Report: State Dept knew of Benghazi vulnerabilities, ignored them

The State Department has a long-standing policy of waiving security requirements in dangerous areas, as well as ignoring threat assessments, a new report on the Benghazi terror attack concludes. The sacking of the consulate a year ago could be repeated in any number of hot spots, thanks to a lack of focus on security and safety at Foggy Bottom, and lack of accountability for decisions made in those areas, according to the documents leaked to Al-Jazeera America:

The U.S. Department of State has known for decades that inadequate security at embassies and consulates worldwide could lead to tragedy, but senior officials ignored the warnings and left some of America’s most dangerous diplomatic posts vulnerable to attack, according to an internal government report obtained exclusively by Al Jazeera’s Investigative Unit.

The report by an independent panel of five security and intelligence experts describes how the Sept. 11, 2012, attack on the U.S. Special Mission in Benghazi, Libya, which left Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other Americans dead, exploited the State Department’s failure to address serious security concerns at diplomatic facilities in high-risk areas.

Among the most damning assessments, the panel concluded that the State Department’s failure to identify worsening conditions in Libya and exemptions from security regulations at the U.S. Special Mission contributed to the tragedy in Benghazi. Undersecretary for Management Patrick Kennedy approved using Benghazi as a temporary post despite its significant vulnerabilities, according to an internal State Department document included with the report.

The report’s identification of Kennedy already makes it an improvement over the laughably-named Accountability Review Board.  The ARB decided from the start to focus its attention on lower-level bureaucrats and spare high-ranking political appointees from blame.  Former Ambassador and ARB co-chair Thomas Pickering defended the approach in May, telling CBS’ Bob Schieffer that “[t]he decisions were made and reviewed at the level that we fixed responsibility for failures of performance.” Pickering and the ARB never bothered to talk to the Secretary of State during that period, Hillary Clinton, because “[w]e knew where the responsibility rested.”

This new report from the former director of the Secret Service moves the responsibility up to at least the person in charge of security at diplomatic facilities.  This doesn’t change the story of Benghazi much, but it does show how the systematic disregard for security and threats led Kennedy and Clinton to ignore the danger and push forward with the consulate — even as other Western nations were bugging out of Benghazi.  One reason for the disconnect between the US and its allies is that our allies actually have intel analysts attached to their outposts to make on-the-ground threat assessments:

Yet no one at the State Department connected the intelligence dots to offer concerns about worsening security in Benghazi. According to Sullivan’s panel, this oversight occurred because the Benghazi facility did not have an intelligence analyst on site to determine the “ground truth.”

Benghazi wasn’t unique in this. Sullivan’s panel visited high-risk embassies in Nairobi, Kenya; Juba, South Sudan; Cairo; Beirut; and Sanaa, Yemen. None had an intelligence analyst on staff.

By contrast, the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the United Nations employ experienced intelligence analysts in country to identify security concerns from the ground.

State didn’t even stick to its own standards.  After the 1983 Hezbollah attack, Congress passed a requirement known as the Inman Standard for securing diplomatic facilities.  State treats this as an impossible bar to clear, but rather than rework it, they simply ignore it and don’t have any other baseline standard to employ.  Sullivan’s team recommends changing that situation immediately, as well as use the best practices of other Western nations and putting intel analysts in each of those facilities to properly judge the threat levels and needed countermeasures unique to the locations.

Congress will need to explore this more carefully, especially as we prepare to turn another Arab country on the Mediterranean into a failed state.  Diplomatic security will need even more accountability in the near future.

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