State Department Resignations Follow Benghazi Report
WASHINGTON (CNN) — Three State Department officials, including two who oversaw security decisions at the diplomatic outpost in Benghazi, resigned in the wake of a review of security failures there, senior State Department officials told CNN Wednesday.
The independent review of the September 11 attacks on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi released Tuesday cites “systemic failures and leadership and management deficiencies” at the State Department.
The attacks killed four Americans, including Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens.
The failures resulted in a security plan “that was inadequate for Benghazi and grossly inadequate to deal with the attack that took place,” the 39-page unclassified version of the report concludes.
Despite all the criticism, the board found no U.S. government employee had engaged in misconduct or ignored responsibilities, and it did not recommend any individual be disciplined.
Eric Boswell, assistant secretary of diplomatic security, and Charlene Lamb, deputy assistant secretary of state for international programs, submitted their resignations, a senior official said. A third official in the Near East Affairs bureau also resigned, the official said.
Boswell and Lamb oversaw security for the Benghazi mission. Lamb testified before Congress about the security precautions. Documents show Lamb denied repeated requests for additional security in Libya.
Sen. John Kerry, who is considered the top prospect for the secretary of state job being vacated by Hillary Clinton, said the State Department “has taken a huge step forward to address the lessons learned from Benghazi.”
“It’s a dangerous world we’re in and I think that this report is going to significantly advance the security interests of those personnel and of our country,” Kerry told reporters Wednesday.
Veteran diplomat Thomas Pickering and former Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen, both members of the review board, visited Capitol Hill Wednesday to brief members of the House Foreign Affairs and Senate Foreign Relations committees in private.
“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,” said House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers, a Michigan Republican.
A CNN/ORC poll conducted Monday and Tuesday suggests most Americans are dissatisfied with how the Obama administration has handled the aftermath of the attack, but a majority believe that the administration did not attempt to intentionally mislead the American public about that attack.
Only four in 10 Americans believe that the inaccurate statements by administration officials in the days following the Benghazi attack were intended to deliberately mislead the public, while 56% surveyed said they thought those statements reflected what the Obama administration believed at the time had occurred in Libya.
Only 43% said they are satisfied with the way the Obama administration has handled the matter in the past few months; half are dissatisfied.
The review board cited a lack of resources as at least partly to blame for the deaths in Benghazi.
“The solution requires a more serious and sustained commitment from Congress to support State Department needs,” it said.
The board found that Washington tended “to overemphasize the positive impact of physical security upgrades … while generally failing to meet Benghazi’s repeated requests” to beef up personnel.
The board completed its investigation this week and sent a copy Monday to Clinton, who said in letters to the heads of those committees that she accepted every one of its 24 recommendations. They include strengthening security, adding fire-safety precautions and improving intelligence collection in high-threat areas.
The report says “there was no protest prior to the attacks,” which it described as “unanticipated in their scale and intensity.”
It also cites the Bureau of Diplomatic Security staff as “inadequate” in Benghazi on the day of the attacks and in the months and weeks leading up to it, “despite repeated requests from Special Mission Benghazi and Embassy Tripoli for additional staffing.”
The report says there had been a “lack of transparency, responsiveness, and leadership at the senior levels” in Washington, Tripoli and Benghazi.
“Security in Benghazi was not recognized and implemented as a ‘shared responsibility’ by the bureaus in Washington charged with supporting the post, resulting in stove-piped discussions and decisions on policy and security,” it says. “That said, Embassy Tripoli did not demonstrate strong and sustained advocacy with Washington for increased security for Special Mission Benghazi.”
The report says the short-term nature of the mission’s staff, many of whom were inexperienced U.S. personnel, “resulted in diminished institutional knowledge, continuity and mission capacity.”
The mission was also “severely under-resourced with regard to certain needed security equipment,” it says.
It singles out for criticism the dependence on “poorly skilled” members of the Libyan February 17 Martyrs’ Brigade and unarmed local guards who were supposed to provide security. It noted that, at the time of Stevens’ visit, militia members “had stopped accompanying Special Mission vehicle movements in protest over salary and working hours.”
Though it said there had been no specific, credible threats on the day of the attack, the significance of the anniversary of the 9/11 terror attacks in 2001 had led Stevens to decide to hold meetings on the compound on September 11 of this year.
But security systems and the Libyan response “fell short” when the compound was penetrated “by dozens of armed attackers.”
The report offers a detailed description of what happened that night. It said Libyan mission guards were not present, local militia fled their posts and “there simply was not enough time for armed U.S. military assets to have made a difference.”
The board said it could not determine how a gate at the compound was breached, “but the speed with which attackers entered raised the possibility” that the guards had left it open.
Clinton, who is recovering from a stomach virus and concussion, ordered the review in the aftermath of the attack. Such reports are mandated by Congress when Americans working on behalf of the U.S. government are killed overseas.
A notice sent to State Department employees said the implementation team had met Tuesday and would continue to do so regularly to carry out the board’s recommendations.
The politics surrounding the events that led to the report have claimed one political casualty, with Susan Rice, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, last week pulling her name from consideration to succeed Clinton. Some Republican senators had said they would put a hold on her nomination if President Barack Obama had submitted it, based on comments Rice made in the days after the attack.
