by David Rohde at Rueters November 16, 2012
Amid the politicking, there’s an overlooked cause of the Benghazi tragedy
For conservatives, the Benghazi scandal is a Watergate-like presidential cover-up. For liberals, it a fabricated Republican witch-hunt. For me, Benghazi is a call to act on an enduring problem that both parties ignore.
One major overlooked cause of the death of Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans is we have underfunded the State Department and other civilian agencies that play a vital role in our national security.
Instead of building up cadres of skilled diplomatic security guards, we have bought them from the lowest bidder, trying to acquire capacity and expertise on the cheap. Benghazi showed how vulnerable that makes us.
Now, I’m not arguing that this use of contractors was the sole cause of the Benghazi tragedy, but I believe it was a primary one. Let me explain.
The slapdash security that killed Stevens, technician Sean Smith and CIA guards Tyrone Woods and Glen Doherty started with a seemingly inconsequential decision by Libya’s new government. After the fall of Muammar Qaddafi, Libya’s interim government barred armed private security firms – foreign and domestic – from operating anywhere in the country.
Memories of the abuses by foreign mercenaries, acting for the brutal Qaddafi regime, prompted the decision, according to State Department officials.
Once the Libyans took away the private security guard option, it put enormous strain on a little-known State Department arm, the Diplomatic Security Service. This obscure agency has been responsible for protecting American diplomatic posts around the world since 1916.
Though embassies have contingents of Marines, consulates and other offices do not. And the missions of Marines, in fact, are to destroy documents and protect American government secrets. It is the Diplomatic Security agents who are charged with safeguarding the lives of American diplomats.
Today, roughly 900 Diplomatic Security agents guard 275 American embassies and consulates around the globe. That works out to a whopping four agents per facility.
In Iraq and Afghanistan, the State Department relied on hundreds of security contractors to guard American diplomats. At times, they even hired private security guards to protect foreign leaders.
After Afghan President Hamid Karzai narrowly survived a 2002 assassination attempt, the State Department hired security guards from DynCorp, a military contractor, to guard him. Their aggressiveness in and around the presidential palace, however, angered Afghan, American and European officials. As soon as Afghan guards were trained to protect Karzai, DynCorp was let go.
But the State Department’s dependence on contractors for security remained. And Benghazi epitomized this Achilles’ heel.
The New York Times November 9, 2012
The sudden development came just days after President Obama won re-election to a second term. Mr. Petraeus, a highly decorated general who had led the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, had been expected to remain in the president’s administration.
Instead, Mr. Petraeus said in the statement that the president accepted his resignation on Friday after he had informed him of his indiscretion a day earlier.
“After being married for over 37 years, I showed extremely poor judgment by engaging in an extramarital affair,” Mr. Petraeus wrote. “Such behavior is unacceptable, both as a husband and as the leader of an organization such as ours. This afternoon, the president graciously accepted my resignation.”
Wired’s Danger Room September 17, 2012
The State Department signed a six-figure deal with a British firm to protect the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya just four months before a sustained attack on the compound killed four U.S. nationals inside.
Contrary to Friday’s claim by State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland that “at no time did we contract with a private security firm in Libya,” the department inked a contract for “security guards and patrol services” on May 3 for $387,413.68. An extension option brought the tab for protecting the consulate to $783,000. The contract lists only “foreign security awardees” as its recipient.
The State Department confirmed to Danger Room on Monday that the firm was Blue Mountain, a British company that provides “close protection; maritime security; surveillance and investigative services; and high risk static guarding and asset protection,” according to its website. Blue Mountain says it has “recently operated in Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, the Caribbean and across Europe” and has worked in Libya for several months since last year’s war.
A representative for Blue Mountain, reached at its U.K. offices Monday, said no one was available to comment.
The State Department frequently hires security companies to protect diplomats in conflict zones. It usually is done through what’s known as the Worldwide Protective Services contract, in which a handful of approved firms compete to safeguard specific diplomatic installations. In 2010, State selected eight firms for the most recent contract. Blue Mountain wasn’t among them, and the State Department did not explain why the Benghazi consulate contract did not go to one of those eight firms.
Reuters September 12, 2012
BENGHAZI, Libya – The U.S. ambassador to Libya and three other embassy staff (Shaun Smith) were killed in a rocket attack on their car, a Libyan official said, as they were rushed from a consular building stormed by militants denouncing a U.S.-made film insulting the Prophet Mohammad.
Gunmen had attacked and burned the U.S. consulate in the eastern city of Benghazi, a center of last year’s uprising against Muammar Gaddafi, late on Tuesday evening, killing one U.S. consular official. The building was evacuated.
The Libyan official said the ambassador, Christopher Stevens, was being driven from the consulate building to a safer location when gunmen opened fire.
“The American ambassador and three staff members were killed when gunmen fired rockets at them,” the official in Benghazi told Reuters.
There was no immediate comment from the State Department in Washington. U.S. ambassadors in such volatile countries are accompanied by tight security, usually travelling in well-protected convoys. Security officials will be considering whether the two attacks were coordinated
AFP at ExPatica France May 17,2011
A French diplomat has met with four Frenchmen who were arrested in the Libyan rebel city of Benghazi and accused of spying for strongman Moamer Kadhafi, the French government said on Tuesday.
Paris’s envoy, Antoine Sivan, approached the National Transitional Council (NTC), the rebels’ leadership, and was allowed to meet the four on Saturday, French foreign ministry spokesman Bernard Valero told reporters.
