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Benghazi report blames 'systemic failures' within State Department

An independent panel's report on the Benghazi consulate attacks cites management failures at senior levels in Washington that resulted in "grossly inadequate" security. NBC's Andrea Mitchell reports.

Updated at 10:50 p.m. ET: An independent panel's sharply critical report on the Sept. 11 attacks on the Benghazi consulate blames "systemic failures and leadership and management deficiencies within two bureaus of the State Department" for the post's inability to defend itself. 


The report details the events that unfolded on Sept. 11 in Benghazi, Libya, when the Special Mission post was overrun by militants who used rocket-propelled grenades, mortars and machine-gun fire, according to the 39-page report. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans were killed.


The report's findings fall largely into two categories: staffing and the physical security of the Benghazi post. Staff was, according to the report, talented but relatively inexperienced. Personnel there spent about 40 days on assignment, resulting in "diminished institutional knowledge." 

In a statement Tuesday, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said she accepts the report's recommendations. The independent review board was formed at her request and was chaired by former Joint Chiefs Chairman Mike Mullen and former Ambassador Tom Pickering. 

In addition to staffing issues, the report says that Ambassador Stevens "made the decision to travel to Benghazi independently of Washington, per standard practice." 

The independent report commissioned by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton investigating the attack on the U.S. Embassy in Benghazi faulted the State Department for "systematic failures" and "grossly inadequate" security to deal with the attack. NBC's Andrea Mitchell reports.

Further, the report says, Embassy's country team was not fully aware of Stevens' movements off the compound.

Stevens' "status as the leading U.S. government advocate on Libya policy, and his expertise on Benghazi in particular, caused Washington to give unusual deference to his judgments." 

Stevens arrived in Benghazi on a Greek cargo ship on April 5, 2011, according to the report. American embassy personnel had been evacuated months before, in February. At the time, Stevens was a special envoy to the Libyan Transitional National Council.

Stevens was the report says, "extremely effective" and admired by Libyans. He "personified the U.S. government commitment to a free and democratic Libya."  

Against a backdrop of mounting political violence, Benghazi became less secure, the report points out in the form of a timeline. The timeline begins with an armed robbery that took place at the British School on March 18 and ends with a small bomb thrown at an Egyptian diplomat's car on Aug. 20. 

Stevens arrived in Benghazi on Sept. 10, accompanied by two temporary duty officers. Security staffing at the post on the day of the attack was inadequate and did not meet security standards, according to the report. 

The report states strongly that Congress must meet budgetary challenges to "provide necessary resources to the State Department." Specifically, Congress should restore a security program to $2.2 billion by 2012.

Managers, the report says, have become conditioned to tightening the purse strings. 

That said, the report continues, the Embassy in Tripoli did not advocate enough for increased security at the Benghazi post. Some security upgrades had been made, although they were not sufficient, including safety grills on windows, concrete jersey barriers and some locally-manufactured steel doors. 

As a result, the report says on its first page, "systemic failures and management deficiencies" rendered the Special Mission post in Benghazi "grossly inadequate to deal with the attack."  

And although it found that "certain senior State Department officials within two bureaus demonstrated a lack of proactive leadership" when Benghazi asked for more protection, the report said that no employees breached their duty.

The report, although critical, addresses the difficulties faced. Terrorist and hostile actors posing threats to American security are "growing" and "diffuse," it says. Resorting to a "total fortress and stay-at-home approach to U.S. diplomacy" would be unacceptable. 

Recommendations
The report recommends that the U.S. should strengthen security in high-risk posts beyond what is provided by host governments and lean on outside experts to regularly assess security at the posts. The State Department should also reorganize its Bureau of Diplomatic Security and appoint an official charged with overseeing high threat posts. 

The State Department should also boost Marine security and hire more diplomatic security personnel at high-risk posts, the report said. 

The State Department should also improve language abilities, particularly Arabic, among employees, the report says.  

Testifying
Mullen and Pickering are scheduled to brief congressional committees on the classified version of the report on Wednesday. Hearings on the report are scheduled in the Senate and the House on Thursday. 

Clinton was supposed to testify in hearings on the report on Thursday but she remains at home recovering from a bout with the flu that resulted in her fainting and suffering a concussion. 

Her two deputies, William Burns and Thomas Nides, will testify in her place. 

Debate over the attacks polarized Republican and Democratic lawmakers, as Republicans questioned whether the consulate had adequate security and whether the State Department had responded to requests for more protection. 

At the same time, U.S. spy agencies produced conflicting reports on who was behind them, U.S. officials have said. Most said extremists with possible al-Qaida ties were involved. But a few reports, which the Obama administration emphasized in early public statements, said the attacks could have been spontaneous protests against an anti-Muslim video made in the U.S.

United Nations Ambassador Susan Rice faced intense criticism from Republican lawmakers when she made comments indicating that the attacks were a spontaneous response to a low-budget movie made in the U.S. that maligned the Islamic Prophet Mohammed. She later said she had not meant to be misleading but was relaying intelligence that she had been provided. 

Rice dropped out of the running for secretary of state, citing the "very politicized confirmation process."

NBC's Catherine Chomiak and Reuters contributed reporting.

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