In place of Clinton, Deputy Secretaries of State William Burns and Thomas Nides will testify before the House and Senate committees Thursday.
CNN’s Adam Levine an Elise Labott contributed to this report.
By Lateef Mungin
(CNN) — They were hiding in a place security officers called a “safe area.” It was anything but.
Outside an angry crowd grew, gunfire rang out and a fire blazed.
Thick smoke blinded the three trapped men. The intruders banged on the fortified safety gate of the bunker-like villa.
A security officer handed his cell phone to Ambassador Chris Stevens. Prepare for the mob to blast open the locks of the safety gate, the officer said.
It was a little before 10 at night on September 11, 2012. And time was running out for Stevens.
Vivid new details of the attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, were released Tuesday night by a federal committee trying to come to grips with the violence that led to the first murder of a U.S. ambassador since 1988 and the deaths of three other Americans.
The report spoke of grossly inadequate security, an issue that Stevens had complained about well before September 11.
The brief phone call
Instead of blasting their way into the villa, the crowd retreated for some reason. But the fire still blazed.
Stevens used the cell phone to try to alert others about the attack.
Struggling to see, choked by smoke, he dialed.
He may have wanted to tell embassy officials in Tripoli that he and the small security detail at that 13-acre compound were in big trouble.
They were outmanned, outgunned. The militants had doused a large area with diesel fuel and started a hideous fire.
He may have wanted to say that he was trapped in a building they called Villa C with a security officer, and Foreign Service Information Management Officer Sean Smith.
They had to flee to the villa after intruders stormed the walled-in consulate compound armed with machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades.
But in that 9:50 p.m. phone call, Stevens could only tell the U.S. deputy chief of the mission in Tripoli that they were under attack.
The call promptly dropped.
Though fierce and sudden, the attack may not have been surprising for some.
U.S. diplomats who worked in Libya, a country struggling to form a government after overthrowing longtime dictator Moammar Gadhafi, had repeatedly asked for more security.
American officials, for the most part, were well-received in Libya, where many locals were grateful for the help the United States provided in overthrowing Gadhafi.
But danger remained.
There were still many Gadhafi loyalists, there was easy access to guns and the new fledgling government was having a difficult time maintaining security.
On June 1, a car bomb exploded outside a hotel in Tripoli where Stevens was staying.
The same month, Stevens had to move with his security team from the hotel because of a “credible’ threat.
On June 6, a roadside bomb exploded near the U.S. compound in Benghazi, hurting no one but blasting a large hole in a wall of the compound.
The threats continued for U.S. officials and diplomats from other countries — but security staffing remained unchanged.
The ambassador is missing
But now, there was no time to fret about woeful security.
Black smoke was filling up the safe area.
Stevens, Smith and the security officer crawled to a bathroom, hoping to open a window.
The security officer placed towels under the bathroom door and flung open the panes.
It made things worse.
The open window pulled more smoke into the bathroom, making breathing impossible.
Despite the explosions outside, they would have to flee the safe area, the officer thought. The smoke had choked out the lights. They were in total darkness.
The officer left the bathroom, crawled through a hallway, banging on the floor and yelling that the ambassador and Smith follow him.
He slipped though another window and collapsed in an enclosed patio area.
And then he noticed it.
Stevens and Smith were not there.
The officer slipped back through the window several times, even though the intruders were still shooting at him.
The smoke and heat was unbearable. He could not find either man.
He used a ladder to climb to the roof of the villa and radioed for help.
He had been in the smoky room for so long he could hardly speak. It took some time for the officers on the other end of the line to understand what he was saying.
He did not have Smith, he said. And the ambassador is missing.
The battle at the Annex
Three other security officers had barricaded themselves in another building when the siege began.
Once the first wave of attackers seemed to retreat, the officers got out of their “defensive” positions and drove an armored car to the villa. They found their colleague on the roof, vomiting, about to pass out.
The three officers crawled through the smoke inside.
They found Smith. They dragged his body out. But they were too late.
A team, from a nearby U.S. facility called the Annex, arrived and helped search for Stevens. They could not find him.
Concerned that the large crowd of militants was about to overtake the entire compound, they decided to flee back to the Annex without Stevens.
Men in the crowd began shooting, the bullets almost piercing the armored vehicle and blowing out two of its tires.
They drove on. At least two vehicles followed them.
They made it to the Annex, preparing for another fight. It was about 11:30 at night.
Just before midnight, bullets began hitting the Annex. This started a gun battle that lasted for an hour.
Hours later, another wave of attacks hit the facility with mortars, killing security officers Tyrone Woods and Glen Doherty.
Hours passed and no one knew where Stevens was.
About 2 a.m., the U.S. Embassy in Tripoli received a phone call.
It was from the cell phone of the security officer who had given his phone to Stevens.
The man on the line spoke Arabic, telling embassy officials that Stevens had been taken to a hospital in Benghazi.
Officials could not determine what hospital Stevens was taken to.
Some wondered if the phone call was a trick from militants who wanted to lure U.S. officers to their death.
A Libyan official was sent to Benghazi Medical Center. He said Stevens was there.
Hospital staff said six civilians brought Stevens to the emergency room about 1:15 a.m.
Even though the ambassador showed no signs of life, doctors worked to revive him for 45 minutes.
It was too late.
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