A fifth Frenchman, ex-paratrooper Pierre Marziali, was shot dead when the rebels who control Benghazi arrested the five on Friday.
Marziali was the founder of a private security firm that had opened an office in Benghazi and his four companions were also working for the firm.
The rebels said the five were not private security contractors but were in Benghazi to sabotage the anti-Kadhafi revolution.
The NTC “authorities are investigating to establish the circumstances of what happened,” Valero said. “They promised our ambassador they will keep us informed of the results.”
ExPatica.com May 14, 2011
Libyan rebels said Friday that a French ex-paratrooper they shot dead and his four compatriots were not private security contractors but were in Benghazi to sabotage the anti-Kadhafi revolution.
“On the evening of 11 May, local security forces in Benghazi were instructed to arrest a group of five Frenchmen for illicit activities that jeopardised the security of Free Libya,” the rebel National Transitional Council (NTC) said.
“Regrettably, one of the suspects was accidentally shot after resisting arrest,” it said in a statement, which did not provide details of the men’s alleged activities but said a formal investigation was under way.
The probe will look into whether the men were “spies hired by the Kadhafi regime,” a rebel spokesman told AFP.
The accusations came a day before French President Nicolas Sarkozy, the rebel’s staunchest ally on the world stage, was due to meet a top NTC leader in Paris.
The dead man has been identified as Pierre Marziali, the 47-year-old founder of French private security firm Secopex. The four detained men also worked for the firm which had opened an office in a villa in a wealthy suburb of Benghazi.
The firm said it had been prospecting for security work in Benghazi, the capital of the rebel-held east of Libya, and had been in contact with the NTC.
One of its executives told a French newspaper he had recently been in Tripoli where he had turned down an offer to work for the regime of Moamer Kadhafi.
Robert Dulas insisted the company had been open with the rebels about that visit.
“It was the Tripoli regime that called us, but we declined their requests except for the possibility of working on improving their communications,” he told Liberation daily.
The rebel statement came after European diplomatic sources in Benghazi said the men may have been spies for the Kadhafi regime.
The French government said in a terse statement Thursday only that five French nationals were detained after an encounter with a police unit and one “was wounded by a bullet and died overnight in a hospital.”
Update AP May 13, 2011 3pm est
BENGHAZI, Libya — The head and founder of a French military contracting company was killed in an accidental discharge of a weapon in the rebel stronghold of Benghazi as he was arguing about his team getting arrested, a rebel commander said Friday.
In Paris, the private military company SECOPEX Conseil said Pierre Marziali died Thursday at a Benghazi hospital after being wounded at a checkpoint as he and colleagues were leaving a restaurant overnight.
Marziali, 48, died hours before a planned meeting with the transitional government of rebels fighting Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi’s forces. He was in Libya to set up a security guard service and a “secure corridor” on the road to Cairo, the company said.
France’s government has been a major backer of the rebels. France’s Foreign Ministry said Thursday that five Frenchmen were detained at a police checkpoint and that one was shot and later died in the hospital. It provided no names for the five.
In Benghazi, a rebel commander, Abdel-Basat Elshaheibi told The Associated Press that the four other Frenchmen who were with Marziali were subsequently detained at “a secret place” on suspicion of spying. He did not elaborate or say who the Frenchmen were suspected of spying for.
He said the shooting incident occurred around 1 a.m. Thursday on the street of a residential Benghazi suburb where the men had been staying. Please read more here
A 49-year-old French man died on Thursday after an incident at a police checkpoint in the rebel stronghold of Benghazi, the French Foreign Ministry said on Thurday. The ministry also said that four other French nationals were arrested in the incident.
“During a police checkpoint in Benghazi last night, five French nationals were arrested. One of them was shot and died during the night at the Benghazi hospital,” said ministry spokesman Bernard Valero in a statement.
Valero did not specify whether the French had been wounded by a police officer or another person. Many other details about the incident remain unknown.
“The men were working for a private security firm called Secopex,” said FRANCE 24 correspondent Nathan King, reporting from Benghazi. “They were on a road leading to a town just outside of Benghazi called Soluch. We have reliable sources telling us that another man may be dead.”
In Paris, the Foreign Ministry gave no indication as to the men’s identities and functions, as well as the reasons for their presence outside the rebel-controlled city.
According to King, Secopex has been operating in Libya for a while, providing private protection for certain people. “We don’t know why they were there, but what we do know about this town, Soluch, is that it’s not really safe. There are reports of pro-Gaddafi elements in that town,” King said read more here
ExPatica.com May 12, 2011
A French private security contractor was shot dead and four others were arrested in a murky incident at a checkpoint in the Libyan rebel stronghold of Benghazi, officials and sources said Thursday.
“During a police check in Benghazi last night, five French nationals were detained,” French foreign ministry spokesman Bernard Valero said.
“One of them was wounded by a bullet and died overnight in a hospital in Benghazi” while the other four remain in detention, he added, confirming a report by a doctor at the hospital.
The French statement did not say who fired the bullet that killed the contractor in Benghazi, which is far from the frontline in the Libyan conflict and which at the moment is a relatively safe city.
Rebel officials provided no details and would not confirm that they were holding the four men from France, which is the strongest backer of the rebels seeking to oust Moamer Kadhafi.
European diplomatic sources here said the men were former French soldiers prospecting for new contracts in Benghazi for a France-based security company which operates mostly in French-speaking Africa.