Monday, October 8, 2012

CSI Benghazi

Futile and pointless best describe the FBI investigation of the consulate attack.

Three weeks after the terrorist attack that killed U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans, the FBI finally was permitted to bring its formidable forensic investigative capabilities to the burned-out husk of a building.

The FBI's efforts won't be entirely futile. Their expertise and methodical approach will certainly yield some evidence of what happened and perhaps who committed it, but there are a number of facts that compel us to conclude that their effort will be pointless.

Much of the information about the attack is already known. From a former Navy weapons expert, I learned that the attack was both well-planned and conducted by very highly trained terrorists. Examining the photographs of the scene -- and talking to his own contacts -- this man told me that the terrorist attack apparently began with a mortar bombardment. Most important, he told me, was the fact that the first rounds fired actually hit the building. A mortar is an imprecise weapon. Unless the terrorists had carefully picked their firing points and "registered" the target -- measuring carefully the distance and relative heights -- they wouldn't have been able to do so.

This proves that the terrorists were not only careful planners, they were highly skilled with their weapons of choice. Untrained "demonstrators" simply couldn't have hit the target with such immediacy and precision. Mortar fire would have fallen all around the area, missing the target as much as hitting it.

We don't know, but the FBI must, the results of the autopsies on the bodies of the four men killed. The ambassador apparently died of asphyxiation in the fires started by the bombardment and other parts of the attack. The other three may have died from gunfire or other causes.

But most forensic evidence of the perpetrators -- bodily fluids, finger prints, hair and such -- were probably destroyed in the fire or were not ever in the building, as the mortar crew was not. And whatever there may have remained would have been contaminated by news crews and others tramping through the ruins for three weeks. (CNN, in its own search before the FBI arrived, found a journal kept by the ambassador in which he recorded his fears of an attack.) Most importantly, in the absence of witness interviews and the ability to pursue freely and question both witnesses and suspects, what the FBI finds will be useless.

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