Today, hearings begin in the House Foreign Affairs Committee and the House and Senate Intelligence Committees on the terrorist attack that killed Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans in Benghazi, Libya, on September 11.

In a new Issue Brief, Heritage’s James Jay Carafano and Morgan Lorraine Roach write:

Understanding what was behind the September 11, 2012, terrorist attack on the U.S. facility in Benghazi and the tragic results is vital for preparing for future security threats to embassies, consulates, and diplomatic missions. The attack in Benghazi reveals a terrorist attack profile that the U.S. is likely to see again.

Al-Qaeda-affiliated sources have already called for additional attacks on U.S. embassies. Regardless of the motivation and organization behind Benghazi, the U.S. government should anticipate that al-Qaeda and its affiliates will aspire to more such attacks.

They raise four questions that congressional committees need to ask:

    1. What counterterrorism and early warning measures were in place to proactively address security threats?

 

    1. What risk assessments were performed and what risk mitigation measures were adopted prior to the attack?

 

    1. What contingency planning was undertaken and exercised to respond to armed assaults against U.S. facilities in Benghazi?

 

    1. How is the interagency response to the incident organized and managed?

Carafano, deputy director of The Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for International Studies and director of the Douglas and Sarah Allison Center for Foreign Policy Studies, will testify today before the House Foreign Affairs Committee on these key questions for protecting U.S. embassies and missions. Carafano is a 25-year veteran of the U.S. Army and one of the nation’s leading experts on defense and homeland security issues.

Carafano says that it is impossible to “child-proof America”—that is, to protect every single building or potential terrorist target. The better counterterrorism strategy is to tackle threats as they develop and emerge, before terrorists have the opportunity to strike a target—a strategy that has protected the U.S. from 53 publicly known terrorist plots since 9/11.

For this reason, finding out what was being done to identify and disrupt the terrorist operations in Libya is of utmost importance. It is well known to officials that “since the fall of the Muammar Qadhafi regime, Libya’s fledgling government has been unable to stem the influence of Islamists and extremist militias,” Carafano and Roach write. Ambassador Stevens had sent a memo to the State Department identifying at least 10 known militant groups that could be threats.

Helle Dale, Heritage’s senior fellow for public diplomacy, adds that the “State Department’s strategy of combating Islamist radicalism through strategic communication also has to come under review.” Despite a special new office focusing on “strategic counterterrorism communication,” Dale says, “we have seen the number of terrorist attacks (successful and attempted) on U.S. embassies on the rise, and we saw in September angry mobs throughout Muslim countries—such as those that gathered at the Cairo embassy—and beyond threaten American embassies.”

Some of the hearings are public, while others are closed-door. Former CIA Director David Petraeus, who resigned last Friday citing an extramarital affair, will testify tomorrow at a closed-door hearing.

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