Senate Committee Lays Blame For Benghazi With State Department

Jan 15, 2014
Originally published on January 15, 2014 7:44 pm
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The Senate Intelligence Committee today delivered its analysis of the 2012 attack on the U.S. diplomatic post in Benghazi, Libya. Four Americans were killed in that attack, including the U.S. ambassador to Libya, Chris Stevens. It's a bipartisan report. Democrats and Republicans on the committee agreed, among other things, that the attack might have been prevented if the State Department had taken better precautions at the Benghazi post.

For more on the report, we're joined by NPR's Tom Gjelten. And, Tom, this is the second major report on the Benghazi attack. The State Department had its own accountability review board about a year ago. Does this intelligence committee report break much new ground?

TOM GJELTEN, BYLINE: Well, as you said, Audie, the committee says the Benghazi attack was preventable. The accountability review board actually came close to saying that. It said the security arrangements at the Benghazi compound were grossly inadequate given the threat in the region. Now, the Senate report actually takes that a step further. They go into great detail about how much intelligence there was indicating the danger that al-Qaida elements were organizing in eastern Libya and the possibility that they were preparing possible attacks.

Another thing, interestingly enough, this report says the U.S. ambassador to Libya, Chris Stevens, himself bore some of the responsibility for the inadequate security in Benghazi. Turns out, the commander of U.S. forces in Africa, General Carter Ham, twice suggested the deployment of a military security team in Libya, and both times, Ambassador Stevens turned him down. That's new.

CORNISH: So this assessment is saying that this might have been prevented once the attack was underway. Could there have been some intervention that might have saved the lives of those four Americans who were killed?

GJELTEN: The committee says no, and this is also important. The committee found there was no order to stand down. Remember, that was initially reported in some media. There was no delay in responding. There was nothing the U.S. military could have done. There are no fighters close by, no aircraft carriers, drones, no special forces available. There were no military assets that could have been sent there in time to do anything, according to the committee report.

Now, the Republicans on the committee, in a separate comment, actually faulted General Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, specifically for that, saying he should have had more military assets in the region given the threats.

CORNISH: Now, you mentioned this Republican criticism but this was a bipartisan report, right? And that seems significant given how politicized the debate has been around the Benghazi attack. I mean, is there any - can you say now that there's consensus on what happened there?

GJELTEN: Well, this is certainly the closest thing, Audie, to a consensus we've had on this very divisive issue. In terms of the assessment of responsibility, the Democrats and Republicans alike are spreading it around now, not just putting it on the White House, also on the State Department, the military, the - even the intelligence community. They agreed that al-Qaida elements were involved. That's something the White House, at times, has seemed reluctant to admit. Bipartisan criticism of the White House for not being more forthcoming.

On the other hand, there are still disagreements, partisan disagreements. Republicans say there should be more accountability, both in terms of State Department people being fired for their failures and also for the people that carried these attacks. Republicans pointed out that no one is in custody. Also, the Republicans reiterate a longstanding complaint that they think the White House downplayed the threat that this was a terrorist attack, as opposed to a protest demonstration.

CORNISH: That's NPR's Tom Gjelten. Tom, thank you.

GJELTEN: You bet. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.