Inquiry harshly criticizes State Department over Benghazi attack
(Reuters) - An independent U.S. inquiry into the September attack on the U.S. diplomatic facility in Benghazi, Libya, released on Tuesday made recommendations on how to improve U.S. diplomatic security overseas.
Among the key recommendations are:
-- The United States should strengthen security in high-risk diplomatic posts beyond that traditionally supplied by host governments, and continually reassess staffing to account for potential threats.
-- The State Department should re-examine the organization and management of its Bureau of Diplomatic Security, and incorporate a new senior State Department official charged with overseeing security at "high threat" posts.
-- The State Department should establish a panel of independent experts, including people with experience in military, security and humanitarian areas, to support the Bureau of Diplomatic Security on best practices and evaluate security at high-risk facilities.
-- The State Department should have a minimum security level for temporary facilities in high-risk environments, and streamline procedures for rapid security upgrades at such facilities as required.
-- All U.S. government facilities in the same city should be in the same secure location unless a waiver has been obtained.
-- The Secretary of State should request an action plan from security officials on the use of fire as a weapon against diplomatic facilities, and it should also include reviews of fire safety and crisis management training for all employees.
-- In general, the State Department should create training courses for its employees to better prepare them for leadership and decision-making in high-risk posts.
-- The State Department should work with Congress to restore capital spending on diplomatic security to approximately $2.2 billion by 2015, including a program of up to 10 years to prioritize construction of new facilities in high-risk areas.
-- The State Department should act on its proposal to increase both Marine security at diplomatic facilities and hire more diplomatic security personnel for high-risk posts.
-- Key U.S. policy and security staff in high-risk posts should be assigned for a minimum of one year, and temporary staff for a period of not less than 120 days.
-- The State Department should ensure there are adequate local staff including interpreters employed at high-risk posts, and improve language training among American employees, particularly in the Middle East.
-- The State Department should change its regulations so that unsatisfactory performance by senior officials connected to future security incidents could be a basis for discipline.
WASHINGTON - Security at the U.S. mission in Benghazi, Libya was grossly inadequate to deal with a Sept. 11 attack that killed a U.S. ambassador and three others because of systemic failures within the State Department, an official inquiry found on Tuesday.
In a scathing assessment, the review cited "leadership and management" deficiencies at two bureaus of the department, poor coordination among officials in Washington and "real confusion" on the ground over who had the responsibility, and the power, to make decisions that involved policy and security concerns.
The attack killed Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans and set off a political furor as Republicans used the issue to attack President Barack Obama before the Nov. 6 election.
The report's harsh assessment seemed likely to tarnish the four-year tenure of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who said in a letter accompanying the review that she would adopt all of its recommendations.
"Systemic failures and leadership and management deficiencies at senior levels within two bureaus of the State Department ... resulted in a special mission security posture that was inadequate for Benghazi and grossly inadequate to deal with the attack that took place," said the report by the official "Accountability Review Board."
The report specifically faulted the State Department's Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs and its Bureau of Diplomatic Security.
The incident has raised questions about the adequacy of security at U.S. embassies around the globe and where to draw the line between protecting American diplomats in dangerous places while giving them enough freedom to do their jobs.
Jon Alterman, head of the Middle East program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said the assessment reflected poorly on Clinton and its recommendations would probably make life harder for diplomats in the field
"This is a mark against Secretary Clinton. While she was not singled out, the report highlighted the lack of leadership and organization on security issues, and those fall into her bailiwick," Alterman said.
"The report, however, relies a little too much on bureaucratic fixes," he added. "Sprinkling people throughout the system who are not only empowered to say 'no,' but have an institutional interest in doing so, will make it harder for diplomats to get out of tightly guarded facilities."
The political uproar in the United States over the Benghazi attack has already claimed one victim.
U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice, widely tipped as a front-runner to replace Clinton when she steps down as secretary of state early next year, last week withdrew her name from consideration, saying she wished to avoid a potentially disruptive Senate confirmation process.
Republican lawmakers had blasted Rice for comments she made on several television talk shows in the aftermath of the attack in which she said preliminary information suggested the assault was the result of protests over an anti-Muslim video made in California rather than a premeditated strike.
The review. however, concluded that no protest took place before the attack.
Rice has said she was relying on talking points drawn up by U.S. intelligence officials.