The New York Times has published a long investigation by David Kirkpatrick into the September 11, 2012 attack on the American compound in Benghazi that left four Americans, including Ambassador Christopher Stevens, dead. As you may recall, the incident was initially described by U.N. ambassador Susan Rice as a protest against Islamophobic YouTube video The Innocence of Muslims that got out of hand. That characterization was soon abandoned for the now widely accepted idea that the assault was pre-planned and carried out by terrorists, and the conversation around Benghazi became dominated by Republican shrieking over the Obama administration’s supposed cover-up of an Al Qaeda-linked catastrophe. According to the Times, the attack was prompted by the video and the result of a plan by anti-Western forces, so everyone gets to be right — except for the people who still insist that Al Qaeda played a role.
As has been previously reported, the Times points out that security at the Benghazi compound was lacking, and diplomats there were overly reliant on unreliable local militias to warn them of threats. Meanwhile, the CIA team in the area mostly focused its attention on “the biggest militia leaders and the handful of Libyans with suspected ties to Al Qaeda.” Intelligence officials do not appear to have known that a smaller group, Ansar al-Sharia, and an “eccentric, malcontent” militant, Ahmed Abu Khattala, intended to harm the Americans. (Both have since been identified as suspects in the attack.) While Ansar al-Sharia and Abu Khattala’s original plan isn’t clear, people who spoke to the Times say that they used the growing anger and demonstrations in Egypt over The Innocence of Muslims in the days before September 11 to make their move.
Men were spotted casing the compound at least twelve hours before the violence began, probably on behalf of the militants. However, according to witnesses, a number of Libyans showed up on the day of the attack on their own to protest the video and, later, as a result of rumors that the Americans were killing protesters. Though Abu Khattala and members of Ansar al-Sharia were spotted at the scene, “Looters and arsonists, without any sign of a plan, were the ones who ravaged the compound after the initial attack,” the Times reports.
Perhaps most significantly, the Times notes that “The only intelligence connecting Al Qaeda to the attack was an intercepted phone call that night from a participant in the first wave of the attack to a friend in another African country who had ties to members of Al Qaeda, according to several officials briefed on the call. But when the friend heard the attacker’s boasts, he sounded astonished, the officials said, suggesting he had no prior knowledge of the assault.” A report from the Times probably won’t do much to quiet the hardcore Benghazi truthers, but it does clear some things up for everyone else.