Thursday, January 3, 2013

Senate Benghazi report

January 3, 2013

Senate Benghazi report

A Senate investigation into what went wrong in Benghazi found “plenty of blame to go around,” according to a CQ story below (highlights added).

Which begs the question: Why?

Is this a one-time failure or an illustration of a systemic problem within the Obama administration regarding Islamist militancy? Are these fixable organizational or logistical lapses? Or are decisions with respect to intelligence gathering and analysis, as well as anticipating potential risks, being compromised due to the administration’s refusal to link jihadist ideology to Islamic terrorism?


Senate Benghazi Report Finds Plenty of Blame to Go Around

By Emily Cadei, CQ Roll Call

Senate investigators released a new report late Sunday on the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, that faults not just the State Department, but also the White House, the Pentagon and the intelligence community for their failure to anticipate and adequately respond to the September assault.

The bipartisan investigation, initiated by Senate Homeland and Governmental Affairs Chairman Joseph I. Lieberman, I-Conn., and ranking Republican Susan Collins of Maine raps the White House for its “inconsistent” public statements in the wake of the attack,
which the committee concluded “contributed to the confusion in the public discourse ... about exactly what happened.” The investigation did not, however, find any evidence of a cover-up by the Obama administration, as some Republicans have claimed.

Coming in the midst of the presidential campaign, the assault by a heavily armed Islamist militia, and the resulting death of U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other Americans, became a political football and a central rationale for Republican senators in successfully blocking Obama’s presumed first choice for his next secretary of State, United Nations ambassador Susan E. Rice.

The report finds that much of the responsibility for the confusion surrounding the description of the attack lies with the intelligence community. The report documents that CIA officers in Benghazi the night of the attack reported as early as Sept. 15 that there was no protest in advance of the assault on the complex, as administration officials erroneously claimed early on.

“This information was apparently not shared broadly, and to the extent that it was shared, it apparently did not outweigh the evidence described above that there was a protest,” the report says. Investigators also found that it took the FBI more than a week to pass along information from face-to-face interviews it conducted with American personnel who had been at the compound in Benghazi the night of the attack.

Among its recommendations, the committee investigators suggested that the intelligence community stop drafting talking points for government officials about such events, as it did on Benghazi. Rice was criticized for citing those talking points, which claimed that the attack started as a spontaneous protest.

The committee also complains in its report that while Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper Jr. offered to provide a detailed timeline of how those talking points developed within the intelligence community, the administration has still not delivered that timeline, “despite repeated requests.”

Citing a senior intelligence official, the report claims “the timeline has not been delivered as promised because the Administration has spent weeks debating internally whether or not it should turn over information considered ‘deliberative’ to the Congress.”

The report concludes: “While the Intelligence Community’s primary mission is to inform the appropriate officials of the executive and legislative branches of our government about events that affect our security, it is not the responsibility of the IC to draft talking points for public consumption — especially in the heat of a political campaign.”

The intelligence community also comes in for criticism for its failure to adequately monitor Islamist militias in Libya such as Ansar al Sharia — which is suspected of masterminding the consulate attack — because they were not perceived to be a direct threat.

“Intelligence agencies must broaden and deepen their focus in Libya, and beyond, on nascent violent Islamist extremist groups in the region that lack strong operational ties to core al Qaeda or its main affiliate groups,” committee investigators recommended, as these types of groups are also a threat to American interests.

Like the State Department’s own independent report released earlier this month, the Senate report is deeply critical of Foggy Bottom, both for its failure to read the warning signs indicating growing militancy in Eastern Libya in the months leading up to the attack and for not responding to requests from security officials in Tripoli, Libya’s capital, for more security personnel. The report cites comments from Undersecretary of State Patrick Kennedy, who acknowledged in one committee briefing that “Libya and Benghazi were ‘flashing red’ around the time of the attack.”

And just as the State Department’s independent Accountability Review Board did, committee investigators fault the State Department for being overly reliant on local security personnel who did not prove reliable or equipped to respond to the number of armed attackers that broke through the consulate’s perimeter on the night of Sept. 11.

The report documents repeated attempts by American personnel to contact members of the Feb. 17 Brigade, the friendly Libyan militia the State Department had contracted to help secure the compound, with no response. Investigators also noted that U.S. personnel attempting to fly from Tripoli to Benghazi to reinforce their colleagues were held up at the airport for three hours by Libyan officials. The cause for that delay remains unclear.

The Defense Department does not escape criticism, either. The report knocks the Pentagon for not adequately coordinating with the State Department to evaluate the threats facing American installations in North Africa and other high-risk diplomatic posts, and for not developing possible military responses to an attack. And it recommends that the Defense Department “provide more assets and personnel within range on land and sea to protect and defend both Americans and our allies on the African continent,” given growing threats in places such as Libya and Mali.

“We are confident that this report can and will make an important contribution to the ongoing discussions about how to better protect our diplomatic personnel abroad,” Lieberman said Sunday on the Senate floor, while submitting the report.

The committee even knocks Congress, which it concludes needs to do a better job of working with Foggy Bottom to fund diplomatic security. The report notes that while appropriations for the State Department’s base security budget have increased by 27 percent since fiscal 2007, “funding requests for baseline diplomatic security programs have not been fully funded in any year since FY 2010.”

The State Department’s ARB report noted similar disparities, prompting a partisan split in Congress over whether more diplomatic security funds are needed. That debate is likely to continue to play out in 2013.

“The Administration must re-evaluate its budget priorities, and since the Benghazi attack, Secretary Clinton is undertaking such a review. She has asked to reprogram $1.4 billion of the FY13 budget request to jump start this effort,” Collins said in a written statement Sunday. “The lack of resources is just one of a number of factors we identified in our report that contributed to a perfect storm on the night of Sept. 11.”


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