Systematic failures within the U.S. State Department led to grossly inadequate security measures being taken up to deal with a Sept. 11 attack that killed a U.S. ambassador and three others at the American embassy in Benghazi, Libya.
“Leadership and management” deficiencies at the U.S. mission were cited in an official inquiry on Tuesday into the attack.
In a scathing assessment, the review cited at two department offices, poor coordination among officials and "real confusion" in Washington and in the field 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 in which he won a second term in office.
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 unclassified version of the report by the official "Accountability Review Board."
Clinton said she accepted "every one" of the 29 recommendations made by the ARB, which has spent the last three months investigating the events.
She also said the State Department was working with the Pentagon to "dispatch hundreds of additional Marine Security Guards to bolster our posts" and was aiming to train up more diplomatic security personnel.
The report provided "a clear-eyed look at the serious, systemic challenges that we have already begun to fix," Clinton said in a letter to lawmakers, adding that while everyone at State had a duty to ensure diplomats' safety, "most of all it is my responsibility as secretary of state."
Clinton also backed the report's findings urging Congress to support moves to realign the department's 2013 budget request to help reinforce its diplomatic outposts.
The report noted that the State Department budget accounts for only a very small part of national spending, and warned "Congress must do its part to meet this challenge and provide necessary resources to the State Department to address security risks and meet mission imperatives."
The inquiry "found a pervasive realization among personnel who served in Benghazi that the Special Mission was not a high priority for Washington," the report said.
Repeated requests for additional support from embassy staff in both Benghazi and the Libyan capital Tripoli had been ignored, the report said.
The Benghazi mission was also hampered by poor resources, and its reliance on armed "but poorly skilled" local militiamen from the February 17 Martyrs Brigade as well as local unarmed staff hired by a British company, Blue Mountain, was "misplaced," it said.
Clinton has now entrusted Deputy Secretary Tom Nides with heading up a team which met for the first time Tuesday to implement the report's recommendations.
Did local guards leave gate open?
The report faulted as "misplaced" the mission's dependence for security support on the "armed but poorly skilled" Libyan February 17 Martyrs' Brigade militia members and unarmed guards hired by State Department contractor Blue Mountain Libya.
No Blue Mountain guards were outside the compound immediately before the attack to provide early warning, which was their responsibility. The report raised the possibility that Blue Mountain guards left the "pedestrian gate open after initially seeing the attackers and fleeing the vicinity. They had left the gate unlatched before."
The board found little evidence that the February 17 guards alerted Americans to the attack or swiftly summoned more militia members to help once it was under way. There had been questions of reliability in the weeks preceding the attack.
"At the time of Ambassador Stevens' visit, February 17 militia members had stopped accompanying special mission vehicle movements in protest over salary and working hours," the report said.
The board recommended that the State Department create a new, senior position to oversee security at "high threat" posts, to strengthen security at such posts beyond what is usually provided by host governments, and to consult outside experts on "best practices" for operating in dangerous environments.
The department should also hire more security personnel at dangerous posts, ensure key policy and security staff serve there for at least a year and consider making it easier to punish those who perform poorly in future security incidents.