The State Department should have closed the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, long before the Sept. 11 terrorist attack because it knew that local authorities could not protect the facility and that the city was a hotbed of extremism, according to a Senate report released Monday.
“Despite the inability of the Libyan government to fulfill its duties to secure the facility [and] the increasingly dangerous threat assessments. … [State Department] officials did not conclude the facility in Benghazi should be closed or temporarily shut down,” says the report, prepared by the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee. “That was a grievous mistake.”
Titled “Flashing Red: A Special Report on the Terrorist Attack at Benghazi,” the bipartisan report concludes that there were no contingency plans to get military help to Benghazi in the event of an attack against U.S. facilities.
“The Department of Defense and the Department of State had not jointly assessed the availability of U.S. assets to support the Temporary Mission Facility in Benghazi in the event of a crisis and although [the Pentagon] attempted to quickly mobilize its resources, it did not have assets or personnel close enough to reach Benghazi in a timely fashion,” the report states.
The Senate report was released as several congressional committees were investigating the circumstances of the attack in Benghazi, in which dozens of heavily armed extremists, including members of a militia linked to al Qaeda, stormed the diplomatic mission and attacked a nearby CIA annex.
U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens, State Department officer Sean Smith and former Navy SEALs Tyrone S. Woods and Glen A. Doherty were killed in the attack.
Sen. Susan M. Collins of Maine, the ranking Republican on the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, said the consulate was so poorly guarded that the terrorists “essentially walked into the compound virtually unimpeded and set it ablaze.”
“There had been numerous previous attacks, including two at our own very compound in Benghazi as well as other attacks aimed at Western targets,” Mrs. Collins said, according to a Reuters report.
U.S. diplomatic facilities around the world have their own security contingents, consisting of a mix of Marine Corps guards, diplomatic security officers and locally contracted private security personnel.
Diplomatic missions traditionally have relied on local police and security authorities to protect them from large-scale attacks — as required by international law and treaty obligations.
In Libya, the report states, it was well understood that the government could not fulfill those obligations.
But in Benghazi, the security that was provided by the local authorities — a small detachment from a militia known as the Feb. 17 Force — was known by officials in Tripoli and Washington to be “unreliable.”
The State Department press office did not respond to requests for comment.
An underfunded mission
The Senate report notes that the State Department’s security budget request had not been fully funded since fiscal 2010, although it had increased ninefold from 1998 to 2008. Congress cut the department’s requested security funding by nearly $90 million in fiscal 2011 and $275 million in fiscal 2012.
In addition, the State Department, along with the rest of the government, was operating for much of the past two years on temporary budget legislation called a continuing resolution, which continues funding at the previous year’s level.