Six Weeks Later, There Are Still Plenty of Sensitive U.S. Documents Laying Around in Benghazi

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Six Weeks Later, There Are Still Plenty of Sensitive U.S. Documents Laying Around in Benghazi
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Six Weeks Later, There Are Still Plenty of Sensitive U.S. Documents Laying Around in Benghazi

It's been more than six weeks since the U.S. compound in Benghazi was attacked, but reporters are still turning up sensitive U.S. documents lying about the wreckage. Today, Foreign Policy published details from recently-recovered documents that "express strong fears" from Amb. Chris Stevens and other personnel that the security situation in Benghazi was untenable and additional security was not being provided. But forget about early warning signs for a second and consider the embarrassment that the FBI can't seem to do the job they were supposed to do more than a month ago: Search the Benghazi compound and make sure no more sensitive documents are floating around.

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Today's document discovery, which includes State Department correspondence and messages to local and national Libyan authorities, feels like deja vu given the previous discoveries in the last two months. You might recall:

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  • Sept. 14: Three days after the Sept. 11 attacks, CNN discovered Amb. Stevens' diary on the floor in the "largely unsecured consulate." After reporting on the newsworthy details of it, the State Department lambasted the news organizations for what it called a gross invasion of privacy. But other reporters hit back, asking "do you think it's the media's responsibility to help secure State Department assets overseas after they've been attacked?"
  • Oct. 3: Weeks later, it was discovered that materials had still not been secured when The Washington Post's Michael Birnbaum discovered a slew of sensitive papers including "documents detailing weapons collection efforts, emergency evacuation protocols, the full internal itinerary of Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens’s trip and the personnel records of Libyans who were contracted to secure the mission." Describing how easy it was to enter the compound, Birnbaum said "I asked the owner of the compound if I could go in, and he said yes."
  • Oct. 4: Within 24 hours of Birnbaum's discovery, CBS News reported FBI investigators went to Benghazi to sweep the consulate.
  • Oct. 26: Almost a month after the FBI's visit, Foreign Policy's Harold Doornbos and Jenan Moussa visited the consulate and found more sensitive documents the FBI apparently missed. "We found ... several ash-strewn documents beneath rubble in the looted Tactical Operations Center, one of the four main buildings of the partially destroyed compound. Some of the documents -- such as an email from Stevens to his political officer in Benghazi and a flight itinerary sent to Sean Smith, a U.S. diplomat slain in the attack -- are clearly marked as State Department correspondence. Others are unsigned printouts of messages to local and national Libyan authorities."

At the outset, you could give U.S. officials the benefit of the doubt that it was too dangerous to go back and secure the compound, but when journalists can so easily enter the compound and retrieve documents, it does seem a bit incompetent. FP says the FBI declined to comment when asked about the slow recovery process but the magazine found locals who were willing to talk. "According to a Benghazi resident who resides near the consulate, the FBI team spent only three hours examining the compound." Probably should've done a few more sweeps.

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