The discovery further complicates efforts by the Obama administration to respond to what has rapidly become a major foreign-policy issue just weeks before the election. Republicans have accused Obama of having left U.S. diplomatic compounds in Muslim-majority nations insufficiently protected on the anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and have questioned the security preparations ahead of assaults on embassies in Egypt, Yemen, Tunisia and Sudan. Capitol Hill critics have also pressed for an explanation for the slow pace of the investigation that has followed the attack in Benghazi.
Although the gates to the Benghazi compound were locked several days after the attacks, looters and curiosity-seekers were free to roam in the initial chaotic aftermath, and many documents may have disappeared.
No government-provided security forces are guarding the compound, and Libyan investigators have visited just once, according to a member of the family who owns the compound and who allowed the journalists to enter Wednesday.
Two private security guards paid for by the compound’s Libyan owner are the only people watching over the sprawling site, which is composed of two adjoining villa complexes and protected in some places by a wall only eight feet high.
“Securing the site has obviously been a challenge,” Mark Toner, deputy spokesman at the State Department, said in response to questions about conditions at the Benghazi compound. “We had to evacuate all U.S. government personnel the night of the attack. After the attack, we requested help securing the site, and we continue to work with the Libyan government on this front.”
State Department officials were provided with copies of some of the documents found at the site. They did not request that the documents be withheld from publication.
None of the documents were marked classified, but this is not the first time that sensitive documents have been found by journalists in the charred wreckage of the compound. CNN discovered a copy of the ambassador’s journal last month and broadcast details from it, drawing an angry response from the State Department. Unlike the journal, all of the documents seen by The Post were official.
At least one document found amid the clutter indicates that Americans at the mission were discussing the possibility of an attack in early September, just two days before the assault took place. The document is a memorandum dated Sept. 9 from the U.S. mission’s security office to the 17th February Martyrs Brigade, the Libyan-government-sanctioned militia that was guarding the compound, making plans for a “quick reaction force,” or QRF, that would provide security.