The Homeland Security Committee of the U.S. Senate issued a scathing report of the State Department’s handling of security at the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, prior to the September 2012 attack in which Ambassador Christopher Stevens and companions were murdered by Muslim terrorists. The reported scored the State Department for its failure to improve security at the diplomatic mission in advance of the attack. The State Department made a "grievous mistake" when it kept the U.S. mission in Benghazi open despite inadequate security and alarming threats in the weeks before the deadly attack by militants, the December 31 report said.
Entitled , "Flashing Red: A Special Report On The Terrorist Attack At Benghazi," the senators’ report follows a similarly scathing report by an independent State Department review board that preceded the resignation of a top security official. Three other officials were relieved of their duties at State. The Senate committee report said that State should not have waited for specific warnings before acting on improving security in Benghazi. It also said the post-revolution Libyan government was "incapable of performing its duty to protect U.S. diplomatic facilities and personnel," but the State Department failed to provide sufficient security despite the widely known disorder in the oil-rich country following the demise of dictator Muammar Gadhafy.
Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I) defended the role of ailing Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, saying that there was no indication that she had personally denied a request for extra funding or security for the Benghazi mission. The senator said that decisions were made by "midlevel managers" who have since been held accountable. However, outspoken Republican Senator Susan Collins said it is likely that other officials should also be held accountable, adding that Clinton should make that call since she has the best understanding "of how far up the chain of command the request for additional security went."
The attacks and the death of U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three others have put a spotlight on security at U.S. diplomatic missions worldwide, while it also raises questions as to the adequacy of intelligence on militant Islam in Africa and the Mideast. The Senate report said the lack of specific intelligence of an imminent threat in Benghazi "may reflect a failure" by intelligence agencies (such as the CIA, which had a presence in Benghazi) to examine the activities of militants with or without ties to the al-Qaida terrorist network. "With Osama bin Laden dead and core al Qaeda weakened, a new collection of violent Islamist extremist organizations and cells have emerged in the last two to three years," the report said. This a trend that has grown throughout the so-called "Arab Spring" countries undergoing political transition or military conflict, the report said.
The Senate report recommended that U.S. intelligence agencies should "broaden and deepen their focus in Libya and beyond, on nascent violent Islamist extremist groups in the region that lack strong operational ties to core al Qaeda or its main affiliate groups." The Senate report nor the unclassified State report have identified the specific militant group that attacked the U.S. mission. The Federal Bureau of Investigation is investigating. Even so, President Barack Obama told NBC's "Meet the Press" on December 30 that he has "very good leads" but did provide details.
The incident at the Benghazi consulate led to a political firestorm in advance of the re-election of President Obama. U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice made initial comments during Sunday appearances on television talk-shows following the attack in which she said that the violence stemmed from a spontaneous protest over a YouTube video deemed offensive to Muslims, as based on unclassified talking points provided by the U.S. intelligence network. Her statements were rejected by Republican members of the Senate which was on the verge of considering her nomination to replace Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State. Rice has since removed her name from consideration despite a vocal defense by President Obama.
Senator Lieberman said that intelligence agencies do not exist to formulate unclassified talking points and should decline such requests in the future. The Senate report said that the original talking points included a line saying "we know" that individuals associated with al Qaeda or its affiliates participated in the attacks. However, the final version was changed to say "There are indications that extremists participated," and the reference to al Qaeda and its affiliates was deleted. The report said further that Director of National Intelligence James Clapper offered to provide the Senate committee with a detailed chronology of how the talking points were written and evolved, this has yet to be delivered to Congress due to the weeks spent by the Obama administration "debating internally" over whether or not to provide information considered "deliberative" to Congress.
Spero News editor Martin Barillas is a former US diplomat, who also worked as a democracy advocate and election observer in Latin America. He is also a freelance translator.