In the many news reports published since the tragic and mysterious assassinations of four Americans in Libya on September 11, 2012, the scene of the terrorist attack is referred to variously as the “U.S. consulate” in Benghazi, the “U.S. mission” in Benghazi, or even as an American “embassy” in Benghazi.
Although President Obama in his news conference yesterday did little to bring greater clarity to what really happened in Libya, a look at several U.S. State Department websites might at least eliminate one of the many unknowns in this case: None of the official U.S. government websites refers to an actual U.S. “consulate” in Benghazi.
Consulates are Foreign Service posts that issue visas and passports, provide other American citizen services, and do day-to-day political and economic reporting as well as U.S. State Department “Front Office” diplomatic representation. Clearly the people in the facilities that were attacked in Benghazi (and we know little about them beyond the identities of those who were killed) were not doing that.
There are legitimate and real consulates in nearby countries—for example in Alexandria, Egypt, and in Casablanca, Morocco. The American public may be certain that those brick-and-mortar U.S. government facilities actually exist—in part because there are pictures of them and links to them on the websites of the U.S. embassies in Cairo and Rabat.
But the website of the U.S. embassy in Tripoli, Libya, contains no link to a consulate in Benghazi (or anywhere else in Libya, for that matter). Likewise, the Key Officers List—the State Department’s continually updated guide to all U.S. diplomatic facilities worldwide—contains no information about a consulate in Benghazi, but it does list the addresses and names of senior personnel assigned to the U.S. consulates in Egypt and Morocco.
So if U.S. government websites do not list the diplomatic facilities attacked by terrorists in Benghazi in September as a genuine “consulate” in the traditional sense, then what was it? And whatever it was, why wasn’t it adequately protected?