The Republican chairman of a committee investigating the Benghazi terrorist attacks said Wednesday that Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton needs to explain failures of security at the U.S. Consulate in Libya, and one senator suggested a coverup was taking place.
An independent panel issued a report late Tuesday blaming systematic failures in State Department leadership for “grossly inadequate” security at the consulate in Benghazi, where the U.S. ambassador and three other Americans died in a Sept. 11 attack.
Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., who chairs a House committee that in October held hearings on the attacks, said the report confirms failures pointed out by security professionals in Libya at the time of the attack. He said he is concerned that State Department officials who also testified deliberately tried “to mislead the American people.”
The unclassified version of the independent panel’s report omits details about the perpetrators of the attack and how the State Department decided how much security the consulate in Benghazi would get.
Clinton “will need to personally address the remaining issues,” Issa said.
Four State Department officials resigned Wednesday, spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said. She said they included Eric Boswell, assistant secretary for diplomatic security, as well as two others in the Bureau of Diplomatic Security and one in the Bureau of Near East Affairs. She would not name the others.
Obama administration officials told The Associated Press that in addition to Boswell, the resignations included Charlene Lamb, deputy assistant secretary responsible for embassy security, and Raymond Maxwell, the deputy assistant secretary who oversees Libya, Algeria, Tunisia and Morocco. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to discuss personnel matters.
The review panel was led by retired ambassador Thomas Pickering and a former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Michael Mullen, both of whom testified before the Senate and House foreign affairs committees in closed sessions.
“What happened on Sept. 11 and 12 in Benghazi was a series of attacks in multiple locations by unknown assailants that ebbed and flowed over a period of almost eight hours,” Pickering said Wednesday.
U.S. security personnel defended the mission heroically with what they had, “but what they had was not enough, either for the general threat environment in Benghazi and most certainly against the overwhelming numbers of attackers and the weapons which they faced,” Pickering said. “Frankly, the State Department had not given Benghazi the security, both physical and personnel resources, it needed.”
Senators of both parties expressed frustration at the findings of the Accountability Review Board. Emerging from a closed, 75-minute briefing with leaders of the panel, lawmakers said the harshly critical report identified problems that the State Department was moving to address.
State Department bureaucracy failed U.S. diplomats in Benghazi, said House Intelligence Chairman Mike Rogers, R-Mich.
“The report makes clear the massive failure of the State Department at all levels, including senior leadership, to take action to protect our government employees abroad,” he said.
Rogers said he was dissatisfied with the Obama administration’s efforts to catch the terrorists who committed the attacks.
“We must pursue the terrorists with vigor and demonstrate the strength of American resolve to hunt down those who have done us harm,” he said.
Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., said the board found no “willful misconduct,” which is the standard for judgment, “but it is also clear that there was a failure when it came to the management of security in Benghazi,” he said. “As a consequence, some internal administrative action is being taken in the State Department.”
Clinton was to appear at a hearing but said she had to cancel because of a concussion she incurred when a stomach virus caused her to faint. Clinton said, by letter, that the report offers “a clear-eyed look at serious, systemic challenges that we have already begun to fix.”
Clinton said she created a new position within the diplomatic security bureau to focus on “high-threat posts,” though there will always be risks for diplomats.
“We will never prevent every act of terrorism or achieve perfect security,” she wrote.
Senate Republicans and Democrats said they hoped Clinton would testify on the Hill even though she is planning to step down from her post.
Despite the “systematic” deficiencies, the board determined that no individual officials ignored or violated their duties and recommended no disciplinary action. But it also said poor performance by senior managers should be grounds for disciplinary recommendations in the future.
The report singled out the Bureau of Diplomatic Security and the Bureau of Near East Affairs for criticism, saying there appeared to be a lack of cooperation and confusion over protection at the mission in Benghazi, a city in eastern Libya that was relatively lawless after the revolution that toppled Libyan strongman Moammar Gadhafi.
It did not explain why the Obama administration insisted for days that the attack emerged from spontaneous protests outside the embassy against an anti-Islam video. Clinton blamed the video the following day, as did President Obama in a speech before the United Nations and in subsequent appearances on television talk shows.
Former CIA director David Petraeus testified last month that he and his staff in Libya knew immediately that the attack was an organized terrorist assault by gunmen linked to al-Qaeda and not from a protest. Petraeus said he said as much in a CIA report sent to the White House.
Killed in the assault were Ambassador Christopher Stevens, information specialist Sean Smith and former Navy SEALs Glen Doherty and Tyrone Woods.
The board determined that there had been no immediate, specific tactical warning of a potential attack on the 11th anniversary of 9/11. However, the report said there had been several worrisome incidents in the run-up to the attack that should have set off warning bells. It confirmed that there was no protest outside the consulate as the White House had insisted and that the murders were the work of terrorists.
U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice appeared on five TV talk shows the Sunday after the attacks and used the administration talking points linking it to the film in which she said the Sept. 11 attack was not a terrorist attack. Last week, she withdrew her name from consideration to replace Clinton as secretary of state in President Obama’s second term.
Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., emerging from the Senate briefing on the report, kept up the congressional criticism of Rice.
“Now we all know she had knowledge. She knew what the truth was. It was a coverup,” he said.
While criticizing State Department management in Washington, the report said U.S. personnel on the ground in Benghazi “performed with courage and readiness to risk their lives to protect their colleagues in a near-impossible situation.”
It said the response by diplomatic security agents on the scene and CIA operatives at a nearby compound that later came under attack itself had been “timely and appropriate” and absolved the military from any blame. “There was simply not enough time for armed U.S. military assets to have made a difference,” it said.
The report discounted speculation that officials in Washington had refused appeals for additional help after the attack had begun.
“The Board found no evidence of any undue delays in decision-making or denial of support from Washington or from the military combatant commanders,” it said.
Donna Leinwand Leger reports for USA Today.