Benghazi Probe Faults ‘Systemic Failures’ At State Department

The Hill

An independent review of the deadly attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi made public Tuesday night faults “systemic failures and leadership and management deficiencies at senior levels” of the State Department.

The report by the Accountability Review Board says the local mission’s reliance on Libyan guards and militia members was “misplaced” and that the Libyan government’s response was “profoundly lacking.” However it “did not find reasonable cause to determine that any individual U.S. government employee breached his or her duty.”

The report also confirms that there was no peaceful protest ahead of the attack that killed Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans, as the Obama administration initially said in the days after the attack.

“The Board concluded that there was no protest prior to the attacks, which were unanticipated in their scale and intensity,” the report says.

In a letter to Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry (D-Mass.), Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said she accepted the report’s 29 recommendations, all but five of which are unclassified. She said her department has already taken additional steps to beef up security at U.S. diplomatic posts around the world, including instituting periodic reviews of the 15 to 20 high-threat posts.

Recommendations include more self-reliance for security in high-risk posts, reorganizing the Bureau of Diplomatic Security and working with experts to evaluate security at U.S. missions.

Clinton was required by law to summon the bipartisan board, which was headed by retired Ambassador Thomas Pickering and Admiral Mike Mullen, the former chairman of the Joint Chiefs, but wasn’t required to make the report public. The board has spent the past couple of months poring over cables and memos and interviewing survivors and witnesses of the attack.

Clinton was scheduled to testify about the report on Thursday but is under doctors’ orders to recuperate at home after suffering a concussion, according to the State Department. Her deputies, Thomas Nides and Williams Burns, will testify before the House and Senate foreign relations panels in her stead, while Mullen and Pickering will hold a closed briefing for lawmakers on classified parts of the report Wednesday.

The report singles out senior leadership in two bureaus — the Bureau of Diplomatic Security and the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs — for “lack of proactive leadership and management ability in their responses to security concerns.” Those deficiencies “resulted in a Special Mission security posture that was inadequate for Benghazi and grossly inadequate to deal with the attack that took place,” the report says.

The report also found fault with Stevens, who was given a long leash because of his professed expertise about Libya and the security situation following Muamar Gadhafi’s overthrow.

“Embassy Tripoli did not demonstrate strong and sustained advocacy with Washington for increased security for Special Mission Benghazi,” the report says. It also confirmed that Stevens decided to travel to Benghazi on the anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks “independently of Washington, per standard practice.”

“The Ambassador did not see a direct threat of an attack of this nature and scale on the U.S. Mission in the overall negative trendline of security incidents from spring to summer 2012,” the report concludes. “His status as the leading U.S. government advocate on Libya policy, and his expertise on Benghazi in particular, caused Washington to give unusual deference to his judgments.”

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