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Benghazi attack: Bipartisan Senate report spreads blame

A bipartisan report from the Senate Homeland Security Committee points fingers at the State Department, Pentagon and White House for failing to recognize and respond to security risks at the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya before the Sept. 11 terrorist attack that left Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans dead.

The report, titled "Flashing Red," finds that the Defense and State departments hadn't assessed the availability of U.S. agencies to respond in Benghazi "in the event of a crisis."

"Although DOD attempted to quickly mobilize its resources, it did not have assets or personnel close enough to reach Benghazi in a timely fashion," the report says."

It also criticizes the administration for being "inconsistent in stating publicly (in the days following the assault) that the deaths in Benghazi were the result of a terrorist attack."

The report is the latest fallout from the attack.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has yet to testify before Congress about it due to a series of health problems, and was in a New York hospital Monday for treatment of a blood clot.

Earlier this month, a report on the attack by an independent board led by retired Ambassador Thomas Pickering and former Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen put the spotlight on what it said were failures by two bureaus at the State Department.

The two bureaus cited -- Near Eastern Affairs and Diplomatic Security -- were criticized for a security posture that was "grossly inadequate to deal with the attack," and for failing to coordinate with other agencies to better secure the consulate. The report specifically pointed to "systemic failures and leadership and management deficiencies at senior levels within two bureaus."

Following that report's release, four State Department officials either resigned or were let go, among them Eric Boswell, the head of diplomatic security at the State Department, who quit.

Clinton has largely stayed above the fray of controversy surrounding the attacks that has dogged the administration, even while U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice was sharply criticized by some Republican Senators for remarks she made in the days following the attacks. The criticism forced Rice to withdraw her name from consideration as a replacement for Clinton in the new administration. President Obama wound up nominating Mass. Sen. John Kerry.

The latest report lists ten key findings, which are quoted here:

Finding 1: In the months leading up to the attack on the Temporary Mission Facility in Benghazi, there was a large amount of evidence gathered by the U.S. Intelligence Community (IC) and from open sources that Benghazi was increasingly dangerous and unstable, and that a significant attack against American personnel there was becoming much more likely. While this intelligence was effectively shared within the Intelligence Community (IC) and with key officials at the Department of State, it did not lead to a commensurate increase in security at Benghazi nor to a decision to close the American mission there, either of which would have been more than justified by the intelligence presented.

Finding 2: Notwithstanding the increasingly dangerous environment in eastern Libya in 2011 and 2012, the U.S. government did not have specific intelligence of an imminent attack on the U.S. mission in Benghazi. The lack of such actionable intelligence may reflect a failure in the IC to focus sufficiently on terrorist groups that have weak or no operational ties to core al Qaeda and its main affiliates.

Finding 3: The absence of specific intelligence about an imminent attack should not have prevented the Department of State from taking more effective steps to protect its personnel and facilities in Benghazi.

Finding 4: Prior to the terrorist attacks in Libya on September 11, 2012, it was widely understood that the Libyan government was incapable of performing its duty to protect U.S. diplomatic facilities and personnel, as required by longstanding international agreements, but the Department of State failed to take adequate steps to fill the resulting security gap, or to invest in upgrading the Libyan security forces.

Finding 5: The Benghazi facility's temporary status had a detrimental effect on security decisions, and that fact was clearly known by DS personnel in Benghazi and to their superiors who nevertheless left the American personnel in Benghazi in this very dangerous situation. The Department of State did not take adequate measures to mitigate the facility's significant vulnerabilities in this high-threat environment.

Finding 6: The Department of State did not adequately support security requests from its own security personnel in Benghazi.

Finding 7: Despite the inability of the Libyan government to fulfill its duties to secure the facility, the increasingly dangerous threat assessments, and a particularly vulnerable facility, the Department of State officials did not conclude the facility in Benghazi should be closed or temporarily shut down. That was a grevious mistake.

Finding 8: The Department of Defense and the Department of State had not jointly assessed the availability of U.S. assets to support the Temporary Mission Facility in Benghazi in the event of a crisis and although DOD attempted to quickly mobilize its resources, it did not have assets or personnel close enough to reach Benghazi in a timely fashion.

Finding 9: Although the September 11, 2012 attack in Benghazi was recognized as a terrorist attack by the Intelligence Community and personnel at the Department of State from the beginning, Administration officials were inconsistent in stating publicly that the deaths in Benghazi were the result of a terrorist attack.

Finding 10: As discussed earlier, the talking points about the September 11th attack in Benghazi which were issued by the Intelligence Community on September 14th in response to a request by the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, were the subject of much of the confusion and division in the discussion of the attack. That confusion and division were intensified by the fact that the talking points were issued before the IC had a high degree of confidence about what happened in Benghazi and in the midst of a national political campaign.

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