CBS: Benghazi was the Work of al-Qaeda

October 28, 2013

Last night, CBS aired a segment on 60 Minutes devoted to reporting details from the network’s year-long investigation into the September 2012 attacks on the U.S. Consulate and a CIA compound in Benghazi, Libya.  The investigation’s conclusion, in short, was that the attacks were undoubtedly planned and executed by al-Qaeda.

After more than a year of public outcry – principally from Republicans and conservative media figures – over the Obama administration’s initial claims that the Benghazi violence was a function of spontaneous public anger, the 60 Minutes report will ensure that the incident remains a combustible political issue.  But politics aside, the question with which one is left after watching the segment is how anybody could look at the evidence and conclude that the events of September 11, 2012 represented anything other than a well-planned, coordinated, attack.  The attack on the two sites lasted longer than seven hours.  Besides the consular compound, which would have been clearly identified as such, the gunmen stormed a CIA annex that, at a minimum, would have been sufficiently discrete to have not become the focus of spontaneously emergent unrest.  And mortar fire impacted repeatedly on a single rooftop within the CIA annex, a highly improbably feat without at least some prior rangefinding on the selected target.

The CBS report thus undermines the fundamental assumptions on which the administration’s early claims were founded.  The violence was clearly not a result of instantaneously apparent unrest.  But was it in fact al-Qaeda?

On this question the 60 Minutes report offers less conclusive proof.  It notes the prolific appearance of al-Qaeda’s flag throughout Benghazi.  It cites online message traffic indicating the terrorist group’s intentions to target the Red Cross, British officials, and Americans.  And it highlights the suspected role of Abu Anas al-Libi (captured in Libya in a raid by U.S. special operations forces earlier this month) and two other al-Qaeda-linked figures in the attack’s planning and preparation.  But it fails to make an indisputable case that the attack was in fact the work of al-Qaeda.

And yet, circumstantial evidence is still evidence.  The CBS report makes a compelling case that the Benghazi attacks were in fact the work of al-Qaeda.  It is the task of the U.S. government to confirm this evidence, identify individual perpetrators, and track them down.  The SOF raid that captured al-Libi suggests that such an outcome might yet come to fruition.


John Amble is the Managing Editor of War on the Rocks.  A former United States Army intelligence officer, he has been featured in print and broadcast media in the U.S. and Canada.  Follow him on Twitter @johnamble.


Photo credit: National Museum of American History