Day by day, the public is learning more about what happened in the Sept. 11 attack that killed U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens and three others. There is still much confusion. But last week we gleaned two key points from a State Department briefing and a House Oversight and Government Reform committee hearing:
• Initial White House statements that the attack was triggered by a demonstration over an anti-Muslim video were wrong. There was no demonstration that night.
• Security forces protecting the U.S. Consulate were quickly overwhelmed by a huge band of armed and well-trained militants that stormed the compound that evening around 9:40 p.m. In the months before the attack, the State Department had scaled back American security staff, despite repeated requests for more U.S. manpower from security officials on the ground in Benghazi. No special security measures were in place on the anniversary of 9/11.
Obama administration officials could, in the confusion and chaos surrounding the attack, get key details wrong. What we can’t understand is why, five days later, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice, speaking for the administration, was still expressing complete confidence that this had been the result of a demonstration gone awry. Her televised assurances, rich with certitude, conveyed what at essence was a political message: A top diplomat died not because the administration wrongly downplayed threats from al-Qaida, but because an Internet video had provoked a mob of protesters.