A year of investigation into the Benghazi attacks has clarified one big reason why the security at the compound was so insufficient: The compound was originally established as a temporary installation and was never upgraded to the level of security required for U.S. diplomats in “normal” circumstances, never mind in a country with continuing fighting among violent factions, including Islamists.
The U.S. had reopened its embassy in Tripoli in September 2011 after Moammar Qaddafi’s regime collapsed. The State Department also established a “Benghazi special mission compound,” which was never declared an official U.S. diplomatic facility. According to memos and e-mails uncovered by the Oversight Committee, as late as December 2011 many State Department employees both in Washington and in Benghazi remained uncertain as to whether the mission would close when the lease expired the coming February.
In December 2011, Assistant Secretary for Near Eastern Affairs Jeffrey Feltman asked Kennedy to “approve a continued U.S. presence in Benghazi through the end of calendar year 2012.” Kennedy agreed, extending the Benghazi special-mission compound’s assignment for one year, but the department also extended the existing policy of not officially notifying the host government. (At least one of the purposes of Ambassador Chris Stevens’s final visit to Benghazi was to continue the preparations to establish a permanent U.S. diplomatic presence in the city.)
The State Department had difficulty meeting even the fairly light security requirements outlined in the existing plan. The memo signed by Kennedy called for five special agents to protect the three diplomats working there full-time. But the ARB stated that the Benghazi special mission had its full complement of five diplomatic-security agents for only 23 days between January 1 and September 9, 2012.
The State Department’s Libya desk officer, Brian Papanu, told Issa’s committee that Benghazi’s status as “a sort of a non-official post” definitely created challenges in meeting its security needs.
We now know there was a significant presence of Central Intelligence Agency personnel in Benghazi; CNN’s Jake Tapper reported that “dozens” of CIA personnel were on the ground in Benghazi the night of the attack. We also know that the U.S. presence in Benghazi focused heavily on securing surface-to-air missiles. Because neither the ARB nor the congressional investigations have mentioned much about the CIA’s role in Benghazi, we don’t know whether the State Department’s security decisions were shaped by the CIA’s presence, or based upon a belief that the CIA would provide sufficient security in a crisis.
Republicans have focused on why the ARB mentioned Kennedy’s role in the decisions about the Benghazi facility but did not recommend any disciplinary action.
Issa’s committee issued a damning report, offering an explanation of why the ARB blamed Kennedy’s subordinates and not him: “Under Secretary for Management Patrick Kennedy supervised the selection of the Benghazi ARB staff. This placed the staff in a position in which their duties required them to evaluate the performance of supervisors, colleagues, and friends.”
“I had absolutely nothing to do with the assignment of staff to the board,” Kennedy told the House Foreign Affairs Committee yesterday.
However, former ambassador Thomas Pickering, the chairman of the ARB, said the State Department provided the staff for the ARB, “all serving Foreign Service or civil-service officers.” He added, “I spoke with Under Secretary Kennedy about the timing [of the committee’s report], and he asked me for some ideas about how and what way the ARB should be conducted.”
Kennedy told the Foreign Affairs Committee yesterday that he conversed with Pickering about who else should serve on the ARB.
Republicans continue to have doubts about the independence and impartiality of the ARB. Hillary Clinton, then secretary of state, selected four of the ARB members, and Director of National Intelligence James Clapper nominated the fifth, Hugh Turner, a former senior intelligence-community official. President Bill Clinton had appointed Pickering ambassador to Russia in 1993, and then Clinton appointed him under secretary of state for political affairs, the third-highest-ranking position at the State Department. During this time, Kennedy was the assistant secretary of state for administration.