Panel on Benghazi attack heaps blame on State, citing 'systemic failures' (+video)
An independent panel investigating the 9/11 attack on the US consulate in Benghazi released a report finding that the State Department failed at securing the compound on multiple fronts.
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Latin America Editor
Whitney Eulich is the Monitor's Latin America editor, overseeing regional coverage for CSMonitor.com and the weekly magazine. She also curates the Latin America Monitor Blog.
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The failures listed in a report released last night include relying too heavily on poorly trained local militias for security; “leadership and management” deficiencies in coordination of two important State Department bureaus; and an “under resourced” embassy lacking adequate security equipment, such as security cameras and outer perimeter walls high enough to protect the compound.
“Systemic failures and leadership and management deficiencies at senior levels within two bureaus of the State Department … resulted in a Special Mission security posture that was inadequate for Benghazi and grossly inadequate to deal with the attack that took place,” according to the report. The panel, known as an Accountability Review Board, was made up of five people appointed by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, including Adm. Mike Mullen and longtime US diplomat Thomas Pickering.
The Benghazi attack, which fell on the 11th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, killed four Americans, including Ambassador Christopher Stevens. It highlighted the depth of lawlessness still plaguing the country in the aftermath of Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi's ousting.
“The attack on the US consulate was just the latest in a series of incidents,” Mohamed Abu Janah, a local radio executive and a protest organizer, told The Christian Science Monitor in September.
The month before the attack, in a piece titled “Worrying signs of lawlessness in Libya,” The Monitor’s Dan Murphy noted that some of the militias that fought to oust Qaddafi had taken on gang-like qualities. “Generally untouchable, they continue to swagger through Libya's towns and cities, demanding special treatment as a reward for their role last year. Many of them are now technically integrated into the security services, but continue to operate with impunity,” Mr. Murphy wrote.
He warned that “[T]he steady drumbeat of problems is worrying. If it isn't dealt with, 'rat-a-tat-tat' can transform into 'boom.' "
According to The New York Times, these signs of insecurity were, in part, ignored in planning security for the US Mission in Libya.
The panel also said American intelligence officials had relied too much on specific warnings of imminent attacks, which they did not have in the case of Benghazi, rather than basing assessments more broadly on a deteriorating security environment. By this spring, Benghazi, a hotbed of militant activity in eastern Libya, had experienced a string of assassinations, an attack on a British envoy’s motorcade and the explosion of a bomb outside the American Mission.
The Los Angeles Times notes that the report is “likely to represent the government’s lasting judgment on the attacks.” According to the document, the attack was:
the calculated effort of militants and not a "spontaneous" reaction of an outraged crowd, the first explanation offered by U.S. officials.
Yet the five-member independent panel said that, despite the lapses, no officials had failed to carry out their duties in a way that required disciplinary action.
It also determined that there had been "no immediate, specific intelligence" on the threat against the mission.
The Obama administration's initial response to the attacks and United Nations Ambassador Susan Rice’s inconsistent statements describing the events of the night garnered anger from lawmakers in the weeks leading up to the presidential election.
“The report affirmed there were no protests of an anti-Islamic video before the attack, contrary to what Ms. Rice had said on several Sunday talk shows days after the attack,” notes the Times. This confirmation could reignite arguments that the White House “politicized” Ambassador Steven’s death and the embassy attack.
The Monitor reports that, “At issue were her statements over what had precipitated the attack on the US mission in Benghazi.”
The legacy of Secretary of State Clinton could also be tarnished by last night’s panel report.
"This is a mark against Secretary Clinton. While she was not singled out, the report highlighted the lack of leadership and organization on security issues, and those fall into her bailiwick," Jon Alterman, head of the Middle East program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, told Reuters.
An editorial in the Wall Street Journal goes a step further, outlining reasons why Clinton, who is currently recovering from a concussion after fainting earlier this month, should testify on the Benghazi matter.
Mrs. Clinton's testimony is months overdue. Ambassador Chris Stevens and the Benghazi consulate staff reported to her. Their safety was her responsibility. Congress needs to flesh out why security was so lacking, why requests for additional protection for the mission were denied, and who made those decisions.
Despite background briefings by the Pentagon, State and CIA, the Obama Administration hasn't offered a consistent timeline of the Benghazi events. Mrs. Clinton hasn't said what she did that day and precisely how her department liaised with the military and intelligence services. It shouldn't take this long to fill such gaps.
The backdrop to Benghazi matters too. Mrs. Clinton was presumably – as the President's chief foreign policy adviser – instrumental in drawing up the "light footprint" policy in Libya. After the fall of Moammar Gadhafi, the US disengaged. As an elected but weak government struggled to establish itself in Libya, Islamist militias with al Qaeda ties filled the gap. One such group, Ansar al-Shariah, laid siege to the U.S. consulate and CIA annex in Benghazi, killing four Americans. Both the CIA and State immediately pulled out of the city—an abject retreat. What was the rationale for the U.S. approach to Libya, and will it change?
Mrs. Clinton will soon leave the Obama cabinet with sky-high approval ratings and an eye on the 2016 presidential nomination. It's logical for her not to want to dwell on the worst debacle of her tenure at State. But two months ago, she said "I take responsibility" for Libya without ever doing so. It's well past time she did.
According to Reuters, Clinton “said in a letter accompanying the review that she would adopt all of its recommendations.” And the New York Times reports she is already taking steps to rectify problems identified in the report, including asking for a transfer of $1.3 billion from Congress.
They say the State Department is asking permission from Congress to transfer more than $1.3 billion from contingency funds that had been allocated for spending in Iraq. This includes $553 million for hundreds of additional Marine security guards worldwide; $130 million for diplomatic security personnel; and $691 million for improving security at installations abroad.