Dpt. of State / Foreign Policy / Middle East / U.S. Senate

Redefining Preventative Defense in Benghazi

On January 15th, the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (SSCI) released a review entailing the official series of events that unfolded in Benghazi, Libya on September 11-12th of 2012 as well as findings and recommendations that could have prevented this attack and future attacks on U.S. embassies and facilities abroad from happening.

SSCI was debriefed on the events of the attack by various officials from the State Department, Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) and many other agencies. The report of what had happened that night and early morning coincided closely (with a few additions and alterations) to the report originally given by the CIA. To summarize, the attack by Libyan radicals left U.S. facilities damaged and four American officials deceased.

The SSCI came to 14 conclusions on what had caused the various U.S. structures to come under siege and cause an improper conveyance of the events to Congress. Of those 14 conclusions, seven of them could have been prevented completely by using a defensive and/or preventive use of force policy. These seven findings, according to the report, were:

1. The Intelligence Community had alerted U.S. facilities, far in advance, that the situation in Eastern Libya was deteriorating and that they were at risk.

2. Since the security situation was deteriorating, and because two facilities were attacked in Western Libya months before, ample measure should have been conducted to make the facilities more secure.

3. U.S. facilities abroad were warned of possible hostility, due to the unique date of the attack: the anniversary of the terrorist attacks on the U.S. on September 11, 2001.

4. Extremist Social Media outlets that the Intelligence Community knew of were not researched at all, prior to the attacks.

5. Although “Tripwires” were crossed at the first facility attacked, little changed in the operations of any of the facilities.

6. The State Department personnel charged with protecting the facilities relied on the CIA annex located nearby as a last resort.

7. There were no U.S. military resources to intervene during the events of that night and early morning.

Although these findings and recommendations do shed light on how to prevent such actions, a broader adoption of the defensive and preventive uses of force at U.S. diplomatic facilities may prevent and deter such attacks from happening at all.

The idea of defensive force is not a new idea. Robert J. Art, a professor at Brandeis University, explains it as so, “the defensive use of force is the deployment of military power so as to be able to do two things – to ward off an attack and to minimize damage to oneself if attacked”. In each of the seven conclusions aforementioned a defensive use of force was not in place. A state is able to use defensive force when the attack is either preeminent or inevitable.

Even though these seven circumstances do not necessarily convey inevitability, the preeminence of an attack is prominent. Art continues by saying, “a state preempts in order to wrest the advantage of a first strike from an opponent”. Had the imminence of this event been taken with more sincerity, like suggested by defensive force, the attack could have been prevented. Furthermore, a use of preventive force could have caused more ideal events to occur.

Preventive force “seeks to head off dangers that are further in the future and therefore less tangible, less likely to occur, and possibly more avoidable through diplomacy” according to Abraham D. Sofaer, a former legal adviser to the State Department of the U.S. Since diplomacy with radical groups such as the one that attacked the facilities in Benghazi is not an option, the alternative is preventive action.

Although the findings and suggestions found in the SSCI review may shed light onto the tragedy that occurred in Benghazi, Libya, a broader adoption of defensive and preventive force may indeed eliminate tragedies such as this altogether.

• The Four Types of Force by Robert J. Art
• The Best Defense? By Abraham D. Sofaer, and
• The Review of Attacks on U.S. facilities in Benghazi, Libya, September 11-12th by the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.