Transcript: Admiral Mike Mullen’s remarks on the ARB’s report on the Benghazi consulate attack

Admiral Mike Mullen on the Accountability Review Board's report on the Benghazi consulate attack. SOURCE: State.gov

Edited by Jenny Jiang

Transcript of press briefing remarks by Admiral Mike Mullen on the Accountability Review Board’s (ARB) report on the Benghazi consulate attack on Dec. 19, 2012: 

Thanks, Mr. Ambassador. I appreciate that. And I do appreciate your leadership throughout this process as well.

Good afternoon. The board found that the attacks in Benghazi were security related, and responsibility for the loss of life, the injuries, and damage to U.S. facilities rests completely and solely with the terrorists who conducted the attacks. That does not mean there are not lessons to be learned. The board found that the security posture at the Special Mission compound was inadequate for the threat environment in Benghazi, and in fact, grossly inadequate to deal with the attack that took place that night.

State Department bureaus that were supporting Benghazi had not taken on security as a shared responsibility, so the support the post needed was often lacking and left to the working level to resolve. The buildings at Special Mission Benghazi did not meet Department standards for office buildings in high-threat areas, and in a sense, fell through the cracks bureaucratically by being categorized as temporary residential facilities. While a number of physical security upgrades were done in 2012, at the time of the attacks the compound did not have all the security features and equipment it needed.

The board also found that the rotational staffing system and the inadequacy of the Diplomatic Security staffing numbers in Benghazi to be a major factor behind the weakness of the security platform. The continual rotation of DS agents inhibited the development of institutional and on-the-ground knowledge, and continuity and security decisions and implementation.

The question is not simply whether an additional number of agents would have made a difference on the night of September 11th, which is very difficult to answer, but whether a sustained and stronger staffing platform in Benghazi over the course of 2012 could have established some deterrence by giving it the continuity and experience on the ground to make it a harder target for terrorists.

Another deficit in the Benghazi security platform was the inherent weakness of the Libyan support element. Absence of a strong central government presence in Benghazi meant the Special Mission had to rely on a militia with uncertain reliability, an unarmed local contract guard force with skill deficits, to secure the compound. Neither Libyan group performed well on the night of the attacks.

Overall, the board found that security systems and procedures were implemented properly by American personnel, but those systems themselves and the Libyan response fell short on the night of the attacks. Personnel performed to the best of their ability and made every effort to protect, rescue, and recover Ambassador Stevens and Sean Smith.

Their decision to depart the Special Mission without Ambassador Stevens came after repeated efforts of many U.S. security agents to find him and Sean Smith in a smoke-filled building still on fire and was precipitated by a second armed attack on the compound from the south.

On the night of the attacks, Benghazi, Tripoli, and Washington communicated and coordinated effectively with each other. They looped in the military right away, and the interagency response was timely and appropriate. But there simply was not enough time for U.S. military forces to have made a difference.

Having said that, it is not reasonable, nor feasible, to tether U.S. forces at the ready to respond to protect every high-risk post in the world.

We found that there was no immediate tactical warning of the September 11th attacks, but there was a knowledge gap in the intelligence community’s understanding of extremist militias in Libya and the potential threat they posed to U.S. interests, although some threats were known. In this context, increased violence and targeting of foreign diplomats and international organizations in Benghazi failed to come into clear relief against a backdrop of ineffective local governance, widespread political violence, and inter-militia fighting, as well as the growth of extremist camps and militias in eastern Libya.

While we did not find that any individual U.S. Government employee engaged in willful misconduct or knowingly ignored his or her responsibilities, we did conclude that certain State Department bureau-level senior officials in critical positions of authority and responsibility in Washington demonstrated a lack of leadership and management ability appropriate for senior ranks in their responses to security concerns posed by the Special Mission.

Now I’ll ask Ambassador Pickering to conclude by giving an overview of some of the board’s more overarching recommendations.

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