The September 11, 2012 on the American consulate in Benghazi included the first murder of a U.S. ambassador since 1988. The incident raised serious questions, including:
- Why security was so lax for on-site personnel;
- What was the reason for the attack;
- Why American forces were not allowed to respond to the incident;
- Why the White House repeatedly misinformed the public about the reasons for and nature of the assault.
The U.S. State Department convened an “Accountability Review Board”(ARB) in response. The ARB consisted of members selected by the Secretary of State and one member selected by the Director of National Intelligence. Ambassador Thomas Pickering served as Chair, and Admiral Michael Mullen served as Vice Chair.
Many of the key issues raised by the September 11, 2012 attack were not answered by the ARB report, and, as of the date of this NY Analysis edition, neither the White House nor Secretary of State Clinton has provided first-hand information vital to resolving the matter. However, some information was disclosed, although the role of the two key figures–Secretary of State Clinton and President Obama–is not adequately reviewed.
However, the report does contain a rather serious indictment both of the White House and Secretary Clinton by finding that “communication, cooperation and coordination among Washington, Tripoli, and Benghazi functioned collegially at the working level but were constrained by a lack of transparency, responsiveness, and leadership at the senior levels.”
We summarize the key findings and recommendations here, quoting directly from the ARB report. It is particularly interesting to note that key findings of the report directly contradict much of what the White House has consistently stated, even after the facts were clearly known. It also provides indications that directly contradict a key claim repeatedly made by the President that al Qaeda has been substantially diminished in its operational capabilities.
“In examining the circumstances of these attacks, the Accountability Review Board for Beghazi determined that:
1. The attacks were security related, involving arson, small arms and machine gun fire, and the use of RPGs, grenades and mortars against U.S. personnel at two separate facilities-the SMC and the annex-and en route between them. Responsibility for the tragic loss of life, injuries and damage to U.S. facilities and property rests solely and completely with the terrorists who perpetuated the attacks. The Board concluded that there was no portest prior to the attacks, which were unanticipated in their scale and intensity.
2. Systematic failures and leadership and management deficiencies at senior levels within two bureaus of the State Department (the ‘Department’) resulted in a Special Mission posture that was inadequate for Benghazi and grossly inadequate to deal with the attack that took place.
Security in Benghazi was not recognized and implemented as a ‘shared responsibility’ by the bureaus in Washington charged with supporting the post, resulting in stove-piped discussions and decisions on policy and security. That said, Embassy Tripoli did not demonstrate strong and sustained advocacy with Washington for increased security for Special Mission Benghazi
The short term, transitory nature of Special Mission Benghazi’s staffing, with talented and committed, but relatively inexperienced American personnel often on temporary assignements of 40 days or less, resulted in diminished institutional knowledge, continuity and mission capacity.
Overall, the number of Bureau of Diplomatic Security (DS) Security staff in Benghazi on the day of the attack and in the months and weeks leading up to it was inadequate, despite repeated requests from Special Mission Benghazi and Embassy Tripoli for additional staffing. Board members found a pervasive realization among personnel who served in Benghazi that the Special Mission was not a high priority for Washington when it came to security-related requests, especially relating to staffing.
The insufficient Special Mission security platform was at variance with the appropriate Overseas Security Policy Board (OSPB) standards with respect to perimeter and interior security. Benghazi was also severely under-resourced with regard to certain needed security equipment, although DS funded and installed in 2012 a number of physical and security upgrades. These included heightening the outer perimeter wall, safety grills on safe area egess windows, concrete jersey barriers, a stell gate for the Villa C safe area, some locally manufactured steel doors, sandbag fortifications, security cameras, some additional security lighting, guard booths, and an Internal Defense Notification System.
Pecial Mission Benghazi’s uncertain future after 2012 and its “non-status” as a temporary, residential facility made allocation of resources for security and personnel more difficult, and left responsibility to meet security standards to the working-level in the field, with very limited resources.
