Meanwhile, the Libyan investigation into the attacks is taking place a 400-mile flight away in still-unsettled Benghazi. Security there is provided by militias that have only loose affiliations with the central government, and the efforts of U.S. investigators to search the city’s dusty streets for clues have been tightly curtailed.
U.S. lawmakers visiting Tripoli have said the Libyan government has provided almost no information or cooperation as the FBI and others pursue their own investigation. Although Libyan officials say they are working to hunt down the attackers, some acknowledge that the probe is not the top priority.
“The investigation is going to be done sooner or later,” said Saleh Jouda, a member of the new legislature, the General National Congress, and deputy head of the national security committee. But Libya’s interim leaders see the undertaking as politically problematic, he said.
“They don’t want to deal with it,” he said. “They just want to hand it to the new government.”
It may be weeks before that new government is formed. Meanwhile, Republicans in Washington have seized on security lapses at the U.S. mission before the attacks — as well as the shifting explanations afterward about what transpired — to attack the Obama administration ahead of the election.
On Wednesday, House Republicans dominated a congressional hearing in which former diplomatic security officials said their requests for more security in Libya had been dismissed.
In Tripoli, the day after the attacks and just hours after President Obama announced that Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens had died along with three others, Libya’s new lawmakers were not focused on the incident, although leaders did immediately condemn the deaths. They were instead voting narrowly for the country’s first democratically elected prime minister, Mustafa Abushagur, in a previously scheduled ballot.
The political uncertainty was affecting U.S. security in Libya even before the attacks. The impending vote for prime minister had been the topic of a meeting just days earlier between U.S. diplomats in Benghazi and at least two leaders of the militias that provide most of the security in the rough-and-tumble city, according to a State Department cable sent the day of the attacks. The militia leaders had accused the United States of backing Mahmoud Jibril, whom they saw as a secularist. If Jibril won, they said, “they would not continue to guarantee security in Benghazi,” according to the cable.