attacked. Rather than avoiding one more inquirí we should be looking at ALL the attacks on consulates and embassies over the past three decades to answer the question “How can we make these facilities safer”? After all Benghazi was not the first time, nor even the tenth time, they had been attacked. We need to know how the government responded to such attacks over time…….was there a learning curve that lagged due to circumstances as Roskin suggests or is there an institutional failure to learn from experience? That is the question worth asking although it seems highly doubtful this investigation is prepared to ask it. Republicans are big on idolizing history, not learning from it.

  7. Embassies and consulates and little “diplomatic outposts” are, by nature, militarily indefensible, in the way some are yakking that “we” should ensure. For some context, how about this list, with provocations, of a whole lot of attacks on “missions” going back to 1829: link to

    Yeah, “diplomacy” has always been high language and punctilious protocol fluttering over dirty deeds. But to expect that you can plunk even a few hundred troops and even larger “ready response forces” down in a fixed position where “diplomacy” has planted endless seeds of blossoming blowback, spots wherefrom issue the sneaky-petes that foment destabilization and overthrow of whole governments, that foster both big and little corruption, that destroy any faith in “legitimacy” that anyone might want to hold, to think one could “protect” that space and the “diplomats” doing what they do every day and night in what is nowadays such a hostile environment thanks to “our” policies and behaviors, is just silly. Best one could do is reduce the threat by increasing the nominal counterthreat and costs, as the Soviets were praised for supposedly doing by our Right, or stop so much of what “we” cheat ourselves into believing is the pursuit of “our,” really the Very Few’s, “national interest.”

  8. For real consequncwes in acting as as a front for the Central Intelligence Agency, see the use of polio vaccination teams in Afghanistan. We were so close to eliminating this crippling disease. Now healthworkers are shot as spies and the pool of infection may result in new polio cases spreading around the world.
    Blowback indeed.

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