Source: Michael Birnbaum
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 were among the items scattered across the floors of the looted compound when a Washington Post reporter and a translator visited Wednesday.
Although the gates to the compound were locked several days after the attacks, looters and curiosity-seekers were free to roam in the initial chaotic aftermath, and many documents may already have disappeared.
No government-provided security forces are guarding the compound, and Libyan investigators have visited just once, according to a member of the family who owns the compound and who allowed the journalists to enter Wednesday.
Two private security guards paid for by the compound’s Libyan owner are the only people watching over the sprawling site, which is composed of two adjoining villa complexes and protected in some places by a wall only eight feet high.
“Securing the site has obviously been a challenge,” said Mark Toner, deputy spokesman at the State Department, in response to questions about conditions at the Benghazi compound. “We had to evacuate all U.S. government personnel the night of the attack. After the attack, we requested help securing the site, and we continue to work with the Libyan government on this front.”
State Department officials were provided with copies of some of the documents found at the site. They did not request that the documents be withheld from publication.
None of the documents were marked classified, but this is not the first time that sensitive documents have been found by journalists in the charred wreckage of the compound. CNN discovered a copy of the ambassador’s journal last month and broadcast details from it, drawing an angry response from the State Department. Unlike the journal, all of the documents seen by The Post were official.
At least one document found amid the clutter indicates that Americans at the mission were discussing the possibility of an attack in early September, just two days before the assault took place. The document is a memorandum dated Sept. 9 from the U.S. mission’s security office to the 17th February Martyrs Brigade, the Libyan-government-sanctioned militia that was guarding the compound, making plans for a “quick reaction force,” or QRF, that would provide security.
“In the event of an attack on the U.S. Mission,” the document states, “QRF will request additional support from the 17th February Martyrs Brigade.”
Other the documents detail — with names, photographs, phone numbers and other personal information — the Libyans contracted to provide security for the mission from a British-based private firm, Blue Mountain. Some of those Libyans say they now fear for their lives, and the State Department has said it shares concerns about their safety.
The discovery of the documents coincides with increasing pressure on the Obama administration to provide a full accounting of security at the mission prior to the attack, as well as an explanation for the slow pace of the investigation that has followed the Sept. 11 assault.
On Tuesday, two House Republicans sent a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clintondemanding more information about the incident. The letter from Darrell Issa (Calif.) and Jason Chaffetz (Utah) said Libyans working as private security personnel at the compound were warned by family members in the weeks before the attacks to quit their jobs because of rumors of an impending attack. The congressmen did not say where they had received the information.
Concerns about safety in Benghazi have confined a team of FBI investigators to the Libyan capital, Tripoli, which is hundreds of miles away, and local security officials say they cannot guarantee that Americans would be safe here.
But many of the Libyan contractors, as well as some members of the brigade once tasked with guarding the compound, say they have not been contacted by the Libyan or American governments about their own safety concerns. Some say they have tried to contact the Americans but have not received a response.
The Blue Mountain contractors were intended to complement the armed members of the militia. Both groups were present at the mission on the night of Sept. 11.
In the unsigned memorandum from the U.S. mission to the militia, which appears to be a draft, guards “are required to acquire and maintain their own weapons and ammunition,” the document states.
The security presence appears to have been bare-bones, with three or more members on the compound any time the “principal officer” was present — either the head of the mission or the ambassador.
When the principal officer was not present, a single militia member was instructed to be at the front gate between 8 a.m. and midnight. Between midnight and 8 a.m., one militia member was scheduled to be on roving patrol. The militia members were supposed to work a minimum of eight hours a day and were to be paid a stipend of about $28 a day, a relatively standard wage in Benghazi. They were housed on the compound.
The memorandum tells the militia security force to summon more guards from its nearby compound if the mission is attacked, suggesting that the Americans there were concerned that the regular guard force would be inadequate in an emergency.
The itinerary of Stevens’s trip to Benghazi includes a near-full accounting of his planned movements during what was supposed to be a visit that lasted from Sept. 10 until Sept. 15. It includes names and phone numbers of Libyans who scheduled were to meet with him. Some of those Libyans have not made their contact with Stevens public and could be at risk if it were publicly known.
The meetings include briefings with American officials, a private dinner with influential local leaders, and meetings with militia heads, businesspeople, civil society activists and educators. The highlight of the visit was the opening of the American Space, a center intended to serve as a hub for U.S. culture and education.
Several copies of the itinerary were scattered across multiple rooms of the compound. One appears to be a page from the ambassador’s personal copy; it was on the floor, next to a chair in the bedroom where he had been sleeping.
The compound still reeked of smoke Wednesday, and all of the buildings had been looted. Overturnedfurniture, broken glass and strewn documents were everywhere. Chandeliers lay on the floor. In kitchens, food was rotting.
But elsewhere on the compound, gardens were blooming and untouched. Guava trees were heavy with fruit; purple grapes were swelling on rows of vines. The newly hired security guards appeared to be living in a small room at the front gate, where a thin mattress lay on the floor, along with preparations for lunch.
Ayman Alkekly in Benghazi and Anne Gearan in Washington contributed to this report.