WASHINGTON–The U.S. government could have prevented deadly attacks on its mission in the Libyan city of Benghazi by fixing “known security shortfalls,” a damning U.S. Senate report concluded Wednesday. Four American citizens, including Ambassador Chris Stephens, died in the double attack targeting a U.S. diplomatic facility and the nearby CIA annex on Sept. 11, 2012. A Senate Intelligence Committee inquiry held hearings and interviewed dozens of witnesses, against a back-drop of partisan point-scoring from both sides of Washington’s political divide. Some Republican lawmakers accuse U.S. President Barack Obama of concealing evidence that al-Qaida-linked jihadi groups were behind the outrage and of failing to properly protect the outpost.
Obama’s administration initially suggested the attacks were a spontaneous protest by Benghazi residents angered by a privately made American anti-Islamic film posted online. Wednesday’s bipartisan report emphasized the security shortfalls that allowed protesters and armed militants to storm Stephen’s Benghazi compound and to torch the U.S. residence.
The report said the State Department had failed to heed warnings to reinforce protection at the sites despite the rapidly deteriorating security environment in Libya. And it blamed intelligence agencies for not notifying U.S. military officials in the U.S. Africa command that a CIA annex even existed near the Benghazi diplomatic mission. “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 panel said in a statement. “The State Department should have increased its security posture more significantly in Benghazi based on the deteriorating security situation on the ground and IC (intelligence community) threat reporting.” The Obama administration appeared to accept the Senate report, with White House spokesman Jay Carney saying it “largely reaffirms” the findings from the independent Benghazi Accountability Review Board of 13 months ago. “The administration is focused on two pieces — bringing to justice those responsible for the deaths of four Americans and making sure we take steps necessary to improve security at vulnerable facilities,” Carney told reporters aboard Air Force One. The 85-page report also attempts to clarify confusion surrounding the Obama administration’s initial statements about the attacks, when it “inaccurately” referred to a protest at the U.S. mission prior to the assault “without sufficient intelligence or eyewitness statements to corroborate that assertion.”