Earlier today, following significant delays, the Senate released its bipartisan report on the deadly Benghazi US embassy attack from September 11, 2012, which faulted both the State Department and the intelligence community for not preventing attacks on two outposts in Benghazi, Libya, that killed four Americans, including a U.S. ambassador. For those who are short on time and would rather get the cliff notes on the 85 page report (link here), the following summary from AP should suffice.
- Ambassador Chris Stevens, who was among those killed that night, had twice in the weeks before the attacks declined the U.S. military’s offer of a team of special operations forces that had been available to bolster security and provide other help. The State Department had decided not to request an extension of the team’s presence, about a month before the attacks, because officials thought the job could be done by local or department security.
- The report recommends that only in rare cases should a diplomatic facility continue to operate if it falls short of the State Department’s security standards — and in such cases the facility should have the personnel, weapons and fire safety equipment needed to address the threat. The State Department should be ready to evacuate or close diplomatic missions facing the highest threat, the report says.
- The report recommends that the intelligence community expand its work to analyze social media used by extremists, noting that little of that was done before the attacks and it’s possible there were hints in web postings of trouble ahead.
- Operations in Benghazi continued with little change even though the mission crossed some “tripwires” that should have led to reduction in personnel or the suspension of operations. Some nations closed their diplomatic facilities because of worsening security conditions in the summer of 2012. But others stayed, contrary to reports the U.S. was the last country represented there.
- An unarmed U.S. military drone was not delayed when responding to the attack, and it provided important information during the attacks.
- Based on limited intelligence, analysts inaccurately referred to the presence of a protest at the mission before the attack, and they didn’t corroborate the information. The intelligence community took too long to correct the erroneous reports, causing confusion and leading government officials to make incorrect public statements.
- The U.S. government must not rely on local security in areas where its facilities are under high threat or where the host nation is not capable of providing adequate security. The report said the committee supports the State Department’s initiative to work with the Pentagon to expand the Marine Security Guard Program to increase protection at high-risk facilities beyond just the protection of classified information.
Finally for those curious how the original explanation of the Benghazi attack is discussed, namely that it was in retaliation to an inflamatory video clip, here is what the report has to say:
… the report does not go far enough to address the Administration’s failure to correctly label the incident as a deliberate and organized terrorist attack in the days following the attack. As our “Flashing Red” report found, there was never any doubt among key officials, including officials in the IC and the Department of State, that the attack in Benghazi was an act of terrorism. Yet, high-ranking Administration officials, including the President himself, repeatedly cast doubt on the nature of the attack, at times attributing it to the reaction to an anti-Islamic video and to a spontaneous demonstration that escalated into violence.
Despite the fact that the September J 1, 2012 attacks in Benghazi were recognized as terrorist attacks by the Intelligence Community and personnel at 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 cleat to the American people that the deaths in Benghazi were the result of a terrorist attack. It took eight days before the Administration communicated clearly and unequivocally to the American people and to Congress regarding this fact through testimony by NCTC Director Matthew Olsen before the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee on September 19,2012.
Even after the Administration finally published the complete time line of the changes made to the talking points, it is baffling how a fundamental, unclassified fact that was known to the IC from the beginning was only communicated clearly to the American people by the Administration after the issue had already been sufficiently muddled to result in confusion.
While I support the SSCI report and appreciate its thorough analysis of much of what went wrong, I believe that more emphasis should have been placed on the three issues I have discussed: (1) the Administration’s initial misleading of the American people about the terrorist nature of the attack, (2) the failure of the Administration to hold anyone at the State Department, particularly Under Secretary Kennedy, fully accountable for the security lapses, and (3) the unfulfilled promises of President Obama that he would bring the terrorists to justice.