Benghazi report: ‘grossly inadequate’ security but also ‘remarkable heroism’

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton delivers a speech at Dublin City University in Ireland on December 6, 2012.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton delivers a speech at Dublin City University in Ireland on December 6, 2012.
Kevin Lamarque/Reuters

An independent Accountability Review Board has released an unclassified version of its report on the September attacks on the U.S. mission in Benghazi which killed four Americans including the U.S. Ambassador. The co-chairs of the Board are former Joint Chiefs Chairman Mike Mullen and former Ambassador Tom Pickering.

The ARB report, released late Tuesday, faults the State Department for “systemic failures and leadership and management deficiencies at senior levels [which] resulted in a Special Mission security posture that was inadequate for Benghazi and grossly inadequate to deal with the attack.” But it concluded that no government employee “engaged in misconduct or willfully ignored his or her responsibilities, and, therefore did not find reasonable cause [to recommend] disciplinary action.”

The Board was critical of the decision to rely on a local militia for security at the diplomatic post, calling the reliance on them “misplaced.”

Ambassador Chris Stevens, the report says, did not leave the diplomatic compound the day of the attack and there was no intelligence warning of a threat.

The report confirmed that there was no protest outside the compound before the attacks as initial intelligence had suggested. The ARB members concluded the attacks were “unanticipated in their scale and intensity” and that the responsibility for the loss of life rests solely with the terrorists who carried out the attacks.

The report noted that “the Benghazi attack represented the first murder of a U.S. ambassador since 1988.”

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (who has been working from home while recovering from a stomach virus and concussion) sent a letter to the House Foreign Affairs Committee and Senate Foreign Relations Committee along with the classified version of the ARB report on Tuesday.  She opened her letter:

The State Department family includes nearly 70,000 men and women serving here in Washington and at more than 275 posts around the world. I am responsible for every one of them, and I am enormously proud to be a part of their team. Chris Stevens, Sean Smith, Tyrone Woods, and Glen Doherty–four brave Americans who dedicated themselves to serving and protecting our country–were killed during the terrorist attacks on our compounds in Benghazi, Libya, on the night of September 11, 2012. When some of our own lose their lives in service to our country, we must determine what went wrong, and we must learn from it.

The panel also absolves the Pentagon of any blame, saying there “simply was not enough time given the speed of the attacks for armed U.S. military assets to have made a difference.”

The report sets out a detailed timeline of the attack, including the fullest information yet released about Ambassador Stevens’ condition and whereabouts after he was separated from his security officer during the attacks. After an extensive review, the Board determined to the best of their knowledge that “an unidentified, unresponsive male foreigner–subsequently identified as Ambassador Stevens–was brought to the emergency room by six civilians.” The Board called the civilians “good Samaritans.”

 With the clearing of smoke Ambassador Stevens’ rescuers found him within a room in the safe area of Villa C, did not know his identity, pulled him out through an egress window and sought medical attention for him. Although the Ambassador did not show signs of life upon arrival at the Benghazi Medical Center, doctors attempted to resuscitate him for some 45 minutes before declaring him deceased, by apparent smoke inhalation.

The report acknowledges “remarkable heroism” by the Americans in Benghazi that night: “U.S. personnel on the ground..performed with courage and readiness to risk their lives to protect their colleagues, in a near-impossible situation. The Board members believe every possible effort was made to rescue and recover Ambassador Stevens and Sean Smith.”

Secretary Clinton’s letter concludes by saying,

In the end, we will never prevent every act of terrorism or achieve perfect security. Our diplomats cannot work in bunkers and do their jobs. When America is absent, especially from the dangerous places, there are consequences. Extremism takes root, our interests suffer, and our security at home is threatened. We must accept a level of risk to protect this country we love and to advance our interests and values around the world.

…The United States refuses to be intimidated. We will not retreat. …We will keep leading and engaging, including in those hard places where America’s interests and values are at stake.

Since I was sworn in as Secretary of State, I have had the privilege of leading some of the finest men and women I have ever known. Every one of them is my responsibility, and I will do everything in my power to keep them safe.

Benghazi report: 'grossly inadequate' security but also 'remarkable heroism'