It's been 17 days since the deadly attacks on a U.S. consulate in Benghazi and the scene of the crime is still too dangerous for a proper FBI investigation. For everyone wondering about the status of post-Qaddafi Libya, today's front page story in The New York Times makes it painfully clear: The country is one big dangerous mess.
The Times' David Kirkpatrick, Eric Schmitt, and Michael Schmidt report that FBI agents have been forced to investigate the crime from 400 miles away in the capital of Tripoli due to safety concerns. According to the report, "Investigators are so worried about the tenuous security, people involved in the investigation say, that they have been unwilling to risk taking some potential Libyan witnesses into the American Embassy in Tripoli." The story adds that investigators have resorted to interviewing witnesses in cars parked outside the embassy, and are slowly evacuating staff because of a "heightened security alert."
The real problem is that the Benghazi consulate has been burned and looted so badly that once (and if) the investigators do get access, the scene is going to be heavily compromised. “There’s a chance we never make it in there,” said a source described as "a senior law enforcement official."
Fortunately, while those security concerns have hobbled the FBI's investigation, U.S. spies are having a little more success piecing together the puzzle of the attacks, The Washington Post's Greg Miller reports. "U.S. intelligence agencies have determined that the attack on the U.S. mission in Libya involved a small number of militants with ties to al-Qaeda in North Africa," he says. "The determination reflects an emerging consensus among analysts at the CIA and other agencies" that this was a terrorist attack.
The interesting thing about the Times and the Post reports is they seem to show officials in the FBI and the CIA coming to different conclusions about the attacks. For instance, in the FBI-focused Times report, the terrorists are thought to have planned the strike in a few hours, "not days or weeks." However, in the Post article, intelligence officials say the terrorists were planning the Benghazi attack "for weeks." All of this, of course, comes as the Obama administration has shifted its view of the consulate attack from a spontaneous reaction to an anti-Islam film, to a spontaneous terrorist attack, to a pre-planned terrorist attack. Apparently, the various U.S. agencies are not exactly in sync on the attacks either.