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Stinging Benghazi report leads to three resignations (+video)

An independent panel faults two State Department offices for the security shortcomings that contributed to the deaths of four Americans in Benghazi, Libya, on Sept. 11.

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In addition, the department is working to ensure that experienced security personnel are assigned to unstable settings like Benghazi, and that they stay in those posts longer, the officials add.

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The five-person investigative panel, which includes retired former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen and is led by retired diplomat Thomas Pickering, faulted the US security team for relying excessively on specific threats – rather than overall security trends – before taking action.

The small Benghazi mission had not registered any threats of a direct attack, but there were ample signs of the area’s deteriorating conditions, the report said. These included an attack on a British diplomatic motorcade and an earlier bombing outside the US diplomatic facility.

The Benghazi assault has also prompted debate over how to beef up security without restricting the “people-to-people diplomacy” considered essential by a growing number of today’s diplomats.

US Ambassador to Libya Christopher Stevens, who was among the Americans killed in the attack, was one of these “new” diplomats, and a number of his colleagues have said that he would not want his death to result in diplomats being confined to bunkers.

But the report does fault the State Department for not acting on the ambassador’s report in August of a “security vacuum” in Benghazi, while also suggesting that Ambassador Stevens allowed his familiarity with Benghazi to sway his personal decision to visit the city with a sparse security detail.

Stevens, who served as the US envoy to the Libyan opposition centered in Benghazi before being named ambassador after Muammar Qaddafi’s demise, had not been in Benghazi for 10 months before his September trip. And despite his own reports of deteriorating security and the Tripoli embassy’s request for more security for the Benghazi mission, he traveled to Benghazi with only two American security agents, the report finds.

“His status as the leading US government advocate on Libya policy, and his expertise on Benghazi in particular, caused Washington to give unusual deference to his judgments,” the report states.

The report specifically faults two State Department offices – Near Eastern Affairs and Diplomatic Security – for the security shortfall and for failing to better coordinate their efforts to protect diplomatic missions like Benghazi in the turbulent region of the Arab Awakening. The report also says that a number of officials in these departments and elsewhere exercised poor leadership in addressing the Libyan security challenge.

The head of Diplomatic Security, Eric Boswell, resigned Wednesday, as did Charlene Lamb, the deputy assistant secretary for embassy security. The third official to resign is from the Near Eastern Affairs bureau, according to sources.

Mullen and Mr. Pickering were to discuss the classified version of the report with congressional committees in closed-door sessions on Wednesday, while senior State Department officials are to appear at public congressional hearings on the report Thursday.

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