Warning in Libya: The Rise of an Imminent Threat

The U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya in flames on September 11, 2012 (Reuters)

On September 11, 2012, armed Salafists attacked the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, killing four U.S. personnel including U.S. Ambassador to Libya Christopher Stevens. Surrounding the debate of what actually happened that night are questions regarding whether the U.S. government should have been alert to the possibility of such an attack and whether security at the mission was adequate given the threat environment there.

An examination of the environment in the months leading up to the attack reveals not only the growing strength and tendency towards violence of numerous armed Salafist groups across Libya, but also numerous attacks on the sites and personnel of Western diplomatic missions and aid organizations. An analysis of these incidents shows that Benghazi was the center of most of the instability and violence. This information, if sufficiently acted upon, could have triggered a warning and a heightened state of alert. Instead, physical security at the U.S. Consulate on September 11, 2012 remained at a minimal posture that proved insufficient to withstand a direct attack.