WASHINGTON — A bipartisan Senate report on the attacks on the diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya, paints a picture of systemic failure of security for U.S. diplomats overseas that led to the deaths of the ambassador to Libya and three other Americans.
The intelligence community didn’t send enough warnings, the State Department didn’t take the warnings it did get seriously enough, and the military was caught flat-footed when called on to rescue those in need, according to a long-delayed Senate Intelligence Committee report released Wednesday.
U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens, information technology specialist Sean Smith and CIA security contractors Tyrone Woods and Glen Doherty died in the attacks that took place Sept. 11-12, 2012.
The report goes so far as to say the attacks could have been prevented if the State Department had accepted security on offer from the military or had closed the Benghazi facility until it could have been better secured.
The report for the first time points specifically to Stevens for twice refusing the U.S. military’s offer to keep a special operations team there that was providing extra security in the weeks before the attacks.
On the 11th anniversary of the 2001 terror attacks, armed militants stormed the diplomatic outpost in Benghazi, setting the building on fire, and later attacked the CIA annex where the Americans had taken shelter.
The Obama administration first described the attacks as a spontaneous mob protest of an anti-Islamic, American-made video, like the one at the U.S. Embassy in Cairo earlier that day. Administration officials corrected their description days after the attacks, but by then the incident had become a hot political issue that has continued to dog the administration.
The report also takes the U.S. intelligence community to task for not seeking out eyewitness reports after the attacks and not quickly correcting erroneous reports to administration officials that the attacks might have been sparked by the video. The intelligence community later blamed the violence on militants.
The report says the subsequent investigation showed individuals from many al-Qaida-linked militant groups took part in the “opportunistic” attacks.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., the chairman of the Senate committee, said she hopes the report will put to rest conspiracy theories about the militant attacks.
Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., the committee’s vice chairman, said the report shows that despite a deteriorating security situation in Benghazi, the U.S. government did not do enough to prevent the attacks or to protect the diplomatic facility. Another Republican committee member, Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, called on the administration to punish those responsible.
“A broken system overseen by senior leadership contributed to the vulnerability of U.S. diplomats … in one of the most dangerous cities in the world,” Collins said in the report. “And yet the secretary of state has not held anyone responsible for the system’s failings.”
The report does not name Hillary Rodham Clinton, who was secretary of state at the time and is a probable 2016 presidential candidate.
White House spokesman Jay Carney said the committee report “largely reaffirms” earlier findings by the Benghazi Accountability Review Board, headed by a former ambassador and former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Deputy spokeswoman Marie Harf noted that the Senate report recommended improvements to security that the State Department has already taken, including upgrading security cameras, improving fire equipment and increasing the presence of Marine security guards.
The Senate report does note that the State Department has also created a new assistant secretary position for high-threat posts but says the department still needs institutional change to help it react more quickly to security threats. It said State should not rely on local security alone in countries where the host government cannot provide adequate protection, and it should avoid using diplomatic facilities it knows are inadequately protected.
The report notes that the State Department in 2012 had ignored its own “tripwires” set to determine when it had become too dangerous to operate in Benghazi, and continued to operate the facility there despite a growing number of U.S. intelligence reports showing the danger was rising.
“The security situation in Benghazi is ‘trending negatively’ and … this daily pattern of violence would be the new normal for the foreseeable future,” the head State Department officer in Benghazi was quoted as saying weeks before the attack. Yet the facility stayed open, and while the nearby CIA annex upgraded its security, the temporary mission did not, the report said.
The report said Stevens acknowledged the need for more security, yet turned down available U.S. military resources. It said the Defense Department had provided a Site Security Team in Tripoli, made up of 16 special operations personnel. But it said the State Department decided not to extend the team’s mission in August 2012, one month before the attack. In the weeks that followed, Africa Command’s Gen. Carter Ham twice asked Stevens to employ the team, and twice Stevens declined, the report said.
Stevens had tried to stand up a local Libyan security force to replace the Americans, but the report said the force was never formed because of bureaucratic delays.
The State Department responded to that finding, saying that the issue was addressed in previous hearings and that the team was based in the Libyan capital of Tripoli, 600 miles from Benghazi, and only spent 2 percent of its time in Benghazi — implying it would have been of little use on the night in question.
The report also faults the U.S. military for failing to anticipate it might be called on to protect U.S. facilities. “No U.S. military resources in position to intervene in short order in Benghazi to help defend” the Americans in Benghazi, it said.
Finally, the senators took the administration to task for failing to bring the attackers to justice more than a year after the attacks. The report said U.S. intelligence has identified several individuals responsible but can’t capture them because of limited intelligence capabilities in the region and limited cooperation by local governments.