Dec. 19 (Bloomberg) -- The State Department had “grossly inadequate” security at a U.S. mission in Libya before a deadly attack by militants and must overhaul procedures to correct “systemic failures,” an independent review panel said.
The panel, appointed by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to investigate the Sept. 11 attack in Benghazi that killed U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans, found the department showed “a lack of proactive leadership and management ability,” though no government employees violated their duties.
The findings in the report released late yesterday raise questions about the State Department’s leadership under Clinton, who is preparing to depart the post as one of the most popular figures in President Barack Obama’s administration. The panel criticized the performance of “senior levels within two bureaus” under Clinton without faulting her by name.
“The report makes clear the massive failure of the State Department at all levels, including senior leadership, to take action to protect our government employees abroad,” Representative Mike Rogers of Michigan, the Republican chairman of the House intelligence committee, said in a statement today.
Less than 24 hours after the report’s release, the department said that an assistant secretary of state had resigned and three other officials had been placed on administrative leave.
The State Department accepted the resignation of Eric Boswell, the assistant secretary of state for diplomatic security, and relieved three other officials of their current duties, said department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland, in a statement that didn’t name the three.
The chairman of the review board, former Ambassador Thomas Pickering, said at a State Department briefing today that responsibility for the security failings went up to the assistant secretary’s level, “where, if you like, the rubber hits the road.”
The panel’s vice chairman, retired Admiral Michael Mullen, said Clinton shouldn’t be held personally responsible because it was “not reasonable in terms of her having a specific level of knowledge” of matters that her staff didn’t bring to her attention.
Saying she accepted “every one” of the review board’s recommendations, Clinton vowed to correct the department’s failures in a letter to Congress that the State Department released to reporters before sending them the critical report to which she was responding.
Clinton said her department has begun working to hire additional diplomatic security for U.S. missions and is working with the Pentagon to dispatch hundreds of additional Marine Corps security guards.
No intelligence provided any warning of the attack, in which armed men breached the compound walls, and there wasn’t enough time for U.S. military forces to have made a difference in responding after the assault began, the panel said in the report.
The review board also found “no evidence of any undue delays in decision making or denial of support from Washington or from the military combatant commanders,” who provided a safe evacuation of U.S. government personnel from Benghazi within 12 hours of the initial attack.
The report repeatedly faults the State Department for producing a “security posture that was inadequate for Benghazi and grossly inadequate to deal with the attack that took place,” according to an unclassified version of the report by the five-member review panel.
Within the Diplomatic Security Bureau and Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs, “there appeared to be very real confusion over who, ultimately, was responsible and empowered to make decisions based on both policy and security considerations,” the report found.
The State Department has asked Congress to transfer $1.37 billion from unused Iraq contingency funds to provide additional security, including $553 million for more Marine guards and $130 million for diplomatic security personnel, according to a department official who asked not to be identified discussing the request to lawmakers.
Senator Richard Durbin of Illinois, the No. 2 Democratic leader in the chamber, said today after a closed-door briefing for senators by leaders of the review panel that he supports additional funding for security. Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee, a Republican member of the Foreign Relations Committee, said any decision on funding should await a “top-to-bottom” evaluation of how existing resources are being used.
The review board was required to assess whether security procedures were adequate and properly implemented, as well as whether adequate intelligence was available.
The Benghazi attack became a flashpoint in this year’s presidential campaign. Republicans said the Obama administration failed to provide adequate diplomatic security before the attack, made inadequate efforts to rescue Americans under siege, and misled the public afterward about what happened.
Questions from Republican lawmakers over the handling of the attack by Obama’s administration helped spur the withdrawal of Susan Rice as a possible successor to Clinton. Rice, the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, was criticized for saying on television talk shows five days after the attack that the incident began as a spontaneous protest that was later “hijacked” by militants.
James Clapper, the U.S. Director of National Intelligence, issued a statement through his spokesman 12 days after Rice’s TV appearances saying the intelligence community had revised its initial assessment and determined the assault was “a deliberate and organized terrorist attack.”
The review board “concluded that no protest took place” at either the Benghazi mission or the CIA annex.
On the night of Sept. 11, as protests over an anti-Islamic video erupted in Cairo and other Arab cities, militants stormed the U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi and set it on fire, leading to the deaths of Stevens and information specialist Sean Smith. The militants later fired mortars at the CIA compound where some people from the diplomatic mission had sought refuge.
As the CIA annex took mortar fire, some rounds landed on the roof, killing Americans Tyrone Woods and Glen Doherty, two former Navy SEALs who were working as security personnel.
Lawmakers and State Department officials have debated for months whether the security was adequate, given threat assessments in the region at the time, and whether requests for additional security at the Benghazi mission had been denied.
The State Department’s dependence on a poorly skilled Libyan militia, the February 17 Martyrs’ Brigade, and unarmed locally contracted guards for security support “was misplaced,” according to the report. The review board found “little evidence” the militia guards alerted Americans to the attack or summoned fellow guards to help, “despite the fact that February 17 members were paid to provide interior security.”
The review board also pinned some responsibility on Stevens, who it said made the decision to travel to Benghazi from the capital of Tripoli. The panel said he “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 said officials in Washington, whom it didn’t name, gave “unusual deference” to Stevens because of “his status as the leading U.S. government advocate on Libya policy.”
The panel also found the Libyan government’s response to the attack to be “profoundly lacking” because of “both weak capacity and near absence of central government influence and control in Benghazi.”
Clinton had been scheduled to testify publicly about the report tomorrow at two open congressional hearings. She canceled her plans after developing a stomach virus, fainting from dehydration and suffering a concussion, according to the State Department. Deputy Secretaries William Burns and Thomas Nides will replace Clinton at those hearings.
Corker said today that “it’s imperative” that Clinton testify in open session about the security failings before she leaves office.
A Bloomberg National Poll found that Clinton, who has been urged by some Democrats to run for president in 2016, is viewed positively by 70 percent of Americans. That compared with Obama’s 55 percent favorable rating in the poll conducted Dec. 7-10.
By law, Clinton was required to appoint a review board within 60 days of any incident at a U.S. embassy or consulate that results in “serious injury, loss of life, or significant destruction of property.”
Four of the board members were appointed by Clinton, and one by Clapper. Clinton received the report Dec. 17.
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