Accountability Review Board blames inadequate security at Benghazi consulate on “systemic failures” and “management deficiencies” at the State Department

Admiral Mike Mullen and Ambassador Tom Pickering. SOURCE: State.gov

The Accountability Review Board issued a scathing report this week blaming the inadequate security measures at the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya on the State Department’s “systemic failures” and “management deficiencies”.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton convened the Accountability Review Board – led by former Ambassador Tom Pickering and Admiral Mike Mullen – to examine the security procedures at the Benghazi consulate and determine whether the attack could have been foreseen with the available intelligence at the time.

(The Federal Bureau of Investigation is conducting the criminal investigation to identify and apprehend the perpetrators of the Benghazi attack.)

Pickering and Mullen testified at a closed hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Wednesday. They later briefed the news media on the unclassified findings from their report.

“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,” said Mullen. “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.”

Mullen stressed that “the [Benghazi] compound did not have all the security features and equipment it needed” in spite of the security upgrades to the consulate’s perimeters prior to the attack.

In particular, the ARB’s report found fault with the low security staffing level at the consulate, the short-term rotation of U.S. security staff that “inhibited…institutional and on-the-ground” knowledge of the security situation in Benghazi, and the State Department’s “misplaced” reliance on the poorly trained private guards and local militia for security support.

The ARB found that the Benghazi diplomatic post was not considered a high priority for security staffing by State Department officials in Washington because they were struggling with tight budgets even as the State Department was stepping up its role to deal with the threat of global violent extremism – the root cause of terrorism. 

“For many years the State Department has been engaged in a struggle to obtain the resources necessary to carry out its work,” the report stated. “This has brought about a deep sense of the importance of husbanding resources to meet the highest priorities, laudable in the extreme in any government department. But it also had the effect of condition a few State Department managers to favor restricting the use of resources as a general orientation.”

The board also faulted senior State Department officials for their lack of proactive leadership and “lack of ownership of Benghazi’s security issues”.

“There appeared to be real confusion over who, ultimately, was responsible and empowered to make decisions based on both policy and security considerations,” the report stated.

Complicating matters was the temporary classification of the Benghazi consulate, which made it more bureaucratically difficult to obtain the necessary fundings for its security needs. But the ARB also pointed out that State Department officials didn’t fully understand and appreciate the activities of the “militias in Benghazi and the threat they posed to U.S. interests.”

“At no time were there any specific, credible threats against the mission in Benghazi,” according to the report. “Known gaps existed 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 to exist.”

In other words, although there was no advance warning or intelligence of the attack, the ARB criticized the department and intelligence community for “overlook[ing] the usefulness of taking a hard look at accumulated, sometimes circumstantial information” from prior attacks against other foreign diplomats in Benghazi.

On the night of Sept. 11, a group of armed men stormed the Benghazi consulate and set the buildings and nearby cars on fire using fuel from the compound’s generators.

The ARB’s report emphasized that there was no protest or demonstration prior to the assault. The board also believed that the Libyan security guards didn’t warn the Americans of the approaching attackers, giving the consulate staff little time to react once the compound was breached.

The “series of attacks” lasted nearly 8 hours, killing 4 Americans: U.S. Ambassador to Libya Chris Stevens, Foreign Service Information Management Officer Sean Smith, and U.S. security personnel and former Navy SEALs Tyrone Woods and Glen Doherty.

Stevens and Smith died from smoke inhalation while trying to escape the burning building; Woods and Doherty were killed by mortars while defending the nearby annex where the staff were awaiting evacuation. The mortar strikes also severely wounded 2 other U.S. personnel.

“The U.S. security personnel in Benghazi were heroic in their efforts to protect their colleagues, including Ambassador Stevens. They did their best that they possibly could with what they had, but what they had was not enough, either for the general threat environment in Benghazi and most certainly against the overwhelming numbers of attackers and the weapons which they faced,” said Pickering. “Frankly, the State Department had not given Benghazi the security, both physical and personnel resources, it needed.”

Finally, the ARB concluded that the military response, though timely, would not have lessened the casualties.

“There simply was not enough time for U.S. military forces to have made a difference,” said Mullen. “While we had a lot of forces in Europe both at sea and on land, it is not reasonable that they could have responded in any kind of timely way.

 

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