The huge New York Times investigation into the 9/11/12 Benghazi attack was released today. Here’s the super short version of the key findings:
Months of investigation by The New York Times, centered on extensive interviews with Libyans in Benghazi who had direct knowledge of the attack there and its context, turned up no evidence that Al Qaeda or other international terrorist groups had any role in the assault. The attack was led, instead, by fighters who had benefited directly from NATO’s extensive air power and logistics support during the uprising against Colonel Qaddafi. And contrary to claims by some members of Congress, it was fueled in large part by anger at an American-made video denigrating Islam.
The full article is rather long — though I do recommend reading it fully — so I’ve also provided a more detailed summary below.
While Susan Rice’s initial theory connecting the Benghazi raid to the anti-Muslim video was quickly discarded by people — mostly Congressional Republicans — eager to tie the attack to al Qaeda, it seems pretty likely now (based on many eyewitness accounts) that it was in fact the spark and the 9/11 anniversary was coincidental. Meanwhile, al Qaeda has never even internally claimed responsibility for the attack, and their documents as well as phone intercepts seem to indicate they had not been able to establish a foothold locally yet and were surprised when the attack unfolded.
Instead, the attack was haphazardly and quickly planned in the preceding days (and partly improvised that night) by local groups — not al Qaeda or any foreign group — and the impromptu signal to attack was the news coming over Egyptian satellite TV that Egyptian protesters (against the video) had gotten inside the Cairo compound by that evening.
In contrast to the heavily defended U.S. Embassy in Egypt, the Benghazi consulate (in Libya) was virtually unprotected that night. Angry gunmen from nominally pro-U.S. local groups quickly joined into the attack, after falsely hearing that U.S. guards had shot peaceful demonstrators protesting the video. The video seems to have been the straw the broke the tenuous back of U.S. relations with the many unpredictable and heavily armed local factions (or at least their foot soldiers). When the few remaining dedicated pro-American gunmen arrived to try to stage a rescue of U.S. personnel, they were heavily outnumbered and forced to turn away.
Certainly, it seems reasonable to say that the consulate and the nearby CIA office should have had much better protection than they did — given that they had almost none — but there was no coverup and there was no pre-planned international terrorist attack to mark the anniversary of 9/11. But I’m sure the New York Times won’t convince anyone who thought it was a vast conspiracy or whatever.