November 14, 2012 | Issue Brief on National Security and Defense
Understanding what was behind the September 11, 2012, terrorist attack on the U.S. facility in Benghazi and the tragic results is vital for preparing for future security threats to embassies, consulates, and diplomatic missions. The attack in Benghazi reveals a terrorist attack profile that the U.S. is likely to see again.
If the U.S. is to learn the lessons of this tragedy and prepare for the next 9/11, it should get unvarnished, complete, and accurate answers to four key questions regarding the security for the Benghazi consulate.
An Attractive Target
Based on publicly available information, the full nature of the linkage between the Benghazi attack and the broader al-Qaeda-inspired Islamist insurgency is still unclear. Nevertheless, what is abundantly clear is that al-Qaeda and its affiliates have demonstrated a consistent pattern of behavior: Once they adopt a tactic, they do not abandon it. They study the results. They look to improve and innovate—and they come back and try it again.
Because of the global attention that the Benghazi attack has attracted, this tactic will obviously get renewed attention from al-Qaeda leaders. Al-Qaeda-affiliated sources have already called for additional attacks on U.S. embassies. Regardless of the motivation and organization behind Benghazi, the U.S. government should anticipate that al-Qaeda and its affiliates will aspire to more such attacks. Washington cannot start too soon in preparing to better counter such efforts.
Rethinking U.S. Diplomatic Security
Appropriately rethinking security at U.S. embassies, consulates, and other diplomatic facilities may require a new baseline. Here, a full and complete case study of the preparedness for and response to the Benghazi attack could be extremely helpful. Publicly available information provided by U.S. federal agencies and the Administration is completely inadequate to conduct an effective assessment and offer real insights into systemic issues regarding diplomatic security. Obtaining a full appreciation of the lessons that can be learned from the Benghazi attack requires full and complete answers to four questions:
After Benghazi, the Administration announced a number of efforts to get at the facts behind Benghazi and the state of U.S. security at overseas diplomatic facilities. These include a State Department Accountability Review Board and assessments by the State Department inspector general. For Congress and the Administration to adequately determine what can be learned from the tragedy in Benghazi, they will need full and complete answers to the four questions posed here.
— James Jay Carafano, PhD , is Deputy Director of the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for International Studies and Director of, and Morgan Lorraine Roach is a Research Associate in, the Douglas and Sarah Allison Center for Foreign Policy Studies, a division of the Davis Institute, at The Heritage Foundation.