A Senate Intelligence Committee report on the Benghazi attack concludes that the State Department failed to appropriately upgrade security at the site given the deteriorating security in the region. Republican Senators specifically lay blame on Under Secretary Kennedy who made key decisions limiting security. In addition, the report offers new details on controversies surrounding the attack such as how the false claim of a demonstration came to be accepted by the CIA despite evidence to the contrary.
The report is broken into 14 separate findings, the first two of which highlight the deteriorating security situation in Benghazi and the lack of response by the State Department. The Senate Committee report says the intelligence community produced “hundreds of analytic reports” warning that “militias and terrorists” planned to strike at the US in Libya. The report highlights seven of these reports by name (though one is redacted). For instance, on June 12, 2012 the DIA produced a report titled “Libya: Terrorists Now Targeting U.S. and Western Interests” which said in part “We expect more anti-U.S. terrorist attacks in eastern Libya.”
Ambassador Stevens and others were aware of these reports of escalating violence and attempted to increase security personnel in response. The report notes that in early July Ambassador Stevens cabled State Dept. headquarters to request 13 additional security personnel. The State Dept. never fulfilled or even responded to Ambassador Stevens request.
Less than a month before the attack, an Emergency Action Committee meeting was held to discuss the security situation in Benghazi. At that meeting the Regional Security Officer “expressed concerns with the ability to defend the post in the event of a coordinated attack due to limited manpower, security measures, weapons capabilities, host nation support and the overall size of the compound.” Ambassador Stevens cabled the State Dept. a summary of the EAC meeting the next day.
According to finding #5, the decision by other countries
to abandon Benghazi because of increased militant activity meant that “tripwires”
had been crossed which could have led to the U.S. pulling out as well. The Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs did consider suspending operations in Benghazi but ultimately chose not to do so. However, the concern about whether or not to even stay in the city should have been another clue to the State Dept. that security needed to be given more attention.
Some minor security upgrades were made prior to the attack, such as raising the height of the exterior walls. However, a surveillance camera system sent to the compound was never installed because the State Dept. did not send a technical team to do the work.
Meanwhile, the report notes that the CIA Annex one mile away “consistently upgraded its security posture over the same time period.” After an attack on the UK ambassador’s convoy in June, the CIA initiated a site security review which resulted in 11 significant changes (all of which are redacted in the published report). The CIA site also had 9 security officers on site compared to just 3 at the Mission compound.
The report says that no specific warning of the September 11th attack has been verified, though it does mention that a Transitional National Council security official claims he tried to warn of an impending attack four hours before it happened. That report has not been confirmed and, in any case, the warning was not received until after the attack was over.
Later the report turns to some of the controversies surrounding the attack. Finding #9 concludes that the intelligence community bungled the claim that there had been a “demonstration” preceding the attack and then took days to correct its mistake.
Incredibly, the report finds that the CIA based its claim about a demonstration largely on the word of some of the attackers themselves. The report notes “open source reports and intelligence on which analysts appear to have based their judgments include the public statements by Ansar al-Sharia that the attacks were a ‘spontaneous and popular uprising.'”
Interviews with survivors of the attack were conducted by the FBI on September 15th in Germany. Here the report differentiates between official and unofficial channels. The report states “Although information gathered from interviews with U.S. personnel who were on the ground during the attacks was shared informally between the FBI and CIA, it was not until two days later, on September 20, 2012, that the FBI disseminated its intelligence reports detailing such interviews.” So the FBI knew what had happened by the 15th and the CIA knew as well, albeit unofficially. Yet somehow it took until September 24th for the intelligence community to clearly state there had been no prior demonstration.
The report concludes with separate letters from Democrats and Republicans on the committee. The Democratic letter is mostly focused on the talking points controversy. The Republican letter is much longer and includes a section titled “Complete Absence of Accountability.” Republicans argue that neither the attackers nor the State Department employees responsible for security decisions have been held accountable for their actions by the administration. The letter specifically suggests that Under Secretary Kennedy “should have used better judgment and should be held accountable.” The letter later adds that Kennedy “bears a specific responsibility for these lapses.”
According to the Republican Senators, the State Department response to the draft report “made a concerted effort to downplay the Department’s responsibility for ensuring the physical security of its employees.” State argued that “the same number of people died at the CIA Annex as at the Temporary Mission Facility and therefore, CIA should be equally criticized.” The Republican Senators found this response “remarkable for its boldness” and note that the Mission was overrun within minutes while at the Annex two Americans were killed by a round of very accurate mortar fire from outside the compound.
The report concludes with a letter by Senator Collins which also faults the administration and the intelligence community for giving Americans the mistaken impression that a demonstration led to the attack. Collins writes “Despite the fact that the September 11, 2012 attacks in Benghazi were recognized as terrorist attacks by the Intelligence Community and by personnel in the Department of State from the beginning, Administration officials were inconsistent and at times misleading in their public statements and failed for days to make clear to the American people that the deaths in Benghazi were the result of a terrorist attack.”