The 2012 terrorist assault on the U.S. diplomatic post in Benghazi, Libya, involved attackers from several major international terrorist networks, according to a bipartisan Senate report released Wednesday that blames the intelligence community and the State Department — and Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens himself — for lapses.
Mr. Stevens and three other Americans died in the attack, which the report by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence said could have been averted if the State Department had heeded numerous warnings.
But Mr. Stevens himself rejected Defense Department offers of more security, and he never forwarded other warnings from Benghazi to his superiors in Washington, the report concluded.
The 85-page report directly contradicts a New York Times investigation last month that argued no international terrorist groups were involved in the assault, which the paper said was spurred, in part, by an anti-Islam video.
Committee members, led by Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein, California Democrat, concluded that video cameras surrounding the compound show no spontaneous protest against the film. They also flatly concluded that fighters loyal to groups with ties to al Qaeda took part in the attack.
“Individuals affiliated with terrorist groups, including AQIM, Ansar al-Sharia, AQAP, and the Mohammad Jamal Network, participated in the September 11, 2012, attacks,” the committee said, using the acronyms for al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.
The committee report exposed abysmal security at the Benghazi outpost, including evidence that some of the local guards hired to protect the facility were seen vandalizing or attacking the building in the months before the assault.
Those conclusions could cause political problems for former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton — though the main report doesn’t mention her and instead places blame for the security lapses on those further down the chain of command. Mrs. Clinton has tangled heatedly with congressional Republicans over the handling of the attack and its aftermath.
In an appendix to the report signed only by Sen. Saxby Chambliss of Georgia, the committee’s vice chairman, and five fellow Republicans, the Democratic front-runner for 2016 was directly criticized for her role in the Benghazi affair.
The Republican lawmakers wrote, “the final responsibility for security at diplomatic facilities lies with the former Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton. … At the end of the day, she was responsible for ensuring the safety of all Americans serving in our diplomatic facilities. Her failure to do so clearly made a difference in the lives of the four murdered Americans and their families.”
Despite President Obama’s promise to take action, nobody has been arrested as a result of the attack.
Intelligence committee members said part of the problem is that the Libyan government “has not shown the political incentive or will” to go after those responsible for the attack, and locals in Benghazi who have aided the U.S. have regularly turned up dead. As many as 15 people who supported the investigation or otherwise helped the U.S. have been killed since the attack, according to the FBI.
The State Department said it has taken steps to fix security problems at outposts around the globe.
But spokeswoman Marie Harf said it’s not clear how much more could be done in the immediate run-up to the Benghazi assault because no specific intelligence alert had been issued.
“Clearly, we needed to do more with security here. Nobody is saying that we did everything perfectly by any stretch of the imagination,” she said. “But again, we continue to assess and have no information to indicate that there was any significant preplanning involved here. So there was a situation where it looks like bad guys who were already operating there took advantage of a situation.”