Benghazi Attack Was Preventable, Senate Panel Says

U.S. intelligence ultimately blamed the violence on militants who overran the temporary U.S. mission and, hours later, fired mortars at the nearby CIA annex where the Americans had taken shelter.

The report says the subsequent investigation showed individuals from many militant groups took part in the “opportunistic” attacks, including al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb, the Libyan militia group Ansar al-Sharia, and members of the Yemeni-based al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula.

The report does not name Hillary Rodham Clinton, who was secretary of state at the time and now is a potential 2016 presidential candidate.

The State Department said the report largely reaffirms the findings reached a year ago by the Benghazi Accountability Review Board, headed by a former ambassador and former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Deputy spokeswoman Marie Harf noted that the Senate report recommended improvements to security that the State Department has already taken, including upgrading security cameras, improving fire equipment and increasing the presence of Marine security guards.

The Senate report notes that the State Department has also created a new assistant secretary position for high-threat posts, but it says the department still needs institutional change to help it react more quickly to security threats. It says State should not rely on local security alone in countries where the host government cannot provide adequate protection and should avoid using diplomatic facilities it knows are inadequately protected.

The report says that the department in 2012 had ignored its own “tripwires” set to determine when it had become too dangerous to operate in Benghazi, and continued to operate the facility there despite a growing number of U.S. intelligence reports showing the danger was rising.

“The security situation in Benghazi is `trending negatively’ and … this daily pattern of violence would be the new normal for the foreseeable future,” the head State Department officer in Benghazi was quoted as saying weeks before the attack. While the nearby CIA annex upgraded its security, the temporary mission did not, the report said.

It said Stevens acknowledged the need for more security yet also turned down available U.S. military resources. The report said the Defense Department had provided a Site Security Team in Tripoli, made up of 16 special operations personnel. But the State Department decided not to extend the team’s mission in August 2012, one month before the attack. In the weeks that followed, Gen. Carter Ham, then the head of the military’s Africa Command, twice asked Stevens to employ the team, and twice Stevens declined, the report said.

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