Politics

Senate Report on Benghazi: Plenty of Blame to Go Around Since No One's Being Held Responsible Anyway

The Senate Homeland Security Committee weighs in on the 9/11 attack in Benghazi

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the d is silent

As noted on Reason 24/7 earlier today, the Senate Homeland Security Committee has released a report on failures surrounding the terrorist attack in Benghazi on September 11th.  The committee concluded that although there may not have been specific warnings about the 9/11 attack in Benghazi, there were plenty of warning signs. Intelligence reports available to the committee (but classified, of course) "provide a clear and vivid picture of a rapidly deteriorating threat environment in eastern Libya--one that we believe should have been sufficient to inform policymakers of the growing danger to U.S. facilities and personnel in that part of the country and the urgency of them doing something about it."

The committee veers into questions of funding, pointing out that Congress did not give the President what he wanted for the diplomatic security budget. (Or, as the committee found, "Congress' inability to appropriate funds in a timely manner has also had consequences for the implementation of security upgrades") Funding fell $127.5 million in 2011 (before, the Senate report notes, the Senate "restored" $38 million of that) and $275 million 2012. Nevertheless, the committee admits "the Department of State's base requests for security funding have increased by 38 percent since Fiscal Year (FY) 2007, and base budget appropriations have increased by 27 percent in the same time period." The funding would have been irrelevant anyway, as the committee's very next finding was that "[t]he Department of State did not adequately support security requests from its own security personnel in Benghazi." Further, the committee finds that the Benghazi facility's "temporary status also made it difficult to procure funds for security upgrades" from within the State Department itself. The State Department, in fact, relied on the February 17 Brigades (a local militia) and "unarmed Libyan guards" from a private security contractor in Benghazi, as officials were aware of the Libyan government's inability to meet its treaty obligations of securing diplomatic facilities. The report notes the U.S. requested security support for Ambassador Chris Stevens' September visit to Benghazi; the Libyan government posted a police vehicle "which sped away as the attack began".

The report also addressed the Administration's meandering characterization of events in the Benghazi attack's immediate aftermath, including statements by Susan Rice on the Sunday talk shows. It pointed out that while some officials were immediate in identifying the incident as a terrorist attack, and that the government knew as much almost immediately, the president's comments in the days following, including on the Late Show with David Letterman and to Joy Behar on The View were more equivocal. "When terrorists attack our country, either at home or abroad, Administration officials should speak clearly and consistently about what has happened," the report recommends.

Finally, the committee blamed a weak link between Al-Qaeda's primary affiliates and extremists groups operating in Libya on their having "received insufficient attention from the IC [intelligence community] prior to the attack." Nevertheless, for Joe Lieberman's committee, the most pressing questions about the Benghazi terrorist attack are "how best to protect the brave men and women who serve our country abroad and how to win this war [on Islamist extremism tktk] that will continue for years to come" and not how foreign interventions helps to create situations that are used to call for even more intervention, as this Senate report does.

Interestingly, on multiple occasions the committee references previous congressional inquiries (the 1985 Inman report and the 1998 report following the bombing of embassies in Kenya and Tanzania) and similarities between the committee's recommendations and recommendations already made, as well as between failures in the run up to Benghazi and systemic failures found previously.  

Read the whole Senate report here (pdf)