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Congressional report lambastes security at US Consulate in Benghazi

Sens. Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., and Susan Collins, R-Maine, address the Senate Homeland Security Committee's 31-page report on the attack on the US consulate in Benghazi which criticizes U.S. intelligence sources and the State Department for not acting on a warning signs ahead of the incident.

A report released Monday by the Senate Homeland Security Committee lambasted the handling of security around the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, in September when a deadly attack took the lives of four Americans, including Ambassador Chris Stevens.

In the months leading up to the Sept. 11 attack, there was a "rising crescendo" of evidence from U.S. intelligence sources and State Department personnel that the situation was becoming dangerous and unstable, Sen. Joseph Lieberman, one of the report's authors, said in a press conference on Monday.

"The tragedy is, however, that the reaction to the flashing red indicators was woefully inadequate," said Leiberman.

The 31-page report, "Flashing Red: A Special Report On The Terrorist Attack At Benghazi," paints a picture of a vulnerable outpost in Libya’s second-largest city, where it was clear that the new post-Gadhafi government was unable to provide full protection to diplomatic staff.

Sen. Susan Collins, the ranking Republican member, said the congressional investigation found that "terrorists essentially walked right into the Benghazi compound unimpeded and set it ablaze, due to extremely poor security in a threat environment."

Collins said the State Department failed to take adequate steps to reduce the facility's vulnerability to a terrorist attack of this kind.  

"While the Department and the Intelligence Community lacked specific intelligence about this attack, the State Department should not have waited for — or expected —specific warnings before increasing its security in Benghazi, a city awash with weapons and violent extremists," she said. 

Both of the senators said the U.S. facility should have been closed, given the absence of sufficient security.

Esam Omran al-Fetori / Reuters

The U.S. Consulate in Benghazi is seen in flames, Sept. 11. Armed gunmen attacked the compound, clashing with Libyan security forces before the latter withdrew as they came under heavy fire.

The report noted that as the security situation deteriorated in eastern Libya in 2012, "the Department of State did not provide enough security to address the increased threats and did not adequately support field requests for additional security."

The congressional report follows a separate investigation by the State Department Accountability Review Board (ARB), which blamed State Department officials for "systemic failures and leadership and management deficiencies" that led to "grossly inadequate" protection for the Benghazi facility. In response at the time, Deputy Secretary of State William Burns said the problems highlighted by the ARB were unacceptable, "problems for which — as Secretary (Hillary) Clinton has said — we take responsibility."

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is in a hospital being treated for a blood clot, the result of a concussion suffered earlier in December. Collins said she hopes that after Clinton recovers, she will carefully review the congressional report and see if there are officials that "need to be held accountable."

Collins said that she did not see the tragedy as the fault of the Pentagon, but an indication that the Defense Department has insufficient assets to mount an effective response.

Among the report's recommendations:

  • U.S. intelligence agencies need to "broaden and deepen their focus in Libya, and beyond, on nascent violent Islamist extremist groups in the region that lack strong operational ties to core al Qaeda or its main affiliate groups."
  • If a host nation can’t provide adequate security for a diplomatic facility, "the Department of State must provide additional security measures of its own, urgently attempt to upgrade the host nation security forces, or decide to close a U.S. Diplomatic facility and remove U.S. personnel until appropriate steps can be taken to provide adequate security."
  • The State Department needs to establish a "mandatory process" to determine what security standards are applicable to temporary facilities, such as the Benghazi consulate, to ensure that they are "adequately protected."

"Flashing Red" was the final joint investigation by Collins and Leiberman, who is slated to retire on Jan. 2.

'Inconsistent' statements from the administration
As for the controversy over what the administration knew about the attack — and when — the report said officials in the State Department and the intelligence community were "inconsistent" in stating that the deaths in Benghazi were the result of a terrorist attack.

The candidacy of Ambassador Susan Rice to the post of Secretary of State was scuppered after allegations by Republican lawmakers that she misled the public about the attacks during an appearance on NBC's Meet the Press on Sept. 16.

The administration said Rice, the current U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, was repeating talking points provided by the intelligence community when she initially characterized the Sept. 11 assault as a spur-of-the-moment response to a crude, anti-Muslim film.

In her interview, Rice said that "what happened in Benghazi was in fact initially a spontaneous reaction to what had just transpired hours before in Cairo, almost a copycat of — of the demonstrations against our facility in Cairo, which were prompted, of course, by the video."

Independent panel: 'Systematic failures' within State Department

In a letter to President Obama on Dec. 13 withdrawing her candidacy for the top diplomatic post, Rice said she wanted to avoid a "very prolonged, very politicized, very distracting and very disruptive" confirmation process.

For its part, the congressional report said Director of National Intelligence James Clapper had offered to provide the committee with a detailed timeline regarding the development of the intelligence community's talking points on Benghazi. "At the time of writing this report, despite repeated requests, the committee had yet to receive this timeline," the report notes.

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