A Senate intelligence committee report released Wednesday offers the most damning and detailed public account to date of how the State Department, intelligence agencies, the military and even Ambassador to Libya Christopher Stevens ignored deteriorating security at the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi ahead of the Sept. 11-12, 2012, attacks that left four Americans dead, including the ambassador.
Calling the deaths “preventable,” the bipartisan report said that in the three months leading up to the attacks U.S. intelligence agencies offered hundreds of briefings and documents on the increasingly dangerous security situation in Libya, and that the CIA even took steps to beef up security at its so-called annex in the restive eastern Libyan city.
But few improvements “to the security posture” were made at the so-called special mission that served as the de facto U.S. consulate in Benghazi, where Stevens and State Department computer technician Sean Smith died when attackers set fire to the building they were hiding in. CIA security contractors Glen Doherty and Tyrone Woods died in a later attack on the CIA annex.
“In sum, the mission facility had a much weaker security posture than the annex,” the report said, “with a significant disparity in the quality and quantity of equipment and security upgrades.”
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The report also said that the United States had become dependent on armed militias of questionable loyalty in Benghazi because the government that replaced Moammar Gadhafi after a U.S.-led NATO bombing campaign was incapable of providing security.
“There was no alternative,” the report quoted the chief of the CIA base as saying. “You know, there really is no functioning government there. And the militia groups that both we and the State Department depended on were in fact kind of the de facto government there in Benghazi.”
Yet when CIA security officers sought help from that militia as they rushed to assist the besieged consulate, “the 17th February Brigade members refused, saying they preferred to negotiate with the attackers instead,” the report said.
The 42-page report, which was based on unclassified information, briefing notes and interviews with several key officials, dismissed complaints that would-be rescuers were delayed in their response to the initial attack. But it faulted the Pentagon for not having enough military assets in the region to respond in a timely fashion to the attack.
It also confirmed a February 2013 McClatchy report that Stevens twice rejected offers of additional support from Army Gen. Carter Ham, who was then the head of the Pentagon’s Africa Command, in the weeks prior to the attacks. The report does not say why Stevens rejected the offers.
The report also clarified the origin of intelligence community claims that a demonstration sparked by a video that some Muslims felt insulted the Prophet Muhammad had preceded the attack. The CIA drew that information from news accounts, the report said, without having any independent information to back them up. The agency also was influenced by statements from Ansar al Shariah, a militia suspected of involvement in the attacks, the report said. Of 11 pieces of information that the CIA said pointed to a protest over the video, six were media reports.
Public statements by Ansar al Shariah, a local militia group that the State Department last week declared a foreign terrorist organization, that the attacks were a ‘spontaneous and popular uprising,’ ” also influenced intelligence analysts, the report said.
The committee also criticized the intelligence community for not checking social media sites for possible threats to the Benghazi mission until after the attack.
“Although the [intelligence community] relied heavily on open source press reports in the immediate aftermath of the attacks, the IC conducted little analysis of open source extremist-affiliated social media prior to and immediately after the attacks,” the report found.
The committee faulted the intelligence community for not moving more quickly to correct the reports once it realized they were inaccurate and said that the failure “caused confusion and influenced the public statements of policymakers.” It noted that it was not until 12 days after the attacks that the intelligence community reported that there had been no demonstration, even though the CIA and the FBI had viewed surveillance videos and interviewed witnesses shortly after the attacks that confirmed there had been no protest.
“The (intelligence community) must act quickly to correct the written record and address misperceptions in its finished analytical products,” the report recommended. “The (intelligence community) should avoid repeating erroneous information in its intelligence products as analysts continued to do when they wrote there were ‘protests’ at the Temporary Mission Facility, which then made its way into reports disseminated to U.S. policymakers and Congress.”
The report also contradicted a lengthy recreation recently published in the New York Times that found no connection between the attacks and al Qaida. The report found the attack was likely planned hours beforehand and “individuals affiliated with terrorist groups, including AQIM [Al Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb], Ansar al Sharia, AQAP [al Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula], and the Mohammed Jamal Network, participated in the Sept. 11, 2012 attack."
The report also offered insight into why there have been no arrests in the case, saying the U.S.-backed Libyan government has been unwilling to help.
“The Libyan government has not shown the political incentive or will within its own country to seek out, arrest and prosecute individuals believed to be associated with the attacks. Furthermore, the security environment in Benghazi remains extremely dangerous for individuals wishing to work with the U.S. government on its investigation into the attacks,” the report stated.
Libyan officials have repeatedly told McClatchy, as recently as last month, that they do not have a strong enough government or security force to wrest control of Libya’s second largest city from the various insurgent groups there, making arrests difficult. Indeed, since the Benghazi attacks, Ansar al Shariah has tightened its grip on the city, evolving into its de facto government.
According to the CIA, at least 15 people “supporting the investigation or otherwise helpful to the United States have been killed in Benghazi since the attacks, underscoring the lawless and chaotic circumstances in eastern Libya,” the report said.
While the report was approved by both Democratic and Republican members of the committee, it was unlikely to silence the partisan debate that has surrounded the Benghazi attack for the past 16 months.
The committee’s Republican members, in a 16-page addendum to the committee report, laid blame for the lack of preparedness on former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the presumed 2016 Democratic presidential front-runner, saying she and her deputies had not paid enough attention to what was happening in Libya. They demanded that the State Department take disciplinary action against senior level officials who’d been identified earlier as having been involved in not providing more security resources to the Benghazi mission.
“To date, in spite of legitimate questions about the actions of these senior officials raised by our own review, the reviews of other congressional committees, and the Accountability Review Board, not one person has faced disciplinary action of any consequence,” the Republicans said.
The Republicans also took an uncommon swipe at Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, the current chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, describing his tenure as the country’s senior military officer as “marked by what we view as significant deficiencies in command. From Syria to Benghazi, there has been either a profound inability or clear unwillingness to identify and prevent problems before they arise.”