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James Carafano: What We Need to Know about Benghazi

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They called their plan "9-11(2)."

Yes, the Twin Towers came down on that date. But even more significant to these terrorists, 9-11 would mark the seventh anniversary of al Qaeda's last attack in Jordan.

On Sept. 11, 2005, suicide bombers hit three hotels in Amman, Jordan, killing 60 and injuring over 100 more. This year, the terrorists hope to top that bloody tally.

One prime target: the U.S. embassy. According to CNN, the planned assault included "explosives, booby-trapped cars as well as submachine guns and mortars." Fortunately, the Jordanian intelligence service uncovered the plot, arresting 11.

That's how it's supposed to work. The host-country stops the bad guys before they get near the diplomatic gates.

Around the world, host governments provide for the security around the embassies, consulates and missions they have invited to set-up into their countries. It is considered the norm. Unfortunately, the "norm" isn't normal everywhere.

The United States maintains diplomatic posts -- from embassies to missions -- in hundreds of places around the world. The State Department considers more than a few of these to be "high-risk" posts -- assignments where our Foreign Service personnel may well find themselves in the crosshairs of terrorists.

Our State Department also knows that embassies are prime targets for enemies interested in giving America a black-eye. The department's history includes harrowing moments such as the attack on the U.S. embassy in Saigon, Vietnam, during the 1968 Tet Offensive and the 1979 hostage-taking in Iran.

State also knows it is a favorite target of al Qaeda. The terror group announced its campaign against the West in 1998 with twin bombings at U.S. embassies in East Africa.

The bottom line: The State Department has been at war with al Qaeda for over a decade -- and they know it. The Diplomatic Security Service, responsible for coordinating security measures for U.S. facilities and the U.S. "country" teams that man them, has received substantial increases in personnel and funding.

With that background as prologue, it is absolutely stunning that the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, was so apparently unprepared for the onslaught it faced on 9-11.

Much of post-attack discussion about Benghazi has focused on who knew or said what when. That discussion misses the big picture.

We are in the middle of a long war. The question that should concern us most is: Are we doing everything reasonable to protect U.S. diplomatic facilities and personnel so that they can accomplish their mission? Unfortunately, we don't know the simple answer to that question, because the administration has not given Congress or the American people the basic facts. Here's what we don't know:

* What counterterrorism and early warning measures were in place to proactively address security threats?

* What risk assessments were performed, and what risk mitigation measures were adopted, prior to the attack?

*What contingency planning was undertaken and exercised to respond to armed assaults against U.S. facilities in Benghazi?

*How was the interagency response to the incident organized and managed?

Perhaps we will finally learn something this week. The State Department's Accountability Review Board is slated to release its findings. But the secretary of state herself will not testify on the Hill.

If the administration stays true to form, we won't get all the answers we need anytime soon, and Congress will have to continue to dig. That is tragic. While al Qaeda plots and plans, we will be fighting our own government to get the information we need to figure out how to stop them.

Examiner Columnist James Jay Carafano is Vice President for Defense and Foreign Policy Studies at The Heritage Foundation

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James Jay Carafano

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The Washington Examiner