In the weeks and months leading up to the attacks, the response from post, Embassy Tripoli, and Washington to a deteriorating security situation was inadequate. At the same time, the SMC’s dependence on the armed but poorly skilled Libyan February 17 Martyrs’ Brigade militia members and unarmed, locally contracted Blue Mountain Libya (BML) guards for security support was misplaced.
Although the February 17 militia had proven effective in responding to improvised explosive devise (IED) attacks on the Special Mission in Aprl and June 2012, there was some troubling indicators of its reliability in the months and weeks preceding the September attacks. 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.
Post and the Department were well aware of the anniversary of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks but at not time were there ever any specific, credible threats against the mission in Benghazi related to the September 11 anniversary. Ambassador Stevens and Benghazi-based DS agents had taken the anniversary into account and decided to hold all meetings on-compound on September 11.
The Board found that Ambassador Stevens made the decision t travel to Benghazi independently of Washington per standard practice. Timing for his trip was driven in part by commitments in Tripoli as well as a staffing gp between principle offices in Benghazi. Plans for the Ambassador’s trip provided for minimal close protection security support and were not shared thoroughly with the Embassy’s country team, who were not fully aware of planned movements off compound. The Ambassador did not see a direct threat of an attack of this nature and scale on the U.S. mission in the overall negative trendline of security incidents from spring to summer 2012. His status as the leading U.S. government advocate on Libya policy, and his expertise on Benghazi in particular, caused Washington to give unusual deference to his judgments.
Communication, cooperation and coordination among Washington, Tripoli and Benghazi functioned collegially at the working-level but were constrained by a lack of transparency, responsiveness, and leadership at the senior levels. Among various Department bureaus and personnel in the field, there appeared to be very real confusion over who, ultimately, was responsible and empowered to make decisions based on both policy and security considerations.
3. Notwithstanding the proper implementation of security systems and procedures and remarkable heroism shown by American personnel, those systems and the Libyan response fell short in the face of a series of attacks that began with the sudden penetration of the Special Mission compound by dozens of armed attackers.
The Board found the responses by both the BMI and February 17 guards to be inadequate. The Board’s inquiry found little evidence that the armed February 17 guards offered any meaningful defense of the SMC, or succeeded in summoning a February 17 militia presence to assist expeditiously.
The Board found the Libyan government’s response to be profoundly lacking on the night of the attacks, reflecting both weak capacity and near absence of central government influence and control in Benghazi. The Libyan government did facilitate assistance from a quasi-governmental militia that supported the evacuation of US government personnel to Benghazi airport. The Libyan government also provided a military c-130 aircraft which was used to evacuate remaining U.S. personnel and the bodies of the deceased from Benghazi to Tripoli on September 12.
The Board determined that U.S. personnel on the ground in Benghazi performed with courage and readiness to risk their lives to protect their colleagues, in a near impossible situation. The Board members believe every possible effort was made to rescue and recover Ambassador Stevens and Sean Smith.
The interagency response was timely and appropriate, but there simply was not enough time for armed U.S. military assets to have made a difference.
4. The Board found that intelligence provided no immediate, specific tactical warning of the September 11 attacks. Known gaps existed in the intelligence community’s understanding of extremist militias in Libya, and the potential threat they posed to U.S. interests, although some threats were known to exist.
5. The Board found that certain senior State Department officials within two bureaus demonstrated a lack of proactive leadership and management ability in their responses to security concerns posed by Special Mission Benghazi, given the deteriorating threat environment and the lack of reliable host government protection. However, the Board did not find reasonable cause to determine that any individual U.S. government employee breached his or her duty.”
The aftermath of the tragic incident raised serious questions about the White Houses’ repeated statements, to the American public in general, to the families of those killed, and to the United Nations that the assault was in response to a little-known video that allegedly angered local residents.
All indications have proven that this was not the case, as reported in last week’s NY ANALYSIS edition which contained the ARB’s findings. This week, we provide the ARB’s recommendations, quoting directly from the report.
“With the lessons of the past and the challenges of the future in mind, the Board puts forward recommendations in six core areas: Overarching Security Considerations; Staffing High Risk, High Threat Posts, Training and Awareness; Security and Fire Safety Equipment; Intelligence and Threat Analysis; and Personnel Accountability.
