The Benghazi Consulate: Has the Crime Scene Been Contaminated?

Even as the FBI prepares to investigate the incident that led to the death of U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens, the consulate grounds may have been left unguarded for too long

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Mohammad Hannon / AP

On Sept. 13, 2012, a Libyan man investigates the inside of the U.S. Consulate, after an attack that killed four Americans, including Ambassador Chris Stevens on the night of Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2012, in Benghazi, Libya.

A visitor rings the doorbell to a large gated villa in Benghazi, and a gardener slowly opens the heavy metal door.  He welcomes guests with a big smile, offering them tea before giving them a guided tour of the sprawling grounds with its swimming pool and hefty trees, which obscure the view from prying eyes.  But the villa is not just another secluded house owned by a wealthy Libyan seeking privacy.  It is the most sensitive crime scene in the world.

For each day of the past two weeks, TIME has visited the American consulate in Benghazi where the ambassador and three others were killed on Sept. 11th.  And with the passing of every day, people cart off more and more evidence and sensitive information that couldendanger the lives of Americans still in Libya, and impair the FBI investigation into the attack just now getting underway.

(MORE: After the Benghazi Attack: Is al-Qaeda Back?)

After 23 days, Libyan authorities finally cordoned off the consulate Thursday and prohibited people from entering it as American investigators made their first brief visit to the site.  For weeks, Washington has said it was too dangerous to send FBI agents to Benghazi.  But now, they may be too late to piece together the clues to the attack.  A number of Libyans and foreigners have visited the compound, according to the gardener Idris Muhammad Juma’a.  “Every day people come and look around,” Idris told TIME, sitting in a plastic chair under a palm tree on Tuesday. “The other day some Turks came and took a big painting.”

But it is not the disappearance of paintings that should disturb American investigators and intelligence officials.  Large white boards listing names and numbers of U.S. military and diplomatic installations abroad have vanished.  Documents with detailed accounts of previous attacks against the consulate have disappeared as well.  “It’s not our job to stop people from taking things,” Idris says.  “We are just gardeners.”

Though Idris and his companion are tending to the grounds, the Americans have not secured the compound.  Idris saysAmerican officials only visited the consulate once around Sept. 24.  “They came with some translators and took some pictures.  They left after 10 minutes.”

It is not only the consulate the FBI has neglected.  Libyans guarding the compound the night of the attacknote they have not been contacted by Americans since the incident.  “I thought they would want to speak to us,” says Muhammad, who saw some of the attackers.  “But no one has called us.”

In such investigations, it is routine for FBI agents to wait until they can interview people directly, according to Ali Soufan, the lead FBI agent in the inquiry into the 2000 USS Cole attack.  “You don’t collect intelligence over the phone.  It must be face to face, not over Skype.”  Soufan, who detailed his role in the Cole investigation and his part in uncovering the men responsible for the Sept. 11 attacks in his book The Black Banners, notes that there are several things that have delayed the FBI’s arrival in Benghazi.  “You need a country clearance.  If you don’t have a [local] partner to work with, how are you going to interrogate?”

But with a Libyan central government too weak to stabilize the country, it has to rely on local militias to protect the consulate and provide security for the FBI. Since each brigade is led by a different man,  the Libyan government has had to coordinate FBI visits with a number of individuals.  And because the FBI needs a “significant team that includes different specialties ranging from forensics teams to communication specialists” according to Soufan, the group needs a level of security no one in Benghazi can provide.

“It’s just not safe for the Americans to come now,” says a leader of one of the brigades in touch with the American embassy in Tripoli.

In the interim, evidence at the consulate has been tampered with. It is clear that rubble in the annex where Ambassador Chris Stevens took refuge has been moved. “Securing the crime scene is very important to prevent contamination,” says Soufan.   But with so many people rummaging through the consulate in the past three weeks, ranging from curious visitors to possibly the attackers themselves, the compound is being compromised daily.  And that will make the FBI’s job all the more difficult when it finally pursues its investigation in earnest.

MORE: Protests Rage in Middle East, Sparked By Mysterious Anti-Islam Film

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LiberalLies2012
LiberalLies2012

No mantisdragon91 comments on CIA or otherwise on this thread

Anon777777
Anon777777

How does your source know anything about what might have been inside that building?

How does your source know what has "vanished?"

If your source knows anything, then why are they blabbing to the press instead of doing what a loyal American would do: HELP.

Your source is fulla baloney. We have had quite a few of these phonies trying to spin this.

Anon777777
Anon777777

NOTED.

There is a desire by some people who are not involved in the investigation to cast doubt on the ability of forensic scientists to collect evidence.

For what reason would anyone want to engage in pure speculation about that without any evidence?

