Summary of the State Department’s Accountability Review Board findings on the Benghazi consulate attack
Summary of the State Department’s Accountability Review Board’s findings on the Benghazi consulate attack on Sept. 11, 2012:
- The U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya did not have adequate security in place, largely due to “systemic failures and leadership and management deficiencies” at the State Department. The board concluded that the “security posture…was inadequate for Benghazi and grossly inadequate to deal with the attack that took place” on Sept. 11, 2012.
- Intelligence available at the time did not indicate that an attack on the consulate was imminent. “At no time were there any specific credible threats against the mission in Benghazi,” according to the ARB report. The attack was “unanticipated in their scale and intensity.”
- But despite the lack of warning, the ARB faulted the State Department for not “taking a hard look at accumulated, sometimes circumstantial information” of previous attacks against foreign diplomats in Benghazi.
- There was no protest or demonstration outside the Benghazi compound prior to the attack. On the day of the attack, protestors angered by an anti-Islam video breached the U.S. Embassy in Cairo. The American-made film, titled “Innocence of Muslims”, fanned angry demonstrations outside the U.S. embassies in Tunisia, Yemen, Sudan, Pakistan, and Afghanistan that week. Five days after the Benghazi attack, U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice characterized the Benghazi attack as the escalation of a “spontaneous” protest against the anti-Islam video.
- The State Department struggled to obtain the appropriate level of funding even as the department’s role expanded in the post-9/11 world. This budgetary struggle has conditioned State Department officials to “favor restricting the use of resources as a general orientation.” Noting that the State Department’s budget makes up only a small percentage of the total spending on national security, the board called on Congress to “do its part…to provide necessary resources to the State Department to address security risks and meet mission imperatives.”
- The Tripoli embassy’s requests for additional security staff were denied and the ARB “found a pervasive realization among personnel who served in Benghazi that the Special Mission was not a high priority for Washington when it came to security-related requests, especially those related to staffing.”
- The Benghazi consulate was classified as a “temporary” post, which made it bureaucratically difficult to secure the fundings needed to pay for security upgrades. The ARB pointed out that the “temporary” status “made allocations resources for security and personnel more difficult, and left responsibility to meet security standards to the working-level in the field, with very limited resources.”
- The ARB criticized the State Department’s dependence on locally-hired guards, the Libyan February 17th Martyr’s Brigade militia, and the Libyan government’s security forces to secure the Benghazi compound was “misplaced.” The Blue Mountain Libya private guards were unarmed, and the February 17th militia was “armed but poorly skilled.”
The ARB suspected that the compound was breached so quickly because the Blue Mountain guards may have left the pedestrian gate unlatched.
The report also suggested that the February 17th guards failed to alert the Americans of the attack and didn’t summon help right away. It took an hour for the February 17th reinforcement to arrive at the consulate even though the militia’s barracks were about 1 mile away. “The Board found little evidence that February 17 contributed meaningfully to the defense of the Special Mission compound, or to the evacuation to the airport that took place on the morning of September 12,” the report stated.
- The ARB determined that the Libyan government’s response to the Benghazi attack to be “profoundly lacking”. Under international law, the host government is responsible for ensuring the security of all foreign embassies and consulates. But at the time, the newly-formed Libyan government’s presence in Benghazi nearly non-existent and, thus, it couldn’t do much to help the Americans. Libyan government had to ask a “quasi-governmental militia” in Benghazi to help the Americans evacuate from the Annex building to Benghazi Airport.
- The ARB applauded the American security personnel for performing with “courage and an overriding desire to protect and rescue their colleagues, in a near impossible situation.”
The diplomatic security agents re-entered the burning, smoke-filled building many times to try to rescue Sean Smith and Ambassador Chris Stevens. They attempted the rescues while battling intense heat and smoke (without breathing masks) and while dodging gunfire from militants. The American security personnel were forced to leave the main consulate building only after all of them had suffered smoke inhalation and the compound was about to be overrun by attackers.
“Every possible effort was made to protect, rescue, and recover Ambassador Stevens and Sean Smith, and that the bravery of the [diplomatic security] agents present in Benghazi helped prevent a further loss of life, particularly given their assistance in defending the Annex,” according to the report.
- The Benghazi staff were typically stationed there for short periods, and the ARB determined that the “transitory nature of Benghazi’s staffing” increased the likelihood of things falling through the cracks.
“The end result was a lack of institutional knowledge and mission capacity which could not be overcome by talent and hard work alone,” according to the ARB report. “This staffing ‘churn’ had significant detrimental effects on the post’s ability to assess adequately both the political and security environment, as well as to provide the necessary advocacy and follow-through on major, essential security upgrades.”
- The ARB concluded that despite the timely response by the U.S. military, “there simply was not enough time given the speed of the attacks for armed U.S. military assets to have made a difference.”
“The Board found no evidence of any undue delays in decision making or denial of support from Washington or from the military combatant commanders. Quite the contrary: the safe evacuation of all U.S. government personnel from Benghazi twelve hours after the initial attack and subsequently to Ramstein Air Force Base was the result of exceptional U.S. government coordination and military response and helped save the lives of two severely wounded Americans,” according to the report.
- State Department: Accountability Review Board’s report on the Benghazi consulate attack – December 2012 (PDF)
- State Department: Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s letter to Congress on the Accountability Review Board’s report on the Benghazi consulate attack – December 2012 (PDF)
- WhatTheFolly.com: Accountability Review Board blames inadequate security at Benghazi consulate on “systemic failures” and “management deficiencies” at the State Department
- WhatTheFolly.com: Transcript: Deputy Secretary William Burns’s remarks on the ARB’s report on the Benghazi consulate attack
- WhatTheFolly.com: Transcript: Ambassador Tom Pickering’s remarks on the ARB’s report on the Benghazi consulate attack
- WhatTheFolly.com: Transcript: Admiral Mike Mullen’s remarks on the ARB’s report on the Benghazi consulate attack
- WhatTheFolly.com: Transcript of press briefing Q&A on the Accountability Review Board’s findings on the Benghazi consulate attack
- WhatTheFolly.com: Susan Rice won’t pursue Secretary of State post