WASHINGTON, December 19, 2012 – A panel headed by Thomas R. Pickering, a retired career Foreign Service Officer and former US Ambassador to the United Nations (1989-1992), lays blame for much of the tragedy on inadequacies by the State Department.
An independent panel report, developed by Pickering and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Michael Mullen as Chairman and Vice Chairman of the panel, along with Catherine Bertini, Richard Shinnick, and Hugh Turner representing the intelligence community, reprimands the State Department for stationing inexperienced security officers at the consulate and for using a combination of unarmed private security firms and ineffective host-country militias to provide security.
The report also criticizes the State Department for staffing shortages, faulty security equipment, and poor performance by employees.
Although the report confirmed that Ambassador Christopher Stevens issued warnings to State Department officials, citing “security vacuum” in Benghazi, there was no indication that he feared the consulate could face such a large-scale attack. The report, however, confirms that the State Department failed when it ignored requests from the US Embassy in Tripoli for increased security and more guards for the mission.
Understanding the ladder of failure that led to Benghazi requires understanding the various bureaus and departments with roles in the creation and management of a US Embassy.
The Bureau of Diplomatic Security is “is the security and law enforcement arm of the U.S. Department of State,” according to the State Department web site. The Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs is the regional office responsible for operations in Algeria, Bahrain, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Morocco, Oman, Palestinian Territories, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Tunisia, United Arab Emirates, and Yemen.
The State Department is the US organization responsible for setting up and staffing embassies. Other US organizations overseeing our foreign embassies include the CIA and the Department of Defense, acting under the authority of the US Ambassador, which in Libya was Chris Stevens.
The Secretary of State advises the President on foreign policy issues. In foreign countries, US State Department employees are diplomats, working in-country to promote and execute US foreign policy.
Singling out the State Department Bureau of Diplomatic Security and the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs, the report highlights the failings of senior officials to coordinate information and security in Libya.
Specific language includes that the embassy was “grossly inadequate,” and that a lack of transparency and leadership at senior levels led to the failure to protect the embassy. The report also confirms that the State Department did ignore repeated requests for additional security.
Libya is a continually churning hot bed of Islamic insurgency and the panel did interview hundreds of witnesses, reviewing thousand of documents and videos in putting together their report that highlights the ineptitude or recklessness in missing warning signs and failing to coordinate an adequate response to the known danger.
The review did not address the responsibility of the military in the failure to respond in Benghazi.
The panel did touch on intelligence, however, saying intelligence officials also failed to adequately recognize the deteriorating security situation in Benghazi.
There are 29 recommendations for changes in the report, five of which are classified, which Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the State Department will adopt.
In an effort to increase safety of embassies overseas, the State Department is seeking a transfer of more than $1.3 billion from contingency funds that had been allocated for spending in Iraq to go toward embassy security.
The money will fund Marine security guards, diplomatic security personnel, and physical security upgrades. Additionally, the Obama administration has sent teams to 19 diplomatic posts to conduct assessments and appointed a senior official to ensure embassy and consulate security.
The report does not specifically blame Secretary of State Clinton for shortfalls that allowed militants to attack the consulate and kill American citizens. Washington insiders note that the report will not harm her political standing or prohibit her from a future run at the presidency.
Improved security measures will help provide a safer working environment for diplomats and intelligence officers overseas, but better intelligence must accompany physical security. To truly protect our representatives overseas, the United States must invest in more human intelligence officers and grant them the tools for better access to accurately assess the threat and provide accurate information to decision makers.
Without strong intelligence, we will continue to operate blindly and put our diplomats at risk in an increasingly dangerous environment.
As further analysis of the report and information is available, Communities will continue to report on this very important story.
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