Distantsmoke
Distantsmoke

Other questions TIME would like to ask:

1.  Is grass generally green?

2.  Does the earth move around the sun, or vice versa?

3.  Does the sun provide light during the day?

Questions TIME won't ask:

1.  Why and how was the Benghazi crime scene contaminated?

2.  Was Jimmy Hoffa's murder politically motivated?

3.  Who is Barrack Obama, really?

4.  Who is Mitt Romney, really?

5.  Why is it that ideologically based laws inevitably lead to bad results?

spawn44
spawn44

The FBI solve it.  They probably gave the terrorists the guns.    I don't trust the OBAMA/WITHHOLDER DOJ at all.  

Obama_Dogeater
Obama_Dogeater

This embassy, or what's left of it, is the perfect symbol of Obama's disastrous foreign policy.

stopthespinnow
stopthespinnow

It's not a crime scene, idiot. It's the site of a terrorist attack!

afmajret
afmajret

First, it is not a crime scene, it is the scene of a terrorist attack. Second, I doubt if the FBI can 'solve' it because they don't have the local resources nor local expertise to do so. Maybe they could buy some answers from the Libyan State Intelligence organization, if such a thing exists. And finally, how is the failure of the Libyan government to provide an accredited diplomatic mission with adequate security the fault of the US government or the President? De-politicize this, please.

Anon777777
Anon777777

It wasn't an "accredited diplomatic mission."

You have to dig to find out exactly what was going on there.

After I found out, the motives of the attackers became much clearer.

I'm not going to share with you what I found, but I will share my conclusion:

This attack was not organized and carried out by Al-Queda.

Brian_Dell
Brian_Dell

If everyone else in Benghazi is looking out for themselves by going around armed, why aren't Americans there doing the same thing if on consulate territory?  How much would it cost to post half a dozen armed Marines there for security?  If a local "partner" isn't available do it yourself!  If sending some people from Tripoli to Benghazi on Day 2 was too "dangerous", well, having terrorists walk off with every document on site is pretty dangerous too.  If American staff can't go out because it is too dangerous perhaps they should find another line of work and get different staff who can get things done.

If the US truly cannot protect its people then it shouldn't be sending them there in the first place and that is a US government decision.

d1032
d1032

The ineptness of this administration is insulting for our entire nation - our people, whoever has the responsibility for the consulates, should have been into that bldg within hours of this horrendous action.

It was not, as the administration first claimed and had to be 'cornered' into correcting, a "random act" in reaction to a petty film - it was a well planned attack to occur on 9-11 by terroists (yes, King Obama, I'll say even if you won't).

In my humble opinion this nation has one of two options: 1. Shut down every consulate in any mid-east nation, stop all foreign aid to each and every one of them and require all Americans to leave those corressponding nations or2. bomb them into submission and take the endless criticizm which would ultimately follow as the result of the collateral damage.

Do the terrorists concern themselves about collateral damage?  I don't think so.

And yet Hillary Clinton and this demented administration remains intent on sending Egypt another $435 million of our taxpayer dollars to establish a "so-called friendly ally" - we have no allies in the mid-east except Israel and without our aid and backing Iran, Iraq, Syria or some neighbor of Israel would have wiped them off the face of the map by now.

Either get the hell out or blow the entire region into a sheet of glass.

Ron
Ron

"The Benghazi Consulate: Has the Crime Scene Been Contaminated?"

What a silly question! Is a frog's a** watertight? Does a bear s**t in the woods? How about, is a pig's a** pork?

A CNN reporter walks in rummages around and picks up the personal journal of Ambassador Stevens and gives it to family members and you have to ask this question? What are you smoking?

Brian_Dell
Brian_Dell

So you agree with the White House that the media has been asking too many questions?

How about pointing the finger at the US government for being so impotent instead of complaining about the media?

Obama_Dogeater
Obama_Dogeater

Exactly. And if this had happened on Bush's watch, we would be hearing about it 24/7 from the MSM.

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Brett Kelley
Brett Kelley

Brilliant article for stating the bleeding obvious....fine journalism...haha

chicagoxile
chicagoxile

The UK Independent had a 9/14 (!) story that said similar things:

( www.independent.co.uk/news/wor... )

"The US administration is now facing a crisis in Libya. Sensitive documents have gone missing from the consulate in Benghazi and the supposedly secret location of the 'safe house' in the city, where the staff had retreated, came under sustained mortar attack. Other such refuges across the country are no longer deemed 'safe'.

"Some of the missing papers from the consulate are said to list names of Libyans who are working with Americans, putting them potentially at risk from extremist groups, while some of the other documents are said to relate to oil contracts."

Talendria
Talendria

I often get my news from the UK also.  They still have journalists.