Loose Canons

CSI Benghazi

Futile and pointless best describe the FBI investigation of the consulate attack.

By 10.8.12

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Three weeks after the terrorist attack that killed U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans, the FBI finally was permitted to bring its formidable forensic investigative capabilities to the burned-out husk of a building.

The FBI's efforts won't be entirely futile. Their expertise and methodical approach will certainly yield some evidence of what happened and perhaps who committed it, but there are a number of facts that compel us to conclude that their effort will be pointless.

Much of the information about the attack is already known. From a former Navy weapons expert, I learned that the attack was both well-planned and conducted by very highly trained terrorists. Examining the photographs of the scene -- and talking to his own contacts -- this man told me that the terrorist attack apparently began with a mortar bombardment. Most important, he told me, was the fact that the first rounds fired actually hit the building. A mortar is an imprecise weapon. Unless the terrorists had carefully picked their firing points and "registered" the target -- measuring carefully the distance and relative heights -- they wouldn't have been able to do so.

This proves that the terrorists were not only careful planners, they were highly skilled with their weapons of choice. Untrained "demonstrators" simply couldn't have hit the target with such immediacy and precision. Mortar fire would have fallen all around the area, missing the target as much as hitting it.

We don't know, but the FBI must, the results of the autopsies on the bodies of the four men killed. The ambassador apparently died of asphyxiation in the fires started by the bombardment and other parts of the attack. The other three may have died from gunfire or other causes.

But most forensic evidence of the perpetrators -- bodily fluids, finger prints, hair and such -- were probably destroyed in the fire or were not ever in the building, as the mortar crew was not. And whatever there may have remained would have been contaminated by news crews and others tramping through the ruins for three weeks. (CNN, in its own search before the FBI arrived, found a journal kept by the ambassador in which he recorded his fears of an attack.) Most importantly, in the absence of witness interviews and the ability to pursue freely and question both witnesses and suspects, what the FBI finds will be useless.

Identifying the perpetrators and -- as Obama promised -- bringing them "to justice" will be impossible. The FBI spent about three hours on the scene and wasn't able to stay to pursue witnesses and suspects. There is no civil order in Libya, no courts to issue search warrants and no police to serve them. No Libyan court exists to try the cases. In short, the whole exercise was pointless. If we really wanted to catch and punish the terrorists who committed this attack, it would be a job for the CIA and U.S. Special Operations Command to find and then capture or kill them.

President Obama and Attorney General Holder still -- despite four years' experience -- believe that terrorist attacks are criminal acts for the criminal courts, not acts of war to be responded to in kind.

It's a milestone of sorts that we have to rely on a Clinton for the truth. But it was Hillary Clinton who first admitted that there was a probable link between the al-Qaeda offshoot in Libya and the attack, as the New York Times reported. Further, Clinton admitted that Obama's military intervention in Libya had backfired. Speaking to the usual suspects at the UN on September 25, Clinton said: "Now with a larger safe haven and increased freedom to maneuver, terrorists are seeking to extend their reach and their networks in multiple directions."

Our military intervention in Libya, which followed an admonition by then-defense secretary Bob Gates that America had no national security interest in that nation, has made things worse, creating -- in Clinton's words -- a larger safe haven for terrorists.

To paraphrase Joe Biden, al Qaeda is still alive and GM is still dying. The danger created by Obama's cavalier approach to the threat has been demonstrated redundantly in Benghazi, costing the deaths of four Americans including the first dead ambassador in 33 years.

The danger Obama has created is magnified by America's inattention to the war. Whether we like it or not, Islamists are engaged in a global war, working like Stakhanovites to best employ their kinetic and ideological weapons against us. As they did in Libya, they manufacture opportunities to do so whenever we leave ourselves open to attack.

Both President Obama -- who has worked hard to keep the war out of voters' minds -- and Republican candidate Mitt Romney -- who hasn't focused on these issues at any point in the campaign -- are apparently happy with this inattention to the war.

But wars do not proceed on the schedules or according to strategies candidates establish. Our enemies aren't taking a few months off to let us sort ourselves out. As my father always said, the world has a lot of moving parts and just because we're focused on one doesn't mean we can ignore the rest.

We can't know how the war will intrude on the remaining thirty days of the campaign, or even if it will. The third presidential debate, to be held on October 22, will focus on foreign policy. It will take Romney far beyond the issues he has spent his life thinking about. Will he -- can he -- be as prepared on those topics as he was in the first debate?

Romney's positions on Afghanistan, Egypt, Israel, Libya and much more will have to be developed and focused between now and that debate. After omitting mention of Afghanistan in his convention speech, Romney said, "Our goal should be to complete a successful transition to Afghan security forces by the end of 2014. We should evaluate conditions on the ground and solicit the best advice of our military commanders." That's internally inconsistent. If we can't complete a "successful transition" in 2014 -- and we can't -- does he believe we need to stay until we can? Is that all he has to say about a war in which 2,000 Americans have died to no apparent purpose?

A week ago Paul Ryan said of Libya, "It's part of a bigger picture of the fact that the Obama foreign policy is unraveling literally before our eyes on our TV screens." In the October 22 debate, Romney will have to adopt that theme and tell the world -- in detail -- how he would better manage our national security interests and defeat the enemies who we face. Americans and our enemies will be watching.

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About the Author
Jed Babbin served as a Deputy Undersecretary of Defense under George H.W. Bush. He is the author of several bestselling books including Inside the Asylum and In the Words of Our Enemies. He is coauthor (with Herbert London) of the new book The BDS War Against Israel. You can follow him on Twitter@jedbabbin.