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: 




  • 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 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 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 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 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. 


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