Deciphering the Mystery of the Benghazi Attack

After listening to Ambassador Rice on NBC explain that the Benghazi attack  “apparently began as a spontaneous protest against an anti-Islam film before turning violent”, I got annoyed and decided to do my own investigation. There are a lot of loose ends that are not explained with the “spontaneous protest gone bad” explanation.  Since this attack constitutes murder in most countries,  I decided to use the means, motive, and opportunity framework to explore the facts of the crime. So lets start out with the first question of any investigation.

What was Ambassador Christopher Stevens doing in Benghazi?

According to a Jerusalem Post article Ambassador Steven was “had gone to the consulate in still-restive Benghazi to oversee its evacuation after the demonstration had started.”   The Jerusalem Post wrote on September 12th,

"In recent days, Islamic groups in Benghazi had been calling on people, using social media websites and e-mails, to go to the consulate and protest over the film. They called on normal civilians to go and attack the consulate, and many people followed them. They were firing at the sky and trying to storm the consulate, so the guards from inside started shooting at them, and it deteriorated from there,” a Benghazi-based reporter for an Arabic satellite channel told The Jerusalem Post.

At some point Ambassador Steven decides that an evacuation of the consulate is imminent so the Ambassador and the information management officer, Sean Smith, go to Benghazi to supervise the evacuation and disposal of potentially sensitive information. I have been unable to determine when they arrive but I assume it is on September 11th.

The Scene of the Crime

No crime investigation is complete until you visit the scene of the crime. In this case I rely on the BBC to point me to the right place on Google maps. Here is the Google maps location,

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The consulate is in the center of the picture and I am guessing that the “safe” house are the two buildings to its immediate right. BBC described those buildings taking fire and other news stories said the safe house took fire. What I noticed immediately is the amount of open space surrounding the consulate. When you zoom out it looks like the consulate is a kilometer or more from the more heavily populated areas. From the looks of the surrounding neighborhood I am guessing that the protestors were on unfamiliar ground.

Options I Disqualified

One option is a terrorist group linked to al-Qaeda. They would have access to the weapons and tactical experience. However, their motive would be different than other terrorist groups. Although they would not mind embarrassing the US, the fire in the consulate and attacking the “safe” house doesn’t fit their profile. They probably would want a shot at the intelligence information in the consulate and setting fire to the consulate defeats that purpose. Attacking the “safe” house would be an unnecessary risk.

The “spontaneous protest gone bad” explanation used by the Administration and Ambassador Rice is pretty lame damage control. This implies that intelligence information warning about the attack was ignored and Ambassador Stevens presence in Benghazi was unrelated to the protests. Obviously this consulate is not as convenient to downtown as Tahrir Square is in Cairo. Somebody had to work hard to keep this protest going. Although I understand that the protesters were angry about the film, shooting assault weapons into the air was probably the limit to their anger. A “complex” attack involving mortars and RPGs are over the top for the protesters.

Means, Motive and Opportunity

Here is how I think the crime went down. Ambassador Stevens was likely aware of the news reports made by news agencies like the Jerusalem Post. When the protest started escalating he decided to evacuate the consulate and went to supervise the sensitive information disposal. I suspect that a terrorist group got information about the consulate evacuation.  A NBC news report called the attack “complex” but failed to explain how the attackers located the “safe” house. If the “safe” house was next door, the question is moot. When you look at the crime through the lens of means, motive, and opportunity, a terrorist group with a link to Gaddafi is the most likely culprit. They had the means. They probably still had access to heavy weapons and trained soldiers. Lobbing six mortars on the path to the villa would be easy for experienced soldiers. Under the cover of a protest they had the opportunity to scout and plan the attack of the compound. Escalating the protest into a fire fight with security forces protecting the compound would fulfill their desire for revenge. Then I think things got out of control. Setting fire to the consulate and attacking the safe house are acts of passion. For a group of loyalists to Gaddafi this attack would be sweet revenge.