Benghazi and How Investigations Work

I’ve been watching the talking heads dissect the attacks on the US consulate in Benghazi, Libya since the debate “gotcha” moment between Romney and Obama. I find it interesting that people who claim to work in the field of journalism (or at least as spokesmodels for news sponsored organizations) are clueless as to how an actual investigation works. 

I expect the Republican’s engaged in a political campaign to make comments about the loss. I even expect them to politicize the attacks. If Mitt Romney does’t care about 47% of Americans why would he have a problem with turning the deaths of 4 US diplomats into a campaign issue. However, one has to think that someone within this camp has some experience and understanding with how investigations work. While it is easy to sit on the sidelines and talk about the actions of rebels in a foreign country and how this somehow relates to the lack of foreign policy by the current President I can tell you what’s NOT easy. Being the responsible person in these circumstances. 

Nothing is more frustrating than being on the inside of an investigation that has the eyes and ears of the public. I have been there and trust me, the desire to respond to the misinformation that gets put out there is strong. However, as anyone who has ever actually been involved in a Government investigation knows, you just don’t do it. No matter how bad the information is, media response and talking heads controlled by media moguls with political agendas do not run investigations. Throw a political campaign into the mix (Presidential, Gubernatorial, Mayoral etc.) and things get even trickier. I have seen the results of taking something of this nature and politicizing it. It is never good. Investigations should be conducted by professionals in the field who aren’t motivated by political fallout. They should be allowed to gather the information and evidence that is out there, trace the sources of information, look into the motivation of the people providing the information and reach an objective, professional opinion based on the facts that were found in the investigation. 

In the case of Benghazi, the Republican machine and Romney started out of the gate with a foot in mouth statement. It happens and is not a devastating issue, as long as someone gets it under control. I admire the Sun Tzu manner in which the Obama machine handled the situation. They allowed Romney and Co. to eat rope for weeks with their focus on the lack of consistent response from the Obama administration. Yes there was some conflicting information that came out in the immediate days following the attacks. Yes, members of the government made conflicting statements over who may have been responsible. This is fairly common in these types of situations here in the US (Oklahoma City and 9-11) so imagine how hard it is to get intelligence in a country in which you have limited resources. Yet despite all the distractions, the investigation continues, and will probably continue for some time. It took 2 years for the investigation into the bombing of the Beirut embassy in 1983. Oklahoma City took equally as long. Even after the responsible party in an investigation is determined, the investigation usually continues. Identifying the responsible party is only one aspect of an investigation. Formulating an appropriate response to the action is another.

The President of the United States doesn’t get in front of the world media and make announcements about what happened to US diplomats and who was responsible until he knows the facts. It took the FBI and other US investigators 9 days to get on the ground and start gathering actual evidence (statements, physical items, video that can be verified etc). So any information that came in prior to that was not verified and needed vetting. When you’re talking about actions that can lead to military retaliation, you tend to make sure you know what you’re talking about. Even if the media, your political opponents and half the country is Facebooking about what a shitty leader you are, you ignore the rhetoric and you focus on finding the truth.You understand that the attack is only one piece of the overall situation. If it was Syrian military it certainly calls for a different response than if it was some rebels who took advantage of the 9-11 protests that were already taking place. It may be an entirely new terror organization or the radical arm of an existing one. We won’t know until the investigation is complete. 

I heard John McCain and others ramble on that they had “sources” who confirmed that the action was  preplanned by terrorists who showed up armed and ready to attack. In my former life, this would make John McCain a prime witness in my investigation. If John McCain was so concerned about the loss of US lives, why didn’t he make his “sources” available to the investigators conducting the official US  investigation into the attacks? Was it somehow in the best interests of the US to take this information public on the TV roundtables as a form of criticism during the election cycle instead of sharing it with those responsible for finding out the truth?

Unlike John McCain (who should know better), Mitt Romney or any other person who made comments about the the administration’s response to the attacks, the President of the United States doesn’t have the opportunity to screw this up. I find it disturbing that the people who were so critical about the lack of an official position about terrorism and who was responsible made these judgments without a shred of actual evidence.  When you make a political issues out of a tragic incident of this nature, you run the risk of being made a fool of. Welcome to the political big leagues Mr. Romney. Too bad no one on your team had the insight to share the simple lesson that you don’t politicize diplomacy and acts of violence against US diplomats. 

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