The State Department has released its independent, internal investigation into the Sept. 11 attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, concluding the attack was the result of the State Department's "systemic failure" in addressing the security needs of the consulate.
The 39-page unclassified report, released Monday, is highly critical of decisions made by senior officials from the Diplomatic Security and Near East Affairs bureaus as demonstrating "a lack of proactive leadership and management ability in their responses to security concerns posed by the Special Mission Benghazi, given the deteriorating threat environment and the lack of reliable host government protection."
The attacked killed Ambassador Chris Stevens, information specialist Sean Smith and former Navy SEALs Glen Doherty and Tyrone Woods — who were contractors working for the CIA. Stevens' slaying was the first of a U.S. ambassador since 1988.
The investigation was conducted by the Accountability Review Board appointed by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in late September. The five members spent the last two months interviewing over 100 officials and pouring over thousands of documents and watching hours of video, before issuing conclusions and recommendations to Clinton about what happened before the attack and how another attack may be prevented.
The board concluded that several decisions in Washington left the security posture at the Benghazi consulate "grossly inadequate to deal with the attack that took place." However the report did not single out any individual officials, finding no "reasonable cause to determine that any individual U.S. government employee breached his or her duty."
The report makes the point that the State Department has been subject to so many budget cuts from Congress over the years that there is a culture of "conditioning a few State Department managers to favor restricting the use of resources as a general orientation," and gives several examples of how Washington failed the staff at the Benghazi consulate, essentially vindicating claims made by regional security officers that senior officials in Washington consistently turned down security requests from the Embassy in Tripoli.
"Overall, the number of Bureau of Diplomatic Security (DS) security staff in Benghazi on the day of the attack and in the months and weeks leading up to it was inadequate, despite repeated requests from Special Mission Benghazi and Embassy Tripoli for additional staffing," said the report. "Board members found a pervasive realization among personnel who served in Benghazi that the Special Mission was not a high priority for Washington when it came to security-related requests, especially those relating to staffing."
Though the state department has repeatedly pointed to the local militia in Benghazi as being an integral part of the security plan at the consulate, in reality the militia proved inadequate and ineffective, according the report's findings.
While the report had harsh criticism for the bureaucrats in Washington, it had nothing but praise for security officials on the ground, whom it said "performed with courage and readiness to risk their lives to protect their colleagues, in a near impossible situation."
The report sheds new light on the death of Stevens as well. U.S. officials still do not know who exactly transported him to a Benghazi hospital after finding him in the consulate after the smoke cleared, calling them "good Samaritans." The investigation found that doctors tried for 45 minutes to revive the ambassador, who was likely dead from smoke inhalation when he arrived at the hospital.
The Accountability Review Board also disputed any claims that the Pentagon did not respond in a timely manner or turned down assistance requests. An unmanned drone was dispatched to Benghazi on the night of the attack, but other military options were too far away to provide immediate help.
"The interagency response was timely and appropriate, but there simply was not enough time for armed U.S. military assets to have made a difference," said the report which went on to praise the military response. "The safe evacuation of all U.S. government personnel from Benghazi twelve hours after the initial attack and subsequently to Ramstein Air Force Base was the result of exceptional U.S. government coordination and military response and helped save the lives of two severely wounded Americans."