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December 19, 2012

Report: Inadequate Security at US Mission in Benghazi

by Pamela Dockins

An independent U.S. panel investigating the September 11 attack in Libya that resulted in the deaths of four Americans has concluded that security at the mission in Benghazi was "grossly inadequate."

The Accountability Review Board said senior-level "systematic failures and management deficiencies" within two State Department bureaus led to a security posture that was inadequate to deal with the terrorist attacks at the facilities in the eastern Libyan city.

The board also said the number of diplomatic security staff members in Benghazi at the time of the attack was "inadequate," in spite of repeated requests from diplomats in Libya for additional staffing.

The four Americans killed Benghazi included Ambassador Christopher Stephens, in what was the first murder of a U.S. ambassador since 1988.

Two senior board members, retired Ambassador Thomas Pickering and former Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman Admiral Mike Mullen, are testifying about the findings on Wednesday. They are going before House and Senate foreign relations committees in a closed session.

State Department officials will testify, publicly, before the committees on Thursday.

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Panel makes recommendations

The panel listed a number of recommendations, including increased security at temporary facilities in high-risk areas.

It also urged the State Department to lengthen the duty assignments for program and security personnel at high-risk posts.

The panel said the "short-term, transitory nature" of staffing at the Benghazi mission had resulted in "diminished institutional knowledge" and a lack of continuity.

Clinton backs report

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton convened the review panel and asked it to conduct the independent investigation.

In a Tuesday statement to Congress, Clinton said she accepted "every one" of the panel's recommendations and was taking steps to ensure that they were "implemented quickly and completely."

"The Accountability Review Board report provides a clear-eyed look at serious, systematic challenges that we have already begun to fix," said Clinton.

The secretary of state said she had already launched a worldwide security review, with special emphasis on high-threat posts.

Clinton also said the State Department had begun hiring and training additional diplomatic security personnel.

Debate over response to attack

Earlier, some U.S. lawmakers expressed concern about what they called inadequate security measures at the Benghazi mission and a lack of U.S. military intervention during the deadly attack.

At a Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs briefing in November, Senator Joe Lieberman said U.S. armed forces should have been able to intervene and save lives.

"The Department of Defense, obviously, did not have personnel or assets close enough to Benghazi to bring them to the scene of the terrorist attack in a timely way so they could protect American personnel there," said Lieberman.

Meanwhile, Middle East Studies professor Stephen Zunes told VOA the panel's findings could result in disciplinary action or resignations.

"It depends on how detailed the criticism is," said Zunes, and if officials believe the Benghazi attack resulted from a broad policy failure or "was more a problem of oversight by specific individuals in specific positions."

Fallout from attack

The Benghazi attack and the initial response from President Barack Obama's administration also became a highly charged issue in the weeks leading up to Mr. Obama's November re-election.

U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice received heated criticism after she initially described the attack as a "spontaneous reaction" to protests near the U.S. embassy in Cairo.

At the time, anti-U.S. protests had erupted in Egypt and other locations in response to an anti-Islamic video that was produced in the United States.

Rice said she was repeating information that had been provided to her by the U.S. intelligence community.

However, ongoing Republican criticism led Rice to withdraw her name from consideration to replace Clinton as Secretary of State.