What happened in Benghazi has become such a political football that it has seriously stalled the promising Washington career of Susan Rice, but an independent panel that conducted an investigation into the incident that killed four State Department employees found that while systematic failures in leadership and management led to “grossly inadequate” security, there was no single person who failed to do their job in the days leading up to the attack.
The Accountability Review Board criticized State for failing to respond to the warning signs that should have alerted officials that the U.S. Embassy in Libya was vulnerable to attack. Among the key mistakes mentioned, the board said that security depended heavily on local Libyan militias and that the State Department ignored requests for additional security assistance in the period leading up to the attacks.
But the panel, led by retired Ambassador Thomas Pickering and a former Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman, Adm. Mike Mullen, also praised the U.S. personnel in Libya for their swift response to the attack, which they said likely saved the lives of two other seriously injured personnel.
“Systematic failures and leadership and management deficiencies at senior levels within two bureaus of the State Department resulted in a Special Mission security posture that was inadequate for Benghazi and grossly inadequate to deal with the attack that took place,” the panel said.
Despite the deficiencies, the board said 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.
After so many months of wild speculation about what happened, it feels almost anticlimactic that an actual report is out containing something close to actual facts. But now that the report is released, the remaining question is whether Republicans will accept its findings and let the matter go—particularly since it can no longer help them defeat Barack Obama in the election. Or will Congress members like Arizona Sen. John McCain and South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, who have already used the Sept. 11 attack in Benghazi to thwart the possible elevation of UN Ambassador Susan Rice to Secretary of State in Obama’s second term, continue to push the issue, looking for more heads to roll?
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton issued a statement thanking the panel for the report and saying that the department has already started implementing some of the suggested changes:
“The Accountability Review Board report provides a clear-eyed look at serious, systemic challenges that we have already begun to fix. I am grateful for its recommendations for how we can reduce the chances of this kind of tragedy happening again. I accept every one of them.”
While Clinton and the Obama administration were required by law to conduct the internal investigation when a State department official is killed, they weren’t required to release it publicly.
Clinton was scheduled to testify for Congressional hearings looking into the matter tomorrow, but it appears she won’t be able to make it after suffering a concussion when she fainted from dehydration last week. The announcement that she won’t be able to testify prompted former Bush administration diplomat John Bolton to say she was suffering from “diplomatic illness” to avoid testifying, a charge State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland angrily denied.
“Completely untrue,” department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said Tuesday. “We put out such a full statement Saturday of exactly what was going on because people speculate wildly.”
Mullen and Pickering are scheduled to testify behind closed doors today before the House and Senate foreign affairs committees on the parts of the report that were deemed classified.
According to the review board, there was no immediate, specific tactical warning of a potential attack, but there had been several “worrisome incidents” in the days before the attack that should have set off warning bells.