Independent report: “systemic failures and leadership and management deficiencies” at State led to Benghazi deaths

posted at 8:01 am on December 19, 2012 by Ed Morrissey

Congress now has the Accountability Review Board report on the Benghazi terrorist attack that killed four Americans, including the first US Ambassador murdered in 33 years, and it’s easy to see why the State Department contemplated keeping it under wraps.  The ARB rips the State Department from the top down all the way to the late Ambassador Chris Stevens — and unequivocally states that there never was a protest in front of the consulate, as the Obama Administration insisted for more than a week afterward:

1. The attacks were security related, involving arson, small arms and machine gun fire, and the use of RPGs, grenades, and mortars against U.S. personnel at two separate facilities – the SMC and the Annex – and en route between them.  Responsibility for the tragic loss of life, injuries, and damage to U.S. facilities and property rests solely and completely with the terrorists who perpetrated the attacks.  The Board concluded that there was no protest prior to the attacks, which were unanticipated in their scale and intensity.

2. Systemic failures and leadership and management deficiencies at senior levels within two bureaus of the State Department (the “Department”) resulted in a Special Mission security posture that was inadequate for Benghazi and grossly  inadequate to deal with the attack that took place.

Security in Benghazi was not recognized and implemented as a “shared responsibility” by the bureaus in Washington charged with supporting the post, resulting in stove-piped discussions and decisions on policy and security.  That said, Embassy Tripoli did not demonstrate strong and sustained advocacy with Washington for increased security for Special Mission Benghazi.

The short-term, transitory nature of Special Mission Benghazi’s staffing, with talented and committed, but relatively inexperienced, American personnel often on temporary assignments of 40 days or less, resulted in diminished institutional knowledge, continuity, and mission capacity.

The ARB also blasts State for its reliance on the February 17 militia for security in general, finding them “poorly skilled” and “inadequate.”  But there’s more to the story than that, emphasis mine:

Although the February 17 militia had proven effective in responding to improvised explosive device (IED) attacks on the Special Mission in April and  June 2012, there were some troubling indicators of its reliability in the months and weeks preceding the September attacks.  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.

Essentially, then, embassy security was on a low-level strike at the time.  And this was the situation at this outpost in an area known to be teeming with Islamist terrorists, including al-Qaeda affiliates, on the anniversary of 9/11.

With the report in hand, Congress would have been prepared for Hillary Clinton’s testimony, originally scheduled for tomorrow before the Secretary of State fainted and ended up with a concussion.  This report’s conclusions about the “systemic failures and leadership and management deficiencies” won’t be a headache she can shrug off as easily as a concussion, however.  The Hill’s Julian Pecquet wonders what happens to Clinton after the publication of this indictment of the organization she ran for nearly four years prior to the attack:

The Benghazi report released Tuesday night bemoans “systemic failures and leadership and management deficiencies” in Hillary Clinton’s State Department that could come back to haunt her should she run for president in 2016.

Clinton remains one of the nation’s most popular politicians and has worked tirelessly to improve America’s image abroad following President George W. Bush’s tenure. The independent review of the Sept. 11 attack, however, tarnishes that legacy by faulting the department for failing to put in place a coordinated approach for handling security, even if it does not single anyone out for disciplinary action.

The report does fault Congress for forcing State to “struggle to obtain the resources necessary to carry out its work, with varying degrees of success,” which gives Hillary a way to fight back in Congressional hearings — but that’s a big trap.  State spent lots of money on other outposts with far less risk than the one in eastern Libya, and there isn’t any indication that State warned Congress about the deteriorating security situation in Benghazi.  To have done so would have allowed Congress to question Barack Obama’s war on Moammar Qaddafu that was fought without Congressional approval.

Hillary Clinton herself said that the buck stopped with her on Benghazi.  The organizational failures outlined in this report belong to the one who sat at the top of that organization since January 2009, long before the US turned eastern Libya into a free zone for Islamist terror networks, and at least indirectly to the President who insisted on conducting the war that created that environment.  In any sane political environment, the leadership failure at State would preclude any effort to seek higher office out of sheer contrition after it resulted in four dead Americans.


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