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The news media are perpetuating misleading information by comparing the current threat against U.S. embassies to the Sept. 11, 2012, attack in Benghazi.
The narrative calls the attacked U.S. facility in Benghazi a “consulate,” likening it to U.S. embassies currently under threat.
Media further have quoted Obama administration officials stating the decision to close embassies across the Middle East and North Africa was due to previous threats in Benghazi that eventually were carried out
The apparent implication is that the U.S. Benghazi building was a normal diplomatic post that engaged in the diplomatic process when it faced terrorist threats.
In reality, the facility was never a consulate or even a largely known building. Instead, it was established without the knowledge or permission of the Libyan transitional government, reportedly engaged in secret activities and was staffed by intelligence operatives, according to new accounts.
A sampling of the news-media comparison of the Benghazi attacks to the current embassy threat includes a FoxNews.com article that begins, “National Security Adviser Susan Rice is playing a driving role in the decision to shutter U.S. embassies and consulates over a major terror threat, sources tell Fox News, claiming the former diplomat is trying to avoid a repeat of the deadly Benghazi terror attack nearly a year ago.”
In another of dozens of samples, CNN reported the State Department’s embassy closures “can be explained by the Benghazi attack,” according to a U.S. official who spoke to the news network.
“Before that attack, this type of information may or may not have resulted in such an alert,” continued the CNN report. “But certainly, in light of the Benghazi attack, the alert was issued out of ‘abundance of caution,’ the official said.”
Many media outlets still call the attacked Benghazi facility a “consulate.”
UPI reported last week, “Sources told CNN more than 20 CIA agents were at or near the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, when Ambassador Chris Stevens was killed.”
A London Telegraph headline reads “CIA ‘running arms smuggling team in Benghazi when consulate was attacked.’”
U.S. officials have been more careful in their rhetoric while not contradicting the media narrative that a consulate was attacked.
In his remarks immediately after the attack, President Obama referred to the Benghazi post as a “U.S. mission.” Hillary Clinton has similarly called the post a “mission.”
A consulate typically refers to the building that officially houses a consul, who is the official representatives of the government of one state in the territory of another. The U.S. consul in Libya, Jenny Cordell, works out of the embassy in Tripoli.
Consulates at times function as junior embassies, providing services related to visas, passports and citizen information.
On Aug. 26, about two weeks before he was killed, U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens attended a ceremony marking the opening of consular services at the Tripoli embassy.
“I’m happy to announce that starting on Monday, August 27, we are ready to offer a full range of consular services to Libyans,” stated Stevens at the ceremony in Tripoli. “This means non-immigrant visas, as well as assistance to Americans residing in, or visiting, Libya.”
The main role of a consulate is to foster trade with the host and care for citizens who are traveling or living in the host nation.
Diplomatic missions, on the other hand, maintain a more generalized role. A diplomatic mission is simply a group of people from one state or an international inter-governmental organization present in another state to represent matters of the sending state or organization in the receiving state.
The State Department website lists no consulate in Benghazi.
The Benghazi facility likely did not qualify as a diplomatic mission, either.
Indeed, the post was established without the permission of the Libyan transitional government and may have violated international law.
The 39-page State Department Accountability Review Board, or ARB, report on the Benghazi attack itself documented the facility was set up without the knowledge of the new Libyan government.
“Another key driver behind the weak security platform in Benghazi was the decision to treat Benghazi as a temporary, residential facility, not officially notified to the host government, even though it was also a full-time office facility,” the report states.
“This resulted in the Special Mission compound being excepted from office facility standards and accountability under the Secure Embassy Construction and Counterterrorism Act of 1999 (SECCA) and the Overseas Security Policy Board (OSPB).”
The report, based on a probe led by former U.S. diplomat Thomas Pickering, calls the facility a “Special U.S. Mission.”
While the report documents how the facility’s special “non-status” exempted it from State Department security standards, it is not immediately clear whether it was also exempt from the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, which governs the establishment of overseas missions.
Like most nations, the U.S. is a signatory to the 1961 United Nations convention.
Article 2 of the convention makes clear the host government must be informed about the establishment of any permanent foreign mission on its soil: “The establishment of diplomatic relations between States, and of permanent diplomatic missions, takes place by mutual consent.”
According to Pickering’s ARB report, there was a decision “to treat Benghazi as a temporary, residential facility,” likely disqualifying the building from permanent mission status if the mission was indeed temporary.
However, the same sentence in Pickering’s report notes the host government was not notified about the Benghazi mission “even though it was also a full-time office facility.”
Articles 12 of the Vienna Convention dictates, “The sending State may not, without the prior express consent of the receiving State, establish offices forming part of the mission in localities other than those in which the mission itself is established.”
If it was “full-time office facility,” it may violate Article 12 in that it most likely was considered an arm of the U.S. Embassy in Tripoli, which served as the main U.S. mission to Libya.
CNN reported last week lawmakers are speculating on the possibility U.S. agencies operating in the Benghazi compound were secretly helping to transfer weapons from Libya, via Turkey, to the rebels in Syria.
That possibility was first reported by WND two weeks after the attack, when the news agency cited Egyptian security officials who said murdered U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens played a central role in arming and recruiting rebels to fight Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
In November 2012, Middle Eastern security sources further described both the U.S. mission and nearby CIA annex in Benghazi as an intelligence and planning center for U.S. aid to the rebels, which included weapons shipments being coordinated with Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar.
Many rebel fighters are openly members of terrorist organizations, including al-Qaida.
The information may help determine what motivated the deadly attacks in Benghazi.
The CNN report further reported “dozens of people working for the CIA were on the ground that night, and that the agency is going to great lengths to make sure whatever it was doing, remains a secret.”
With additional research by Joshua Klein.