“The board concluded that there was no protest prior to the attacks, which were unanticipated in their scale and intensity,” stated the unclassified version of the report that was released publicly.
The Accountability Review Board’s report portrays a total system breakdown in the attacks on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi and a nearby CIA annex, though the Central Intelligence Agency wasn’t mentioned once in the public version of the report. The full, classified version included recommendations related to intelligence matters, Ambassador Tom Pickering, the board chairman, told a news conference.
Intelligence agency reports failed to provide any “immediate, specific tactical warning” of the Sept. 11 attacks, the panel found, adding that “known gaps existed in the intelligence community’s understanding of extremist militias in Libya and the potential threat they posed to U.S. interests.”
The panel also criticized the “misplaced” reliance on the “armed but poorly skilled” U.S.-friendly Libyan militia that was guarding the building along with the locally contracted Blue Mountain Libya security firm. The Libyan government’s response was also “profoundly lacking,” reflecting “both weak capacity and near absence of Libyan central government influence and control in Benghazi,” the report said. The panel did note that the authorities provided a military plane that was used to fly out all remaining U.S. personnel and the bodies of the dead on Sept. 12.
Stevens, the ambassador whom the board praised as “an exceptional practitioner of modern diplomacy” for his dedication to the Middle East and his proficiency in Arabic, also played a role in the security lapses, the report suggested, noting that he hadn’t properly coordinated with the security team for his trip from the embassy in Tripoli to the consulate in Benghazi.
The review board offered 29 recommendations as “lessons learned” from the Sept. 11 attacks – 24 were made public, while the others are believed to be specifically related to classified intelligence matters.
The broader recommendations included an urgent review to determine a balance between acceptable risk and security needs in high-threat areas, a minimum security standard for temporary posts like the one in Benghazi, greater congressional funding to respond to vulnerabilities at diplomatic missions, and changes in staffing rotations to ensure that the personnel in the field have enough time to build up institutional knowledge of the area in which they’re working.
The security agents in Benghazi, for example, rotated in and out of the country in 40 days, which the review panel said was “a major factor” in the consulate’s weak security posture.
“I strongly agree with the recommendation that State Department facilities – especially those in high-risk areas – need adequate security and that increased resources will be necessary,” Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., said in a statement. “I intend to work with my colleagues on the Senate Appropriations Committee to ensure that Congress provides the State Department with the funding it needs to keep Americans working overseas safe.”
Secretary of State Clinton, who had agreed to testify before the committees Thursday, canceled her appearance, citing doctor’s orders as she recovers from a stomach virus and a concussion she sustained from fainting.
Clinton wrote to lawmakers saying she accepted all 29 of the review board’s recommendations on “serious, systemic challenges that we have already begun to fix,” according to the text of the letter posted on the State Department’s website.
The sternly worded Benghazi report comes just as Clinton is finishing out her term as secretary and is a blow to her legacy, which was already in question because of murky policy on the bloody crisis in Syria and an uneven response to the Arab Spring uprisings.