David D. Kirkpatrick and Suliman Ali Zway contributed reporting from Benghazi, Libya.
c.2012 New York Times News Service<
WASHINGTON — In the months leading up to the Sept. 11 attacks on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi, the Obama administration received intelligence reports that Islamic extremist groups were operating training camps in the mountains near the Libyan city and that some of the fighters were "al-Qaida-leaning," according to U.S. and European officials.
The warning about the camps was part of a stream of diplomatic and intelligence reports that indicated that the security situation throughout the country, and particularly in eastern Libya, had deteriorated sharply since the United States reopened its embassy in Tripoli after the fall of Moammar Gadhafi's government in September 2011.
By June, Benghazi had experienced a string of assassinations as well as attacks on the Red Cross and a British envoy's motorcade. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens, who was killed in the September attack, emailed his superiors in Washington in August alerting them to "a security vacuum" in the city. A week before Stevens died, the U.S. Embassy warned that Libyan officials had declared a "state of maximum alert" in Benghazi after a car bombing and thwarted bank robbery.
In the closing weeks of the presidential campaign, the circumstances surrounding the attack on the Benghazi compound have emerged as a major political issue, as Republicans, led by their presidential candidate, Mitt Romney, have sought to lay blame for the attack on President Barack Obama, who they argued had insufficiently protected U.S. lives there.
But interviews with U.S. officials and an examination of State Department documents do not reveal the kind of smoking gun Republicans have suggested would emerge in the attack's aftermath such as a warning that the diplomatic compound would be targeted and that was overlooked by administration officials.
What is clear is that even as the State Department responded to the June attacks, crowning the Benghazi compound walls with concertina wire and setting up concrete barriers to thwart car bombs, it remained committed to a security strategy formulated in a very different environment a year earlier.
In the heady early days after the fall of Gadhafi's government, the administration's plan was to deploy a modest U.S. security force and then increasingly rely on trained Libyan personnel to protect U.S. diplomats — a policy that reflected White House apprehensions about putting combat troops on the ground as well as Libyan sensitivities about an obtrusive U.S. security presence.