An exterior view of the U.S. consulate, which was attacked
and set on fire by gunmen in Benghazi. Photo by Reuters
Security at the U.S. mission in Benghazi, Libya was
grossly inadequate to deal with a September 11 attack that
killed a U.S. ambassador and three others because of failures
within the State Department, an official inquiry has found.
In a scathing assessment, the review cited "leadership and
management" deficiencies at two department offices, poor
coordination among officials and "real confusion" in
Washington and in the field over who had the responsibility,
and the power, to make decisions that involved policy and
The attack killed Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three
other Americans and set off a political furor as Republicans
used the issue to attack President Barack Obama before the
Nov. 6 election in which he won a second term in office.
The report's harsh assessment seemed likely to tarnish the
four-year tenure of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who
said in a letter accompanying the review that she would adopt
all of its recommendations.
"Systemic failures and leadership and management deficiencies
at senior levels within two bureaus of the State Department
... resulted in a special mission security posture that was
inadequate for Benghazi and grossly inadequate to deal with
the attack that took place," said the unclassified version of
the report by the official "Accountability Review Board."
The board specifically faulted the department's Bureau of
Near Eastern Affairs, the regional office which is
responsible for the Middle East and North Africa, and the
Bureau of Diplomatic Security, its law enforcement and
The five-member board said U.S. intelligence provided no
"specific tactical warning" of the attack and that there was
"little understanding of militias in Benghazi and the threat
they posed to U.S. interests" in the eastern Libyan city,
where the central government has little influence.
The incident has raised questions about the adequacy of
security at U.S. embassies around the globe and where to draw
the line between protecting American diplomats in dangerous
places while giving them enough freedom to do their jobs.
Jon Alterman, head of the Middle East programme at the Center
for Strategic and International Studies, said the assessment
reflected poorly on Clinton and its recommendations would
probably make life harder for diplomats in the field
"This is a mark against Secretary Clinton. While she was not
singled out, the report highlighted the lack of leadership
and organization on security issues, and those fall into her
bailiwick," Alterman said.
"The report, however, relies a little too much on
bureaucratic fixes," he added. "Sprinkling people throughout
the system who are not only empowered to say 'no,' but have
an institutional interest in doing so, will make it harder
for diplomats to get out of tightly guarded facilities."
Did local guards leave the gate open?
The report faulted as "misplaced" the mission's dependence
for security support on the "armed but poorly skilled" Libyan
February 17 Martyrs' Brigade militia members and unarmed
guards hired by State Department contractor Blue Mountain
No Blue Mountain guards were outside the compound immediately
before the attack to provide early warning, which was their
responsibility. The report raised the possibility that Blue
Mountain guards left the "pedestrian gate open after
initially seeing the attackers and fleeing the vicinity. They
had left the gate unlatched before."
The board found little evidence that the February 17 guards
alerted Americans to the attack or swiftly summoned more
militia members to help once it was under way. There had been
questions of reliability in the weeks preceding the attack.
"At the time of Ambassador Stevens' visit, February 17
militia members had stopped accompanying special mission
vehicle movements in protest over salary and working hours,"
the report said.
The board recommended that the State Department create a new,
senior position to oversee security at "high threat" posts,
to strengthen security at such posts beyond what is usually
provided by host governments, and to consult outside experts
on "best practices" for operating in dangerous environments.
The department should also hire more security personnel at
dangerous posts, ensure key policy and security staff serve
there for at least a year and consider making it easier to
punish those who perform poorly in future security incidents.
The political uproar in the United States over the Benghazi
attack has already claimed one victim.
U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice, widely
tipped as a front-runner to replace Clinton when she steps
down as secretary of state early next year, last week
withdrew her name from consideration, saying she wished to
avoid a potentially disruptive Senate confirmation process.
Republican lawmakers had blasted Rice for comments she made
on several television talk shows in the aftermath of the
attack in which she said preliminary information suggested
the assault was the result of protests against an anti-Muslim
video made in California rather than a premeditated strike.
The review, however, concluded that no protest took place
before the attack. Rice has said she was relying on talking
points drawn up by U.S. intelligence officials