The deaths of four Americans in Benghazi on Sept. 11, including the U.S. ambassador to Libya, stemmed from systemic shortcomings in the State Department’s handling of diplomatic security, according to an independent review ordered by the department and published this week.
These included a failure by the department to anticipate the gravity of the security threat, and a failure to have adequate forces in place or in a position to rush to the Benghazi mission during the attack that unfolded during Amb. Chris Steven’s visit there.
But they also stemmed from some fairly prosaic failures at the mission itself, according to a less-noticed portion of the department’s report. The attack unfolded quickly, but it was a surprise to those inside partly because an additional set of surveillance cameras “remained in boxes uninstalled” and a camera in the guard booth at the main gate “was inoperable on the day of the attacks, a repair which also awaited the arrival of a technical team.”
Also, the review board concluded that diplomatic security officials failed to anticipate the possibility that those at the mission could be put at risk from smoke, even though fires are ubiquitous when military ordnance explodes, as it often does in conflict and post-conflict locales. “The lack of fire safety equipment severely impacted the Ambassador’s and [security guard] Sean Smith’s ability to escape,” the panel said.
At a Senate Foreign Relations committee hearing on Dec. 20, Deputy Secretary of State Thomas R. Nides promised that the department was “realigning resources in our 2013 budget request to address physical vulnerabilities and reinforce structures wherever needed, and to reduce the risks from fire.” Three State Department officials were reassigned and one was retired in the wake of the review panel’s harsh conclusions.
The hearing was noteworthy in part because it was chaired by Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), who is President Obama’s likely nominee to become the Secretary of State during his second presidential term. In an opening statement, Kerry added his voice to complaints by members of the review board, in their report, that many of the State Department’s essential functions – including security – have not been adequately funded.
Congress “bears some responsibility here,” Kerry said. “For some time now, overseas resources have been withheld or cut and important foreign policy objectives have, in some cases, been starved. Consider that last year, we spent approximately $650 billion on our military. By contrast, the international affairs budget is less than one-tenth of the Pentagon’s.”
Adequately funding America’s foreign policy objectives, Kerry added, “is not spending—it’s investing in our long term security and more often than not it saves far more expensive expenditures in dollars and lives for the conflicts that we failed to see or avoid. We need to invest in America’s long-term interests in order to do the job of diplomacy in a dangerous world. And this report makes that crystal clear.”
The administration has asked Congress to approve the shift of more than a billion dollars to help repair security defects at dangerous embassies overseas.
For want of a nail the shoe was lost.
For want of a shoe the horse was lost.
For want of a horse the rider was lost.
For want of a rider the message was lost.
For want of a message the battle was lost.
For want of a battle the kingdom was lost.
And all for the want of a horseshoe nail.