Exclusive: Classified cable warned consulate couldn't withstand 'coordinated attack'
The U.S. Mission in Benghazi convened an "emergency meeting" less than a month before the assault that killed Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans, because Al Qaeda had training camps in Benghazi and the consulate could not defend against a "coordinated attack," according to a classified cable reviewed by Fox News.
Summarizing an Aug. 15 emergency meeting convened by the U.S. Mission in Benghazi, the Aug. 16 cable marked "SECRET" said that the State Department's senior security officer, also known as the RSO, did not believe the consulate could be protected.
"RSO (Regional Security Officer) expressed concerns with the ability to defend Post in the event of a coordinated attack due to limited manpower, security measures, weapons capabilities, host nation support, and the overall size of the compound," the cable said.
According to a review of the cable addressed to the Office of the Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the Emergency Action Committee was also briefed "on the location of approximately ten Islamist militias and AQ training camps within Benghazi ... these groups ran the spectrum from Islamist militias, such as the QRF Brigade and Ansar al-Sharia, to 'Takfirist thugs.'" Each U.S. mission has a so-called Emergency Action Committee that is responsible for security measures and emergency planning.
The details in the cable seemed to foreshadow the deadly Sept. 11 attack on the U.S. compound, which was a coordinated, commando-style assault using direct and indirect fire. Al Qaeda in North Africa and Ansar al-Sharia, both mentioned in the cable, have since been implicated in the consulate attack.
In addition to describing the security situation in Benghazi as "trending negatively," the cable said explicitly that the mission would ask for more help. "In light of the uncertain security environment, US Mission Benghazi will submit specific requests to US Embassy Tripoli for additional physical security upgrades and staffing needs by separate cover."
As for specific threats against the U.S., the cable warned the intelligence was not clear on the issue, cautioning that the militias in Benghazi were not concerned with any significant retaliation from the Libyan government, which had apparently lost control in Benghazi. A briefer explained that they "did not have information suggesting that these entities were targeting Americans but did caveat that (there was not) a complete picture of their intentions yet. RSO (Regional Security Officer) noted that the Benghazi militias have become more brazen in their actions and have little fear of reprisal from the (government of Libya.)"
While the administration's public statements have suggested that the attack came without warning, the Aug. 16 cable seems to undercut those claims. It was a direct warning to the State Department that the Benghazi consulate was vulnerable to attack, that it could not be defended and that the presence of anti-U.S. militias and Al Qaeda was well-known to the U.S. intelligence community.
In a three-page cable on Sept 11, the day Stevens and the three other Americans were killed, Stevens wrote about "growing problems with security" in Benghazi and "growing frustration" with the security forces and Libyan police. The ambassador saw both as "too weak to keep the country secure."
Fox News asked the State Department to respond to a series of questions about the Aug. 16 cable, including who was specifically charged with reviewing it and whether action was taken by Washington or Tripoli. Fox News also asked, given the specific warnings and the detailed intelligence laid out in the cable, whether the State Department considered extra measures for the consulate in light of the anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks - and if no action was taken, who made that call.
The State Department press office declined to answer specific questions, citing the classified nature of the cable.
"An independent board is conducting a thorough review of the assault on our post in Benghazi," Deputy Spokesman Mark Toner said in written statement. "Once we have the board's comprehensive account of what happened, findings and recommendations, we can fully address these matters."
This post was edited on 10/31 at 7:17 pm