The US Senate Intelligence Committee issued a report Wednesday which determined that the September 11, 2012 attack on a Libyan American consulate could have been avoided if not for insufficient security and poor communication between diplomatic staff.
The report admonished the US State Department for its inaction in the months leading up to the attack, which killed four Americans including US Ambassador to Libya J. Christopher Stevens.
It concluded that US intelligence agencies provided multiple warnings about growing security concerns in Benghazi and the risk that extremists presented to Americans in the city. The Central Intelligence Agency ramped up security at its office there, which was known as the Annex, although the State Department failed to do the same.
“The committee found the attacks were preventable, based on extensive intelligence reporting on the terrorist activity in Libya – to include prior threats and attacks against Western targets – and given the known security shortfalls at the US Mission,” the Senate Intelligence committee announced Wednesday in a press release.
The report was assembled using information obtained from oversight hearings, closed interviews, documents, video, and staff briefings.
“In sum, the Mission facility had a much weaker security posture than the Annex, with a significant disparity in the quality and quantity of equipment and security upgrades,” the report found.
The cause of the attack was initially unclear and quickly became the subject of intense partisan debate, with US President Obama and members of administration suggesting the attack was an organic result of a protest in Benghazi. Republicans quickly jumped on that claim, asserting that Democrats were seeking to mislead the American public about a terrorist attack.
The Senate committee sought to end that controversy definitively.
“The collective assessment of the intelligence community remains that the attacks were deliberate and organized, but that their lethality and efficacy did not necessarily indicate extensive planning,” the report said.
“Individuals affiliated with terrorist groups, including AQIM (Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb), Ansar Al-Sharia, AQAP (Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula), and the Mohammad Jamal Network, participated in the September 1, attacks.”
The report, while criticizing the Obama administration for failing to “bring the attackers to justice,” also said no protest preceded the attack.
“It remains unclear if any group or person exercised overall command and control of the attacks,” it explained.
Lawmakers argued that a large military response, which Republicans criticized the administration for not launching, would have been impossible.
“There were no US military resources in position in short order in Benghazi to help defend the temporary mission facility and its annex,” they concluded. “The committee has reviewed the allegations that US personnel, including in the [intelligence community] or [defense department], prevented the mounting of any military relief effort during the attacks, but the committee has not found any of these allegations to be substantiated.”
Different areas of the report seem to contradict each other, with Democratic members of the intelligence committee noting they “sincerely hope that…the evidence in this report will end the misinformed and unhelpful talking points controversy once and for all.”
Ignoring that note, Republican lawmakers admitted lingering skepticism with the Obama administration.
“Today it remains unclear exactly what was discussed during the deputies committee meeting that resulted in the final version of the talking points – or even who was present,” they wrote.
One of the chief targets of Republican criticism was then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Although she was only mentioned once in the report, right-wing members of the intelligence committee did not hold back their complaints.
“The final responsibility for security at diplomatic facilities lies with the former secretary of state Hillary Clinton,” the Republicans wrote on page 76. “At the end of the day, she was responsible for ensuring the safety of all Americans serving in our diplomatic facilities. Her failure to do so clearly made a difference in the lives of four murdered Americans and their families.”
Perhaps most disturbingly, the report goes on to mention how the ongoing violence in Benghazi has impact an FBI investigation into what happened into the attack. It says that at least 15 people “supporting the investigation or otherwise helpful to the United States” have been killed since September 2012.