The Senate Intelligence Committee has released a bipartisan report on the Benghazi attack that finds that the assault could have and should have been prevented. The Obama administration should have stepped up security at the facility, but failed to do so. The committee concluded that the threat environment in Benghazi leading up to the attack should have caused the State Department to make up for the known security shortfalls at the U.S. facility in the city before the attack. The report does not explore or explain why the State Department consistently denied field requests to beef up security.
In a statement on the report, Chairman Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) says: “I hope this report will put to rest many of the conspiracy theories and political accusations about what happened in Benghazi. I strongly believe we should focus on what really matters: honoring the four Americans who were killed, bringing the attackers to justice, ensuring accurate and actionable warnings of future terrorist attacks and making sure that all U.S. facilities personnel overseas have adequate security and protection.”
Vice Chairman Saxby Chambliss (R-GA) adds that the report “provides many needed and deserved answers.” But, “in spite of the deteriorating security situation in Benghazi and ample strategic warnings, the United States Government simply did not do enough to prevent these attacks and ensure the safety of those serving in Benghazi.”
Four Americans including Ambassador Chris Stevens died in the multi-hour assault, which President Obama and other senior administration officials blamed on a YouTube movie for weeks following the attack and leading up to the 2012 election.
News broke Tuesday that despite the Obama administration’s claim to have had a security meeting including top military personnel leading up to September 11, 2012, there was no meeting. Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, testified in classified session before the House that there was only a conference call, followed by no force repositioning, despite knowledge within the administration that the al Qaeda threat had been building in Benghazi for months.
The Intelligence Committee’s key findings include:
- Significant Strategic Warning Provided by the Intelligence Community—In the months before the attacks on September 11, 2012, the IC provided strategic warning through numerous intelligence reports that the security situation in eastern Libya was deteriorating and that U.S. facilities and personnel were at risk in Benghazi.
- State Department Failed to Increase Security Enough to Address the Threat—The State Department should have increased its security posture more significantly in Benghazi based on the deteriorating security situation on the ground and IC threat reporting on the prior attacks against Westerners in Benghazi—including two previous incidents at the Temporary Mission Facility on April 6, and June 6, 2012.
But curiously, the committee found confusion where the military says there was none, regarding the origins and nature of the attack.
- The Intelligence Picture After the Attacks Contributed to the Controversial CIA Talking Points—In intelligence reports after September 11, 2012, intelligence analysts inaccurately referred to the presence of a protest at the U.S. mission facility before the attack based on open source information and limited intelligence, but without sufficient intelligence or eyewitness statements to corroborate that assertion. The IC took too long to correct these erroneous reports, which caused confusion and influenced the public statements of policymakers.
The Intelligence Committee evidently failed to take warnings regarding U.S. facilities in the region prior to 9-11-2012 into account.
The committee’s statement regarding confusion and protest does not line up with classified testimony given by Gen. Carter Ham, then commander of AFRICOM. Ham testified in a closed session that the military knew that the violence in Benghazi was a terrorist attack just 15 minutes after it began. Ham testified that while there was some sidebar discussion among top administration officials about the possibility that a movie had sparked it, it was clear from the outset that Benghazi was a terrorist attack, not a riot gotten out of control. Ham told the House that he, Gen. Dempsey and then Defense Secretary Leon Panetta knew shortly after the attack began that Ambassador Chris Stevens was its target. Ham ordered an unarmed drone positioned over the attack just 17 minutes after it began, providing Washington both reports from the ground and visuals from the air that showed that the assault was a pre-planned, coordinated attack. Ham’s and Dempsey’s testimony demonstrate that the military was not confused in the least about the nature and origins of the attack, and neither was Panetta.
Any “confusion” arose during the drafting of the CIA’s talking points, when two political appointees — the State Department’s Victoria Nuland and deputy national security adviser for strategic communications Ben Rhodes — intervened, and had the intelligence officials drafting the talking points alter them to include mention of a movie and riots. The Senate Intelligence Committee’s report fails to address Nuland’s and Rhodes’ roles in changing the CIA’s talking points. The report also does not examine President Obama’s or then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s whereabouts and actions during that fateful night.
The report does chide the administration for failing to bring anyone responsible for the attack to justice, and makes recommendations for improving security at U.S. outposts around the world. The report also claims that there were no military assets positioned withing striking distance of assisting the besieged Americans in Benghazi, but that simply is not true. There were Special Forces in Tripoli ready to move to Benghazi to assist, but they were given a “hold in place” order from Washington.