Special to the Journal
Washington—The Senate Intelligence Committee today issued a declassified report on the September 11-12, 2012, terrorist attacks against U.S. personnel at the Temporary Mission Facility and CIA Annex in Benghazi, Libya. The committee found the attacks were preventable, based on extensive intelligence reporting on the terrorist activity in Libya—to include prior threats and attacks against Western targets—and given the known security shortfalls at the U.S. Mission.
The report—announced by Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Vice Chairman Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.)—was approved by the committee in December 2013 by voice vote. The report includes 18 recommendations designed to improve security of American diplomatic and intelligence facilities abroad. In some cases, the State Department and the intelligence community (IC) have begun taking action to adopt the recommendations identified in the report.
The report is based on dozens of committee hearings, briefings and interviews—including with survivors of the attacks—and the review of thousands of pages of intelligence and State Department materials between September 2012 and December 2013.
Chairman Feinstein said: “The committee worked on a bipartisan basis to investigate the various allegations that have come out since the terrorist attacks in Benghazi in September 2012 and to get to the truth about what happened leading up to, during and after the attacks. I hope this report will put to rest many of the conspiracy theories and political accusations about what happened in Benghazi. I strongly believe we should focus on what really matters: honoring the four Americans who were killed, bringing the attackers to justice, ensuring accurate and actionable warnings of future terrorist attacks and making sure that all U.S. facilities personnel overseas have adequate security and protection.”
Vice Chairman Chambliss said: “The committee’s bipartisan report provides many needed and deserved answers to the American people, and most importantly, to the families of those killed in the September 11, 2012, terrorist attacks in Benghazi. In spite of the deteriorating security situation in Benghazi and ample strategic warnings, the United States Government simply did not do enough to prevent these attacks and ensure the safety of those serving in Benghazi. I hope that the Administration—and most specifically, the Intelligence Community, the State Department, and our military—will review this bipartisan report carefully and quickly adopt the committee’s recommendations.”
Key Findings of the Report:
· Significant Strategic Warning Provided by the Intelligence Community—In the months before the attacks on September 11, 2012, the IC provided strategic warning through numerous intelligence reports that the security situation in eastern Libya was deteriorating and that U.S. facilities and personnel were at risk in Benghazi.
· State Department Failed to Increase Security Enough to Address the Threat—The State Department should have increased its security posture more significantly in Benghazi based on the deteriorating security situation on the ground and IC threat reporting on the prior attacks against Westerners in Benghazi—including two previous incidents at the Temporary Mission Facility on April 6, and June 6, 2012.
· “Tripwires” Were Crossed, But Other Nations Kept Their Facilities Open Along with the U.S.—There were “tripwires” designed to prompt a reduction in personnel or a suspension of operations at the Mission facility in Benghazi and although there is evidence that some of them had been crossed, operations continued with minimal change. Some nations closed their diplomatic facilities in Benghazi as the security conditions deteriorated during the summer of 2012, but other nations stayed along with the United States, contrary to some public reports and statements that the U.S. was the last country represented in Benghazi.
· U.S. Military Assets Were Not Positioned to Respond in Time to Save the Four Americans Killed—There were no U.S. military resources in position to intervene in short order in Benghazi to help defend the Temporary Mission Facility and its Annex. Unarmed U.S. military surveillance assets were not delayed when responding to the attack, and they provided important situational awareness for those under siege during the attacks.
· The Intelligence Picture After the Attacks Contributed to the Controversial CIA Talking Points—In intelligence reports after September 11, 2012, intelligence analysts inaccurately referred to the presence of a protest at the U.S. mission facility before the attack based on open source information and limited intelligence, but without sufficient intelligence or eyewitness statements to corroborate that assertion. The IC took too long to correct these erroneous reports, which caused confusion and influenced the public statements of policymakers.
· Failure to Bring the Attackers to Justice—More than a year after the Benghazi attacks, the terrorists who perpetrated the attack have still not been brought to justice. The IC has identified several individuals responsible for the attacks. Some of the individuals have been identified with a strong level of confidence. However, insight into the current whereabouts and links between these individuals in some cases is limited due in part to the nascent intelligence capabilities in the region.
Key Recommendations in the Report:
· The State Department must ensure that security threats are quickly assessed and security upgrades are put into place with minimal bureaucratic delay.
· Only in rare instances—and only after a formal risk management plan has been put into place—should State Department facilities that fall short of current security standards be allowed to operate, and facilities that do not meet these standards should be prioritized for additional security measures.
· The IC should expand its capabilities to conduct analysis of open source information including extremist-affiliated social media, particularly in areas where it is hard to develop human intelligence or there has been recent political upheaval. Analysis of extremist-affiliated social media should be more clearly integrated into analytical products, when appropriate.
· It is imperative that the State Department, Department of Defense and the IC work together to identify and prioritize the largest gaps in coverage for the protection of U.S. diplomatic, military and intelligence personnel in the North Africa region and other high-threat posts around the world.
· Intelligence analysts should more aggressively request and integrate eyewitness reporting—especially from U.S. government personnel—in the aftermath of a crisis.
· In responding to future requests for unclassified talking points from Congress, the Intelligence Community should simply tell Congress which facts are unclassified and let Members of Congress provide additional context for the public.
· The U.S. government cannot rely on local security in areas where the United States has facilities under high threat or where the host nation is not capable of providing adequate security.
· The U.S. government must swiftly bring the attackers to justice, in spite of the unwillingness or lack of capacity of the Libyan government to assist in this effort.