article

12.19.12

Benghazi Resignations Begin

A scathing report finds the State Department failed to protect its diplomats in Libya, as at least two high-ranking officials depart. Eli Lake reports.

A month after the Sept. 11 attacks in Benghazi, Libya, Hillary Clinton said she took personal responsibility. Now, the people she appointed to do an official review of the events of that night, have determined that it’s the officials below Clinton who are to blame for the security failures leading up to the attack.

The report, put together by an independent Accountability Review Board, and posted on the State Department’s website Tuesday night, finds fault with how the U.S. government shared intelligence, allocated security resources and responded to unspecific threats. It also concludes that a handful of mid-level State Department officials should be faulted for those security failures—though the unclassified version didn’t name names.

benghazi-repot-lake-tease-non-exclusive
A burnt building at the U.S. consulate in the eastern Libyan city of Benghazi following an attack late on September 11. (Gianluigi Guercia/Getty)

“We fixed it at the assistant secretary level which in our view is the appropriate place to look,” said Thomas Pickering, a retired senior diplomat who chaired the ARB.

On Wednesday, Eric Boswell, the assistant secretary of state for diplomatic security and Charlene Lamb, Boswell's deputy who manned the operations center on the night of the attack, offered their resignations. A U.S. official who has read the classified report said Lamb and Boswell were named in that version.

The departures are the first that appear to come as a direct result of the Benghazi attack, as pressure has mounted to identify people who in some way were responsible for the lack of security.  

In the unclassified report, the toughest assessment of individuals are reserved for the Libyan militias that were supposed to protect the U.S. diplomatic mission and CIA base in Benghazi on the night of the assault that ended in the deaths Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans.

In contrast, the CIA security contractors and U.S. diplomatic security officers on the ground “did their best with what they had,” the ARB report says. This assessment is supported by the fact that the initial team of Americans who responded to the attack rescued everyone at the compound except for Stevens and a communications specialist named Sean Smith, despite being significantly outnumbered by the crowd of attackers. 

And while the report says some State Department officers in Washington made mistakes in not granting requests for more security personnel Libya in the months leading up to the attack, it doesn’t get too specific. On the unclassified report’s last page, it says, “certain senior State Department officials within two bureaus in critical positions of authority and responsibility in Washington demonstrated a lack of proactive leadership and management ability.” It doesn’t name those officials or their bureaus, though it appears to refer to the bureau of diplomatic security and the near east affairs bureau.

But even in this case, the report did not “find that any individual U.S. Government employee engaged in misconduct or willfully ignored his or her responsibilities, and, therefore did not find reasonable cause to believe that an individual breached his or her duty so as to be the subject of a recommendation for disciplinary action.”

The report does get specific when it mentions Ambassador Stevens, who died from smoke inhalation after attackers burned the building that included the facility's safe room. It says he decided on his own to travel to Benghazi "independently of Washington." Stevens had minimal protection with him and his travel plans to Benghazi were not "shared thoroughly with the Embassy’s country team, who were not fully aware of planned movements off compound." 

On Monday, the State Department sent Congress a request to use money from a $1.3 billion account set aside for Iraq to make diplomatic security enhancements.

The report lists a series of attacks on Western targets in Benghazi in the months leading up to Sept. 11, though it does not fault the intelligence community for failing to predict another one. It said, “intelligence provided no immediate, specific tactical warning of the September 11 attacks.”

In terms of recommendations, the report says Congress should spend more money for diplomatic security and says more Marines should be stationed at overseas posts. On Monday, the State Department sent Congress a request to use money from a $1.3 billion account set aside for reconstruction activities in Iraq to make diplomatic security enhancements.

The request Monday was connected to the Accountability Review Board’s findings, two Senate staffers who read the request told the Daily Beast. These officials and two other U.S. government officials who have read the proposal, say it recommends the State Department be given more flexibility in the budget to spend money for physical security improvements like blast walls and electronic gates, and for hiring and improving the capabilities of the diplomatic security service.

Specifically, the funding request says diplomatic security service should have the “capability to track threats and disseminate information.” Unlike the FBI or even big city police departments, the diplomatic security service doesn’t currently have its own technical division, or a unit dedicated to electronic surveillance and wire-tapping, making the service reliant on the CIA and State Department for intelligence on threats to an embassy. 

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton fell ill this week and canceled what would likely be her last testimony before Congress in public hearings scheduled for Thursday. Clinton is not required by law to make public the details of the ARB’s report, which is launched when U.S. personnel are killed in the line of duty overseas. Nonetheless, she has pledged to be as transparent as possible about them. 

Members of Congress received a classified briefing on the ARB's findings Wednesday. One U.S. government official who read that report said the classified report got into more detail about the CIA's activities at Benghazi in the lead up to the September 11, 2012 attacks. 

Jason Chaffetz, a Republican from Utah who chairs a House committee writing its own report on Benghazi, said “people should be held accountable. If you are going to make a change you have to specifically identify who made wrong decisions and why that happened. This report doesn’t do that.”

Chaffetz also said a lack of money doesn’t appear to have contributed to the security deficit in Benghazi. Deputy assistant secretary for state Lamb told Chaffetz’s committee in October that requests to extend the stay of a diplomatic security team headed by a reservist for the U.S. Army’s Green Berets were not denied because of budgetary concerns.  

According to testimony last month from Michael J. Courts, a Government Accountability Office auditor, funding for diplomatic security was $200 million annually in 1998, the year al Qaeda bombed the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. In 2008, the U.S. government spent $1.8 billion on diplomatic security. The size of the workforce more than doubled to more than 2,000, between 1998 and 2009. Courts said this massive expansion has occurred without the State Department conducting a strategic review of its diplomatic security needs.