Senate: Benghazi attack could have been prevented

10:37 AM, Jan 16, 2014   |    comments
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Secretary of State Hillary Clinton testifies before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on the September 11, 2012 attack on the US mission in Benghazi, Libya, during a hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, on January 23, 2013.



WASHINGTON (USA TODAY) -- A bipartisan report by the Senate intelligence committee blames the State Department for failing to increase security at the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, despite warnings from the CIA and staff about the danger of militant attacks.

The report also says that 15 people in Benghazi who have tried to help the FBI investigate the murders have been killed, though it is not certain all the deaths were connected to cooperation with the United States.

"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 Senate Select Committee on Intelligence panel said in a statement.

Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans were killed in the Sept. 11, 2012, attacks after having made requests for more security to the State Department, headed at the time by Hillary Clinton.

The report faulted intelligence agencies as well for not sharing information about the existence of the CIA outpost with the U.S. military in Libya.

Rep. Jason Chaffetz of Utah, a Republican on the House Oversight Committee who has been investigating Benghazi, said the report is further evidence that State's Benghazi policy was made for political and not security reasons.

"The bottom line is Hillary Clinton wanted the appearance of normalization" in Libya, Chaffetz said. "Security was not driving these decisions. Politics was."

The report, based on hearings and interviews with officials, government documents and survivors of the attack, says that six CIA employees responded to the attack.

But the Pentagon has been criticized by several Republican senators for not coming to the aid of the Americans in full fashion. The report said the military response was slow and hindered.

Documents show that the CIA was aware of the existence of Islamist training camps and militias in Benghazi, said the report. Some of the local militias had been contracted by State to provide security at the consulate.

U.S. officials involved in security at the consulate testified before a House committee last year that Stevens had informed his superiors of several incidents that concerned him greatly about the need for improved security. The CIA has also said it had made its concerns about security known to the White House.

Among the incidents leading up to the attacks were assaults on the Red Cross and British embassy personnel, and local militia charged with protecting U.S. staff acting in suspicious manners. The Libyan militia that was supposed to protect the consulate did not arrive to help the Americans during the attack, said the Senate report.

Then Clinton appointed an Accountability Review Board to look into the attack too and it faulted a "lack of proactive senior leadership" for security in Benghazi, and said physical security was "profoundly weak."

In testimony before Congress in January 2013, Clinton said that diplomats "accept a level of risk" in taking posts in dangerous areas and that they "cannot work in bunkers and do their jobs."

But she said it was State's responsibility to make sure diplomats have the resources they need to reduce the risks. Clinton called the attack "one of those terrible tragic times" when the State Department's security assessment of the situation failed.

"We are constantly assessing. And sometimes we get it wrong, but it's very - it's rare that we get it wrong," Clinton said.

Clinton said she was aware of some security issues in Benghazi but that she had not personally reviewed an Aug. 12 cable requesting reinforcements for security.

In a letter to Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., she said the Accountability Review Board "made very clear" that the level of responsibility for the failures outlined in the cable was set at the assistant secretary level and below.

In a House report released in April on Benghazi, Republicans say Clinton personally signed off on cuts in security at the compound.

The April cable from State acknowledged then-Ambassador Gene Cretz's formal request for additional security but still ordered "the withdrawal of security elements to proceed as planned," the Republicans said.

State Department cables, or internal messages, often are sent with the secretary of State's signature. The report did not say whether the cable regarding security was personally signed or drafted by Clinton.

Despite the latest report on Benghazi, Chaffetz said significant questions remain about the lack of military response to the attack, which went on for several hours after the Pentagon and the White House were aware it had begun.

"You'd think that would get people out of bed - let's get some planes ready - but apparently not," he said.

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