OVERARCHING SECURITY CONSIDERATIONS
1. The Department must strengthen security for personnel and platforms beyond traditional reliance on host government security support in high risk, high threat posts. The Department should urgently review the proper balance between acceptable risk and expected outcomes in high risk, high threat areas. While the answer cannot be to refrain from operating in such environments, the Department must do so on the basis of 1) a defined, attainable, and prioritized mission; 2) a clear-eyed assessment of the risks and cost involved; 3) a commitment of sufficient resources to mitigate these costs and risks; 4) an explicit acceptance of those costs and risks that cannot be mitigated; and 5) constant attention to changes in the situation, including when to leave and perform the mission from a distance. The United States must be self-reliant and enterprising in developing alternate security platforms, profiles and staffing footprints and address such realities. Assessments must be made on a case-by-case basis and repeated as circumstances change.
2. The Board recommends that the Department re-examine DS organization and management, with a particular emphasis on span of control for security policy planning for all overseas U.S. diplomatic facilities. In this context, the recent creation of a new Diplomatic Security Deputy Assistant Secretary for High Threat Posts could be a positive first step if integrated into a sound strategy for DS reorganization.
3. As the President’s personal representative, the Chief of Mission bears ‘direct and full responsibility for the security of [his or her] mission and all the personnel for whom [he or she] is responsible,’ and thus for risk management in the country for which he or she is accredited. In Washington, each regional Assistant Secretary has a corresponding responsibility to support the Chief of Mission in executing this duty. Regional bureaus should have augmented support within the bureau on security matters, to include a senior DS officer to report to the regional Assistant Secretary.
4. The Department should establish a panel of outside independent experts (military, security, humanitarian) with experience in high risk, high threat areas to support DS, identify best practices (from other agencies and other countries) and regularly evaluate U.S. security platforms in high risk, high threat posts.
5. The Department should develop minimum security standards for occupancy of temporary facilities in high risk, high threat environments, and seek greater flexibility for the use of Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations (OBO) sources of funding so that they can be rapidly made available for security upgrades at such facilities.
6. Before opening or re-opening critical threat or high risk, high threat posts, the Department should establish a multi-bureau support cell, residing in the regional bureau. The support cell should work to expedite the approvl and funding for establishing and operating the post, implementing physical security measures, staffing of security and management personnel, and providing equipment continuing as the post requires.
7. The Nairobi and Dar es Salaam ARB’s report of January 1999 called for collocation of newly constructed State Department and other government agencies facilities. All State Department and other government agencies’ facilities should be collocated when they are in the same metropolitan area, unless a waiver has been approved.
8. The Secretary should require an action plan from DS, OBO and other relevant offices on the use of fire as a weapon against diplomatic facilities, including immediate steps to deal with urgent issues. The report should also include reviews of fire safety and crisis management training for all employees and dependents, safe haven standards and fire safety equipment, and recommendations to facilitate survival in smoke and fire situations.
9. Tripwires are too often treated only as indicators of threat rather than an essential trigger mechanism for serious risk management decisions and actions. The Department should revise its guidance to posts and require key offices to perform in-depth status checks of post tripwires.
10. Recalling the recommendations of the Nairobi and Dar es Salaam ARBs, the State Department must work with Congress to restore the Capital Security Cost Sharing Program at its full capacity, adjusted for inflation to approximately $2.2 billion in fiscal year 2015, including an up to ten-year program addressing that need, prioritizing for construction of new facilities in high-risk, high threat areas. It should also work with Congress to expand utilization of Overseas Contingency Operations funding to respond to emerging security threats and vulnerabilities and operational requirements in high risk, high threat areas.
11.The Board supports the State Department’s initiative to request additional Marines and expand the Marine Security Guard (MSG) Program-as well as corresponding requirements for staffing and funding. The Board also recommends that the State Department and DoD identify additional flexible MSG structures and request further resources for the Department and DoD to provide more capabilities and capacities at higher risk posts.”