WASHINGTON — The State Department failed to respond to intelligence warnings about deteriorating security in Benghazi, Libya, before the deadly 2012 attack on the U.S. mission, according to a report by the Senate intelligence panel.
The committee’s 58-page report, released Wednesday, also faults the Central Intelligence Agency and other intelligence officials for not conducting more thorough analysis of social media that it said “could have flagged potential security threats” before the Sept. 11, 2012, attacks on the mission and a secret CIA annex that killed four Americans, including ambassador to Libya Chris Stevens.
The bipartisan report criticizes intelligence officials as well for not alerting the Defense Department’s Africa Command to the existence of the CIA annex, and for being too slow to correct initial claims that the attack stemmed from a protest over an anti-Islamic video. There was no protest at the site that day, although there had been some near diplomatic posts in other countries.
The long-promised report, which comes 16 months after the attack that became a partisan flash point in the 2012 elections, offers little to resolve the political dispute over whether the Obama administration purposely misled the public by producing “talking points” in the aftermath of the attack that attributed it to a protest that spiraled out of control.
The committee’s assessment of the talking points was handled in separate appendices along partisan lines.
Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, a potential Democratic presidential candidate in 2016, was singled out for criticism in an appendix signed by six Republican senators. They said her failure to ensure adequate security “clearly made a difference in the lives of the four murdered Americans and their families.”
While the bipartisan report itself makes no mention of Clinton, it faults the State Department for not responding more aggressively to repeated intelligence warnings about security threats in Benghazi in the months leading up to the attack.
“The committee believes the State Department should have recognized the need to increase security to a level commensurate with the threat, or suspend operations in Benghazi,” the report said. “However, operations continued with minimal improvements in security and personnel protections.”
The report doesn’t offer an explanation for why the State Department failed to do more.
“In spite of the deteriorating security situation in Benghazi and ample strategic warnings, the United States government simply did not do enough to prevent these attacks and ensure the safety of those serving in Benghazi,” Sen. Saxby Chambliss of Georgia, the committee’s top Republican, said in a statement.
The report supports statements by Pentagon leaders that there were no U.S. military resources close enough to Benghazi to help defend the compound and the CIA annex. It also debunks allegations that U.S. military or intelligence personnel had prevented a military relief effort.
“I hope this report will put to rest many of the conspiracy theories and political accusations about what happened in Benghazi,” Committee Chairman Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., said in a statement.
The report also faults the Libyan militia members who were responsible for defending the U.S. mission. It said the mission had been “vandalized and attacked” in the months leading up to the Sept. 11 assault “by some of the same guards who were there to protect it.”
While the committee members agreed on 14 findings and 18 related recommendations, the report didn’t end the partisan discord over how the Obama administration handled the Benghazi attack. In 16 pages of additional views, six committee Republicans said “important questions remain unanswered” due to a lack of administration cooperation.
“We believe the role of the White House must be fully explored,” they wrote. The Republicans said there were unresolved questions about the administration’s “talking points,” as well as about why the military was unable to respond once the attack was under way.
“From the beginning, the administration’s handling of the Benghazi attacks has been a source of confusion to Congress, the American people, other nations, and — most significantly — the families of those killed in Benghazi,” according to the committee’s minority members. “From the refusal to clearly explain the decisions by, and interactions of, the president, the secretary of defense, and the secretary of state on the night of the attacks to the talking points fiasco, the administration’s response has been notable for its deficiencies.”
In addition to Clinton’s “failure,” the Republicans criticized Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. “From Syria to Benghazi, there has been either a profound inability or clear unwillingness to identify and prevent problems before they arise” they said. “Given the known operating environment in Benghazi, much less North Africa, a strong military leader would have ensured there was a viable plan in place to rescue Americans should the need arise.”
The Republicans are Chambliss of Georgia, Richard Burr of North Carolina, James Risch of Idaho, Dan Coats of Indiana, Marco Rubio of Florida, and Tom Coburn of Oklahoma.
The Republicans said the State Department’s “inordinate effort to minimize management failures contrasts sharply” with its public commitment to accountability. A State Department accountability review board identified management failures by several mid-level officials, while the Republicans cite Patrick Kennedy, the under secretary of state for management, and ultimately Clinton. There is a “perception that senior State Department officials are exempt from accountability,” Maine Republican Susan Collins said in her separate four-page comments.
The committee’s eight Democrats said the partisan controversy over the administration’s talking points “consumed a regrettable and disproportionate amount of time and energy” during the committee’s work.
While the intelligence community was wrong in its initial report of a protest outside the Benghazi compound, “there were no efforts by the White House or any other Executive Branch entities to ‘cover-up’ facts or make alterations for political purposes,” they wrote.
“I agree with my colleagues that the State Department did not properly prepare or equip the facility for the possibility of attacks like the ones that occurred,” Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, in a press release Wednesday.
King also said, “I have concluded after numerous hearings, briefings, and analysis of the documents that there was no political manipulation of the facts, and I support the report’s bipartisan recommendation that ‘the Intelligence Community should simply tell Congress which facts are unclassified and let Members of Congress provide additional context for the public.’”
The State Department Wednesday said it’s implementing all 24 unclassified recommendations for improved security recommended by the Accountability Review Board, an independent panel appointed by Clinton after the attacks. State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf Wednesday said that 10 of 12 unclassified recommendations had already been made by the board or a separate best practices group and are being implemented.