Pentagon Hands GOP New Ammo in Libya Consulate Flap

A Libyan man walks past the closed US consulate in the eastern Libyan city of Benghazi on October 11, 2012. As a row over weak security raged in Washington, there was little sign of the once-strong U.S. presence in Benghazi, a month on from the attack that killed four diplomatic staff, including U.S. ambassador Chris Stevens, with the owner of the facility barring access and ordering his workers to keep journalists from entering the compound. (ABDULLAH DOMA/AFP/GettyImages)

Sure, it happened after 6 p.m. on a Friday. But, while prepping dinner, this Intercepts scribe had to wonder: Did the Pentagon just throw the White House, CIA and State Department under the bus?

The BlackBerry buzzed at 6:08 p.m. on Oct. 19, delivering a press release from Senate Armed Services Committee members John McCain and Lindsey Graham. And the Arizona and South Carolina Republicans threw a collective haymaker, adding fuel to the fire that is the controversy around the Sept. 11 attack on a U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya that left the American ambassador and three others dead.

Graham, McCain and other congressional Republicans — along with GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney — have been pressing the White House for answers to a series of questions. Stymied for weeks by the Obama administration, the duo tried a different approach: They asked the Defense Department what went wrong. And they got some answers, possibly to the White House’s chagrin.

“To our dismay, we were informed that despite ample warning signs that the immediate region remained unstable and our people under threat, inadequate preparations were made to respond to what in retrospect seems a likely attack,” Graham and McCain said in a joint statement.

“We were told [by Pentagon officials] reconnaissance aircraft were sent, and that a surveillance drone had been re-positioned in response to the attack,” the senators said. “But we were both shocked to hear that on September 11, a day of heightened concern for American interests throughout the world, there were no land forces available to support Benghazi, Libya — one of the most vulnerable and high threat areas within the Middle East.”

Graham and McCain expected the U.S. might scramble fighter jets to “disperse the attack or support the consulate,” as they put it in the statement. But Pentagon officials told them “there was no effort” to do so, leaving the duo “stunned and disappointed.”

“One of the most disturbing aspects of this situation was the low level of security and the lack of ability to reinforce the consulate that had been attacked on two previous occasions, in a region where most Western interests had withdrawn because of al-Qaeda-inspired militia,” Graham and McCain said. “It is disappointing to hear that our national command authorities failed to try to reinforce the consulate with timely air assets, and that a consulate located in one of the most dangerous regions in the world was so unsecured.”

The Pentagon-disclosed information will not help the White House’s and Obama campaign’s Libya problem. President Obama and his national security team have been dogged by questions about what Washington knew about a possible attack and what officials did — and did not — do to prevent it or to beef up security at the consulate.

The information dug up by Graham and McCain likely will become fodder for Romney as he campaigns this weekend, and then Monday night (Oct. 22) when he squares off against Obama in the final presidential debate. The subject? Foreign policy.

John T. Bennett

John T. Bennett

Bennett is the Editor of Defense News' CongressWatch channel. He has a Masters degree in Global Security Studies from Johns Hopkins University.
John T. Bennett