Benghazi ‘Inadequacies’

A State report blames the underlings, while Hillary isn’t mentioned.

With chilling detail, an independent State Department investigation has pointed to “systemic failures” that led to the September 11 terrorist attack in Benghazi. The report is a step toward accountability, but its narrow focus shouldn’t obscure the deeper policy failures. It’s up to Congress to flesh this out.

To say security was “inadequate” is an understatement. The diplomatic mission in Libya’s second city was starved of proper equipment and personnel. U.S. diplomats relied for protection on a “poorly skilled” local militia and unarmed contract guards, according to an unclassified version of the report, released Tuesday night. Thomas Pickering, President George H.W. Bush’s U.N. ambassador, led the study.

The Pickering report is less useful at explaining the reason for the failures. It faults civil servants at State’s bureaus of diplomatic security and Near Eastern Affairs for “a lack of proactive leadership and management ability” on security. Four State underlings were pushed out of their jobs on Wednesday, but the report doesn’t say whether Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was aware of security problems at the Libya mission or requests for reinforcements. The Islamist Ansar al-Shariah militia killed four Americans, including Ambassador Chris Stevens, at the diplomatic compound and CIA annex.

Mrs. Clinton, who cancelled her appearance Thursday before Senate and House committees after suffering a concussion, wrote to Congress that State would accept “every one” of the report’s technical recommendations for improving safety at overseas missions. That’s nice but hardly amounts to taking responsibility.

On this score, the report blames the too easy target of a “profoundly lacking” Libyan government for worsening security. Well, they had just had a revolution. Zingers are also directed at the intelligence community. U.S. analysts failed to “link” growing political violence, the rise of extremist militias and waning state control in eastern Libya. Suffering from a “knowledge gap,” the U.S. had “little understanding of militias in Benghazi and the threat they posed to U.S. interests,” the report says. In other words the CIA had no idea what was going on, despite two dozen operatives in Benghazi to monitor the Islamist groups.

The report also confirms that “there was no protest prior to the attacks,” contrary to White House insistence for eight days afterward—citing intelligence “talking points”—that a demonstration against a YouTube video had gotten out of hand and terrorism wasn’t to blame. Why the White House and its spies stuck with this story isn’t addressed.

Getty ImagesPresident Barack Obama makes a statement about the death of U.S. ambassador to Libya J. Christopher Stevens with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

The State report also glides over the Administration’s actions during the siege. We never learn what Mrs. Clinton did that day. Without going into the details of the options considered, the report says, “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.” This take-our-word-for-it conclusion lets the Obama Administration off too easily. Why weren’t those assets available—and who failed to do the contingency planning?

The larger failure in Libya is about policy and the Administration’s worldview. During last year’s civil war, the U.S. outsourced the arming of the rebels to Qatar, which favored Islamists. In the aftermath the U.S. did little to help a pro-Western elected government rein in extremists. The White House and Mrs. Clinton wanted to wash their hands of Libya, especially in an election year, and so they chose their “light footprint” abdication. Ambassador Stevens and his comrades paid the price.

A version of this article appeared December 20, 2012, on page A18 in the U.S. edition of The Wall Street Journal, with the headline: Benghazi ‘Inadequacies’.

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