Report Blames ‘Systemic Failure’ at State Department for Benghazi Attack

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Photo: Win McNamee/2012 Getty Images

In the months following the attack that killed four Americans in Libya, Susan Rice gradually became the focus of criticism over the situation in Benghazi. On Tuesday an independent review of the attacks confirmed what we already know about the woman who was nearly secretary of state: Despite what her talking points said, there was no spontaneous protest. However, the report found that no specific government officials are entirely at fault. Instead, it blames the State Department for “systemic failures and leadership and management deficiencies at senior levels [which] resulted in a Special Mission security posture that was inadequate for Benghazi and grossly inadequate to deal with the attack.”

The accountability review board, which presented a classified report to members of Congress and released an unclassified version, found that numerous factors led to the failure to anticipate and prevent the attack in Benghazi. According to the New York Times, the panel concluded that the State Department relied to heavily on local militias to protect the compound and ignored requests for more security. Though the staffers were "talented and committed," they were also inexperienced, and were often assigned to Libya for 40 days or less, which led to "diminished institutional knowledge, continuity, and mission capacity." There were no specific warnings before the attacks, but the report said officials should have seen that the situation in Libya was becoming more dangerous in the spring and summer. Though President Obama was criticized during the campaign for failing to move quickly enough after the attacks started, the panel found, “There simply was not enough time for armed U.S. military assets to have made a difference."

The report made 29 recommendations to improve security for State Department personnel around the globe. Hillary Clinton said in a letter to Congress that she's accepted all of the recommendations and is already working to correct some of the problems. On Monday the State Department asked Congress for permission to use $1.3 billion tagged for the reconstruction of Iraq to provide more security personnel at dangerous diplomatic posts and make other physical security improvements to the compounds.

While the panel noted that some officials demonstrated poor leadership, it concluded that no government employee "engaged in misconduct or willfully ignored his or her responsibilities," so no one should be disciplined. Being able to pin the whole mess on a few incompetent officials would definitely be easier, but the report shows that the U.S. failed to prevent the attack due to complex problems that even go beyond the State Department. The panel found officials at the department have been struggling to get funding for security, and called for "a more serious and sustained commitment from Congress to support State Department needs, which, in total, constitute a small percentage of the full national budget and that spent for national security." That point probably won't be emphasized when members of Congress are grilling State Department officials in hearings later this week.