A bipartisan report issued by the Senate Homeland Security Committee on December 31, 2012 concluded that the State Department “failed tragically” to protect American diplomats prior to and during the September 11, 2012 attacks on the American Mission in Benghazi, Libya. In their report, “Flashing Red: A Special Report On The Terrorist Attack At Benghazi” Committee Chairman Joe Lieberman (I-CT) and Ranking Member Susan Collins (R-ME) found that:
The deaths of Ambassador Stevens and three other Americans at the hands of terrorists is a tragic reminder that the fight our country is engaged in with Islamist extremists and terrorists is not over. U.S. and Western diplomats, and other personnel operating in the Middle East and other countries where these terrorists use violence to further their extremist agenda and thwart democratic reforms are increasingly at risk. . .
We owe it to our public servants abroad to protect them as they work to protect us. The government of the U.S. failed tragically to fulfill that responsibility in Benghazi on September 11, 2012. We hope the findings and recommendations we have made in this Special Report will help ensure that such a failure never happens again
Nowhere in the Senate report, however, was there any mention of the role played by the State Department Rules of Engagement for Libya, the policy established by Secretary of State Clinton which prohibited the stationing of Marines to protect our diplomatic facilities in Libya.
Among the report’s key findings:
(1) Intelligence that Benghazi was increasingly dangerous and unstable was effectively shared with key officials at the Department of State, but it did not lead to a commensurate increase in security at Benghazi nor to a decision to close the American mission there, either of which would have been more than justified by the intelligence presented.
(2) The U.S. government did not have specific intelligence of an imminent attack on the U.S. mission in Benghazi.
(3) The absence of specific intelligence about an imminent attack should not have prevented the Department of State from taking more effective steps to protect its personnel and facilities in Benghazi.
(4) Prior to the terrorist attacks in Libya on September 11, 2012, it was widely understood that the Libyan government was incapable of performing its duty to protect U.S. diplomatic facilities and personnel, but the Department of State failed to take adequate steps to fill the resulting security gap.
(5) The Benghazi facility’s temporary status had a detrimental effect on security decisions. The Department of State did not take adequate measures to mitigate the facility’s significant vulnerabilities in this high-threat environment.
(6) The Department of State did not adequately support security requests from its own security personnel in Benghazi.
(7) Department of State officials made a grevious mistake when they failed to conclude the facility in Benghazi should be closed or temporarily shut down.
(8 ) The Department of Defense and the Department of State had not jointly assessed the availability of U.S. assets to support the Temporary Mission Facility in Benghazi in the event of a crisis.
The Senate report drew heavily on the prior testimony of State Department Regional Security Officer Eric Nordstrom who testified before a hearing of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee on October 10, 2012 that “[t]he ability of the Libyan government to provide surge forces to rescue or evacuate personnel from the Benghazi facility was . . . extremely limited.” The report also relied on new information provided to it by Nordstrom in testimony before the Senate committee’s staff in December that “while the February 17 Brigade did provide some protection and would likely respond to an attack, they clearly needed additional training. Only limited training ever occurred.”
Nordstrom testified earlier in October that the local guards providing security outside the Benghazi facility were unarmed due to the Libyan government’s slowness in issuing gun permits. He did not, however, acknowledge that the State Department Rules of Engagement for Libya may have played a role in the State Department’s failure to arm the local guards.