State Department Faulted For Inadequate Security In Benghazi Attack

Dec 19, 2012
Originally published on December 19, 2012 5:59 pm

An independent panel has sharply criticized the State Department for inadequate security at the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, on the day of an attack that killed the U.S. ambassador and three other Americans.

In an unclassified summary of the report released Tuesday night, the Accountability Review Board cites several key mistakes. It said that security depended heavily on local Libyan militias and that the State Department ignored requests for additional security assistance in the period leading up to the attacks.

Despite those failures, the board found that no individual U.S. official ignored or violated his or her duties and no cause for any disciplinary action.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton convened the panel to look into security procedures at the consulate and make recommendations on how to prevent another attack. In letters sent Tuesday to the House Foreign Affairs Committee and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Clinton said:

"The Accountability Review Board report provides a clear-eyed look at serious, systemic challenges that we have already begun to fix. I am grateful for its recommendations for how we can reduce the chances of this kind of tragedy happening again. I accept every one of them."

NPR's Michele Kelemen tells our Newscast Unit that Clinton has named a new State Department official to oversee high-threat posts and the U.S. will send hundreds of additional Marine guards overseas.

Officials told The New York Times that in order to act on the recommendations:

"[T]he State Department is asking permission from Congress to transfer $1.3 billion from funds that had been allocated for spending in Iraq. This includes $553 million for additional Marine security guards; $130 million for diplomatic security personnel; and $691 million for improving security at installations abroad."

Ambassador Chris Stevens; Sean Smith, a U.S. Foreign Service officer; and two embassy security personnel, Glen Doherty and Tyrone Woods, were killed Sept. 11, when gunmen set fire to the consulate and attacked a nearby annex.

The incident set off a political firestorm in Washington, with Republicans accusing U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice of making misleading statements and downplaying the role of terrorists in the days following the attack. The criticism ultimately led Rice to remove her name from consideration for secretary of state.

Members of the review board, chaired by former U.N. Ambassador Thomas Pickering, are expected on Capitol Hill on Wednesday. Clinton's deputies are to appear in public hearings Thursday, while Clinton recovers from a concussion.

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.


And I'm Melissa Block.

We're learning more tonight about the attack that killed the U.S. ambassador to Libya and three other Americans in Benghazi on September 11th of this year. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton sent her review board's report to Congress today, and the State Department has just released the unclassified version.

NPR's Michele Kelemen has been reading through it, and she joins me now. Michele, what have you read?

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: Well, it's quite critical of the State Department for what it calls systemic failures. It takes diplomatic security officials based in Washington to task for turning down repeated requests for extra security in Libya. You know, Melissa, there's been a lot of controversy over this attack, particularly how the Obama administration described it to the public, but also the fact that there was little in the way of security despite the fact that Benghazi was increasingly dangerous.

So this report goes through some of those issues that says, for instance, that there was no protest prior to the attack, as initially reported. And it describes the general security picture in Benghazi, how it had been deteriorating for a long time and how the consulate relied on local militias to safeguard it.

BLOCK: Now, Secretary of State Clinton was supposed to present these findings in public hearings. She's been ill. She suffered a concussion, so she's sending her deputies to do that instead. She did send a letter to Congress. What does it say?

KELEMEN: You know, she was diagnosed with this concussion, and her aides say that she was dehydrated from having the stomach virus, so they said the doctors told her to stay home this week. Her deputies are standing in for her at public hearings this week. And she's telling members of Congress that she'll be available to answer questions in the future about it. But her letters didn't really go into those sorts of details. They just talked about how she's responsible for the whole State Department family and that she's taking these security issues very seriously.

BLOCK: Now, included in this report are a number of recommendations for what the State Department can do to avoid attacks like this in the future. What are some of those recommendations?

KELEMEN: You know, there are 29 of them, though only 24 of them were mentioned in the public version of it. Clinton says in her letter that she accepts every single one, and we're told that a team at the State Department has already met to talk about how to implement these. For instance, Clinton says she's created a new position at the State Department to focus on high-risk post. She's also talking about trying to get more Marine guards and more funding for this. But as she's often pointed out and does so again in her letter to the House and Senate Foreign Relations Committee, diplomats can't work in bunkers.

BLOCK: So this report goes to Capitol Hill? Michele, what happens after that?

KELEMEN: So the co-chairs of the review board - former Ambassador Thomas Pickering and former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen - will be on Capitol Hill tomorrow, meeting behind closed doors, to answer questions of the Senate and House Foreign Relations Committee. And then those committees are going to hold public hearings on Thursday. But again, the secretary won't be there.

BLOCK: OK. NPR's Michele Kelemen. Michele, thanks so much.

KELEMEN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.