A new report has begun to establish accountability for the Sept. 11 terrorist attack in Benghazi, Libya, that killed U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other Americans. It offers a candid — and sometimes frightening — account of institutional failures of security and intelligence that demand correction.
The Obama Administration’s State Department, including outgoing Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, must acknowledge and address these failures more candidly than it has done so far. But if Republican lawmakers who assail the administration over Benghazi have more in mind than grandstanding, they will help ensure that America’s diplomatic missions have the money they need to provide adequate security.
The report, commissioned by the State Department but conducted independently by former high-ranking American officials, examined the assault on the consulate in Benghazi and a nearby Central Intelligence Agency mission by organized, heavily armed militants. Administration officials initially, and inaccurately, linked the attack to global protests over a notorious anti-Muslim video produced in the United States.
The study identifies “systemic failures and leadership and management deficiencies” within the State Department that led to a “security posture that was inadequate for Benghazi and grossly inadequate to deal with the attack that took place.” Properly, senior officials of two bureaus that were specifically criticized in the report lost their jobs this week.
The report says department officials in Washington stonewalled repeated pleas for more guards and enhanced security at the Benghazi mission. It concludes that security tasks too often fell to inexperienced American officers who relied for help on poorly trained local militias and private, unarmed guards.
The report did not seek to identify specifically who was responsible for the attack or why they carried it out; that is the subject of a separate FBI investigation. But it debunks much of the false narrative of the Benghazi attack spun by Republican critics and some media outlets.
Secretary Clinton says she accepts and will carry out the report’s recommendations, to help prevent the possibility of similar outrages at other missions. Yet she observes correctly that security cannot become so restrictive that it prevents diplomats from doing their jobs.
Illness prevented Mrs. Clinton from testifying before Congress this week on the report’s findings. Before she leaves office early in President Obama’s second term, she ought to address her role in these matters personally and publicly.
At the same time, the report notes that budget issues often caused State Department bureaucrats to plead poverty even when vital security matters were raised. They were unwilling, for example, to make expensive improvements to the Benghazi consulate’s temporary site.
Secretary Clinton seeks to shift money within the State Department budget to improve security. But such an essential item deserves full funding by Congress rather than a series of stopgaps.
This would give lawmakers who seem to feel that the capacity to slash federal spending is limitless an opportunity to show that their commitment to protecting diplomats and other U.S. personnel abroad — and preventing another Benghazi — is real, not just rhetorical.