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|Jeremy Herb||January 15th 2014|
A new report from the Senate Intelligence Committee says the September 2012 terrorist attack in Benghazi, Libya, could have been prevented.
The bipartisan report released Wednesday concludes that the State Department failed to increase security in Benghazi, despite intelligence reports on the deteriorating security situation and warnings that U.S. facilities were at risk ahead of the Sept. 11, 2012, attack, where U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans were killed.
“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 U.S. Mission,” the panel said in a statement on the report.
The bipartisan rebuke of the State Department could create political problems for Hillary Clinton, who was secretary of State at the time of the attack. Republicans have promised to make Benghazi a campaign issue in 2016 should Clinton run for president, and they singled her out in an appendix to the report.
"Ultimately, however, the final responsibility for security at diplomatic facilities lies with the former Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton," the Republican senators wrote.
"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 the four murdered Americans and their families."
The Democrats on the panel, led by Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), countered in their own appendix they hoped “the evidence presented in this report will end the misinformed and unhelpful talking points controversy once and for all.”
The committee’s 58-page report concludes intelligence reports contributed to the “talking points” that inaccurately referred to protests at the U.S. facility ahead of the attack. That information was presented by then-United Nations Ambassador Susan Rice the weekend after the attack, creating a political storm that helped sink her possible nomination for secretary of State.
The report says individuals involved had ties to al Qaeda affiliates, contradicting a recent New York Times story that said al Qaeda had no role in the attack. At the same time, the report notes the attack was “opportunistic” and was not highly coordinated.
It knocks down the claims that those who first responded to the attack from the CIA annex in Benghazi were told to “stand down” and says the U.S. military was not in a position to respond to the attack in time.
“This reinforces what other investigations have found, which is that there was not security to protect the four Americans who lost their lives,” said White House press secretary Jay Carney.
In compiling the report, the panel interviewed officials from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI), the National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC), the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), the FBI, the State Department and the Pentagon, as well as security personnel on the ground the night of the attack.
The Intelligence panel makes numerous recommendations, including better risk assessment at the State Department and expansion of intelligence capabilities to analyze extremist-affiliated social media.
The committee also expresses concerns the FBI has failed to apprehend those responsible for the attack, though it notes the intelligence committee has identified several individuals responsible.
The report says the FBI investigation was “hampered by inadequate cooperation and a lack of capacity by foreign governments to hold these perpetrators accountable.”
Republicans on the panel wrote in an appendix the administration has not answered all of their questions. “Important questions remain unanswered as a direct result of the Obama Administration's failure to provide the committee with access to necessary documents and witnesses,” the senators said.
The GOP senators also criticized the administration for a “complete absence of accountability” over the Benghazi attack. “In spite of the deteriorating security situation in Benghazi and ample strategic warnings, the United States Government simply did not do enough to prevent these attacks and ensure the safety of those serving in Benghazi,” said Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.), the top Republican on the panel.
Jeremy Herb writes for The Hill, from where this article is adapted.