A scathing Senate Intelligence Committee report on the September 2012 attacks in Benghazi, Libya, faults the State Department for not securing the diplomatic mission there against known terrorist threats and concludes the attacks that left four American personnel dead “were preventable.”
The committee’s conclusions, issued Wednesday, broadly mirror those of earlier reports on the attacks that resulted in the deaths of US ambassador to Libya Christopher Stevens and three other Americans. But the report offers new information that paints a disturbing picture of a lack of interagency coordination before the attacks and a bungling response in the 16 months since.
The report reveals, for example, that the Pentagon’s Africa Command, which is responsible for Libya, was unaware that the CIA had an “annex” in Benghazi. Both the US diplomatic mission and the CIA annex came under attack the night of Sept. 11, 2012.
The report finds that the CIA had fortified and reinforced security at its facility, but the State Department had not taken similar measures at the diplomatic mission despite warnings from diplomats in Libya.
Moreover, the Senate report states that 15 people who came forward to help the FBI in its investigation of the attacks and murders of US personnel have been killed – although the report stops short of asserting that those deaths were certainly the result of the victims’ cooperation with US authorities.
The Senate report is a further reminder that the Benghazi attacks, which have been the object of partisan crossfire, are likely to figure in upcoming political campaigns. Republicans charge the Obama administration with hoodwinking the American public about the role of terrorists in the attacks, and Democrats accuse Republicans of seeking to make political hay out of a tragedy.
Benghazi could even become a key issue in the 2016 presidential campaign, some political experts predict, particularly if Hillary Rodham Clinton, who was secretary of State when the attacks occurred, seeks the Democratic presidential nomination.
The Senate report was issued with bipartisan support from committee members, but some Republicans were quick to assert that the report’s criticisms did not go far enough.
In a lengthy statement, committee member Susan Collins (R) of Maine lauded the report’s “analysis of much of what went wrong” in Benghazi. But she said its conclusions did not go far enough in three key areas related to the Obama administration’s response to the attacks.
“I believe that more emphasis should have been placed on the three issues I have discussed” in “additional views” filed with the full Benghazi report,” Senator Collins writes: “the administration’s initial misleading of the American people about the terrorist nature of the attack,… the failure of the administration to hold anyone at the State Department … fully accountable for the security lapses, and … the unfulfilled promises of President Obama that he would bring the terrorist to justice.”
Collins said that the State Department’s undersecretary for management, Patrick Kennedy, in particular should have faced consequences over the Benghazi attacks. In her statement, she noted that Mr. Kennedy “personally approved” the Benghazi mission in 2011, and that he testified to the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee that the threat environment in Benghazi was “flashing red” prior to the attacks.
Kennedy was not criticized by an independent Benghazi Accountability Review Board (ARB) that studied the decisions and policies leading up to the attacks and which issued 29 recommendations for remedying shortcomings and mistakes revealed by the tragedy.
The State Department was quick with its own response to the Senate Intelligence Committee report, issuing a “fact sheet” which it characterized as an “update” of its work to implement the ARB’s recommendations.
In a statement, the State Department acknowledged that implementing the recommendations “will require fundamentally reforming the organization in critical ways,” but added that the work “is already well under way.”
Just last week the State Department added two Al Qaeda-affiliated organizations in eastern Libya to the department’s list of terrorist organizations.
In listing the organizations, Ansar al-Sharia in Benghazi and Ansar al-Sharia in Derna, the department for the first time implicated them in the Benghazi terrorist attacks – even though reports from the ground pointed to Ansar al-Sharia’s involvement within hours of the firebombing of the US mission and annex.