State Dept. cables lacked 'actionable intelligence' for intervention in Libya

The cables, released by House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) last Friday, have been touted by the GOP as proof positive the White House and State Department knew of the volatile situation in Libya and failed to act on it. 

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The stark security picture painted by American diplomats in those communications came months before the deadly terrorist assault on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, ending with the death of Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans. 

But while the State Department communiques provided "a piece of information" into the situation on the ground in the run up to the consulate strike, the cables lacked the "actionable military intelligence" needed, Department of Defense spokesman Lt. Col. Steve Warren said Friday. 

Critical information, like specific numbers of enemy fighters in Benghazi at the time of the raid and the types of weapons those fighters were using during the strike, needed to coordinate a military operation was simply lacking in the cables, Warren told reporters at the Pentagon. 

Other intelligence-gathering measures, including reports of a U.S. drone flying over the consulate at the time of the attack, still fell short of that actionable intelligence threshold. 

U.S. forces would have put the lives of more Americans in danger if DOD officials ordered a military operation based on the information from the Issa cables and other sources, Pentagon Press Secretary George Little added during the same Friday briefing. 

"The compulsion is that we should have intervened," Little said. "But if you just swoop in ... you risk doing more harm than good." 

On Thursday, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta characterized GOP-led criticisms of the White House as "Monday-morning quarterbacking," which has only deterred DOD efforts to find out what happened that night in Benghazi. 

"Clearly the American people deserve to understand what happened in Benghazi,” Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey said at the same Thursday briefing. 

“As you know, there are reviews underway both here and in the Department of State, so we'll better understand what happened," Dempsey said. “It's not helpful, in my view, to provide partial answers." 

GOP presidential hopeful Mitt Romney and other Republicans have used the cables as a way to hammer the Obama administration for not providing more security precautions at the Benghazi site and the U.S. Embassy in Tripoli before the assault.

In response, congressional Democrats claimed Issa's disclosure of the State Department cables put the lives of Americans still in Libya at risk and endangered ongoing diplomatic and intelligence operations there.