WASHINGTON — The leaders of an official inquiry into the fatal attack on a U.S. mission in Benghazi, Libya, did not find Secretary of State Hillary Clinton responsible for security lapses even as they outlined widespread failings within her department.
The unclassified version of the report, released late Tuesday by the State Department, concluded that the mission was completely unprepared to deal with a Sept. 11 attack that killed U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans.
Responsibility for security shortcomings in Benghazi lay farther down the State Department command chain, said Retired Ambassador Thomas Pickering, who lead the inquiry.
“We fixed (responsibility) at the assistant secretary level, which is, in our view, the appropriate place to look for where the decision-making in fact takes place, where — if you like — the rubber hits the road,” Pickering said after closed-door meetings with congressional committees.
The State Department said Wednesday its security chief had resigned from his post and three other officials had been relieved of their duties following the report.
Eric Boswell has resigned effective immediately as assistant secretary of state for diplomatic security, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said in a terse statement. A second official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Boswell had not left the department entirely and remained a career official.
Nuland said that Boswell, and the three other officials, had all been put on administrative leave “pending further action.”
The Associated Press reported that two of the other three officials who faced further action were Charlene Lamb, the deputy assistant secretary responsible for embassy security, and Raymond Maxwell, the deputy assistant secretary of state who oversees the Maghreb nations of Libya, Algeria, Tunisia and Morocco.
The report by the Accountability Review Board probing the attack and comments by its two lead authors suggested that Clinton, who accepted responsibility for the incident, would not be held personally culpable.
“The secretary of state has been very clear about taking responsibility here, it was from my perspective not reasonable in terms of her having a specific level of knowledge,” said retired Admiral Michael Mullen, the former chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff and the other inquiry leader.
Pickering and Mullen spoke to the media after briefing members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and Senate Foreign Relations Committee behind closed doors on classified elements of their report.
Clinton had been expected to appear at an open hearing on Benghazi on Thursday, but is recuperating after suffering a concussion, dehydration and a stomach bug last week and will instead be represented by Clinton’s deputies, William J. Burns and Thomas Nides.
The Tribune Washington Bureau reported that Clinton said in a letter to congressional committees that she has accepted “every one” of the Accountability Review Board’s 29 recommendations, several of which remain classified. To begin remedying the problems, officials are planning to reallocate $1.3 billion that was to be spent in Iraq to add hundreds of Marine guards and diplomatic security personnel, and to bolster security infrastructure in dangerous locations.
Sen. Olympia Snowe said, “The Accountability Review Board process has again proved critical in assessing our government’s security policies for personnel and facilities overseas and hopefully will allow us to make certain we are properly prepared in the face of evolving threats. The board’s findings will also be vital to ensure our heroic men and women serving in diplomatic posts around the world are safe and that the attackers are brought to justice. I thank the members of the panel for their diligence in investigating this horrific attack.”
Sen. Susan Collins said the report “confirms some of the preliminary findings of those of us who have been investigating these attacks for the past three months. The report, for example, makes clear that the security in Benghazi was inexcusably inadequate for such a high-risk region, that key State Department officials were unresponsive to pleas for stronger security, and that the attack was the work of terrorists and not the result of any protest outside the embassy.
“The ARB cited the recurrence of several of the problems identified in the 1999 review of the bombings of our embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. For too long, State Department management has allowed security to be stove-piped rather than conducted as a shared leadership responsibility.
“One of the key questions for the board was what security measures should be in place at remote locations with fragile governments that are unable or unwilling to fulfill their Vienna Convention responsibilities to protect our diplomats. There was an over-reliance on the rule of law when Benghazi was operating under the rule of militias outside the effective control of the Libyan government. The ARB’s findings and recommendations regarding the security posture in high-risk, high-threat locations are some of the most significant lessons from this report.”
The unclassified version of the report cited “leadership and management” deficiencies, poor coordination among officials and “real confusion” in Washington and in the field over who had the authority to make decisions on policy and security concerns.
The scathing report could tarnish Clinton’s four-year tenure as secretary of state, which has seen her consistently rated as the most popular member of President Barack Obama’s Cabinet.
Clinton, who intends to step down in January, said in a letter accompanying the review that she would adopt all of its recommendations, which include stepping up security staffing and requesting more money to fortify U.S. facilities.
The National Defense Authorization Act for 2013, which is expected to go to Congress for final approval this week, includes directing the Pentagon increase the Marine Corps presence at diplomatic facilities by up to 1,000 Marines.
Some Capitol Hill Republicans who had criticized the Obama administration’s handling of the Benghazi attacks said they were impressed by the report.
“It was very thorough,” said Sen. Johnny Isakson. Another Republican, Sen. John Barrasso said: “It was very, very critical of major failures at the State Department at very high levels.” Both spoke after the closed-door briefing.
But Republicans continued to call for Clinton to testify as soon as she is able.
Senator Bob Corker, who will be the top Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee when the new Congress is seated early next year, said Clinton should testify about Benghazi before her replacement is confirmed by the Senate.
“I do think it’s imperative for all concerned that she testify in an open session prior to any changing of the regime,” Corker said.
Republicans have focused much of their firepower on U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice, who appeared on television talk shows after the attack and suggested it was the result of a spontaneous protest rather than a premeditated attack.
The report concluded that there was no such protest.
Rice, widely seen as President Barack Obama’s top pick for the State Department job, withdrew her name from consideration last week.