The Senate Benghazi Report

Posted: April 8, 2014 by Marner in Uncategorized

On January 15th, the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (SSCI) released an unclassified version of their report on Benghazi. The report is an extensive, bipartisan examination of what happened before, during, and after the attacks on the US mission and CIA Annex. The SSCI made 14 findings with regard to the incident:

Finding #1: In the months before the attacks on September 11, 2012, the IC [Intelligence Community] provided ample strategic warning that the security situation) in eastern Libya was deteriorating and that U.S. facilities and personnel were at risk in Benghazi.

Finding #2: The State Department should have increased its security posture more significantly in Benghazi based on the deteriorating security situation on the ground and IC threat reporting on the prior attacks against Westerners in Benghazi – including two incidents at the Temporary Mission Facility on April 6 and June 6, 2012.

Finding #3: There was no singular “tactical warning” in the intelligence reporting leading up to the events on September 11, 2012, predicting an attack on U.S. facilities in Benghazi on the 9/11 anniversary, although State and the CIA both sent general warning notices to facilities worldwide noting the potential security concerns associated with the anniversary. Such a specific warning should not have been expected, however, given the limited intelligence collection of the Benghazi area at the time.

Finding #4: Although the IC relied heavily on open source press reports in the immediate aftermath of the attacks, the IC conducted little analysis of open source extremist-affiliated social media prior to and immediately after the attacks.

Finding #5: There were “tripwires” designed to prompt a reduction in personnel or the suspension of operations at the Mission facility in Benghazi and although there is evidence that some of them had been crossed, operations continued with minimal change. Some nations closed their diplomatic facilities in Benghazi as the security conditions deteriorated during the summer of 2012, but other nations stayed along with the United States, contrary to some public reports and statements that the U.S. was the last country represented in Benghazi.

Finding #6: The State Department personnel at the Temporary Mission Facility in Benghazi relied on the security officers at the CIA Annex as a last resort for security in the event of an attack.

Finding #7: There were no U.S. military resources in position to intervene in short order in Benghazi to help defend the Temporary Mission Facility and its Annex on September 11 and 12, 2012.

Finding #8: Unarmed U.S. military surveillance assets were not delayed when responding to the attack, and they provided important situational awareness for those under siege during the attacks against the Temporary Mission Facility and the Annex on September 11 and 12, 2012.

Finding #9: In finished reports after September 11, 2012, intelligence analysts inaccurately referred to the presence of a protest at the Mission facility before the attack based on open source information and limited intelligence, but without sufficient intelligence or eyewitness statements to corroborate that assertion. The IC took too long to correct these erroneous reports, which caused confusion and influenced the public statements of policymakers.

Finding #10: The State Department Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR) did not disseminate any independent analysis in the year following the Benghazi attacks.

Finding #11: The DNI’s [Director of National Intelligence] Office of Analytic Integrity and Standards (AIS) failed to provide complete and accurate information to Congress during its review of the Benghazi attacks. The Committee found AIS’s methodology in assembling documents to be flawed. Despite repeated requests from the Committee, AIS also refused to provide complete, accurate, and thoroughly cited information to Congress.

Finding #12: The co-location of IC and diplomatic personnel in Benghazi could have enhanced security; but co-location often presents tradeoffs that should be carefully evaluated in high-threat environments.

Finding #13: The primary source of security for the Temporary Mission Facility, local Libyan militia members, failed to provide any significant defense of the compound from the attack.

Finding #14: More than a year after the Benghazi attacks, the terrorists who perpetrated the attacks have still not been brought to justice. The IC has identified several individuals responsible for the attacks. Some of the individuals have been identified with a strong level of confidence. However, insight into the current whereabouts and links between these individuals in some cases is limited due in part to the nascent intelligence capabilities in the region.

I believe this report is a comprehensive, mostly bi-partisan (there are three partisan appendices) attempt to identify the facts and cut through the spin in order to find ways to improve the way we do business. That’s their job and it’s nice to see them actually doing it.

There are a couple of the findings I would like to elaborate on below the fold.


The first three findings deal with warnings and security prior to the attack. The IC provided plenty of indications and warnings (I&W) of an increased threat condition in Libya prior to the attack. The SSCI report only identifies specific reports going back to three months prior to the attack, but there were at least 20 security incidents in the Benghazi area in the 6 months prior to the attack. Three-quarters of those incidents where what I would consider directly relevant to the Mission’s security. There was plenty of time to enact temporary increased security measures or close the mission until a more permanent solution could be put in place. The report makes clear there was no single “golden nugget” of intelligence that would have tipped anyone off about the attack, but that’s not what intelligence is all about.

INR is responsible for providing the intelligence necessary to protect State Department personnel, but as with all intelligence they don’t enact policy. Their role is to inform the policy-makers. However, that does not absolve INR of responsibility. They should have recognized the I&W of a significantly increased threat environment and been pounding the policy-makers with it until the threat was fully understood. It’s not entirely clear in the report, but that doesn’t appear to have happened here. It appears the CIA was the one advocating for changes and INR was MIA. Within the State Department, it looks like the threat level was considered too low to justify immediate action, but high enough to be used for bureaucratic in-fighting.

Beginning in June, Ambassador Stevens made a number of requests to State for increased security which were partially fulfilled, most mostly ignored. He asked for some type of teams to be made up of locally-hired people in Tripoli and Benghazi, but it didn’t happen. They tried in Tripoli, but couldn’t find enough trust-worthy people, which is probably why they didn’t even try in Benghazi. Next, Stevens asked for 13 State Department security personnel on temporary duty for Tripoli and Benghazi, but it was ignored. Three weeks before the attack an interagency meeting was held where the CIA provided significant concerns on the Benghazi Mission’s security posture and the State Department Primary Officer in Benghazi said a request would be sent to the Embassy outlining additional personnel and security needs. The request never made it out of the Embassy. After reading the interagency meeting’s report, the Commander of AFRICOM, General Ham, offered Stevens the option of using a military Site Security Team for additional security whose mission had been changed from security to training local forces. Stevens twice declined the offer, saying they were not needed.

The picture that emerges for me is of a battle of wills between Stevens and State. The mission in Benghazi was temporary and State wanted it remain that way. Stevens wanted to make it permanent by increasing the investment in State personnel and equipment. State’s plan was to ignore requests for State resources and force Stevens to rely on local hires, while Stevens plan was to hold out for State resources. Neither side saw the threat as anything more than a weapon to use to get what they wanted and played a game of brinksmanship. The cost of that game was the lives of Stevens and three others. At State there is at least one person who also needs to be held accountable for playing this game: Deputy Assistant Secretary Charlene Lamb. Lamb was the primary person denying additional State security personnel to Libya. Her statements and actions both before and after the attack, as provided in the Committee Republicans’ Appendix, are inexcusable. They demonstrate a callous disregard for the human toll of her political games. Under Secretary Kennedy should also be held accountable for the lack of action taken in his role as the Acting Assistant Secretary for Diplomatic Security.

The report deals fatal blows to the conspiracy theories about there being an armed drone in the area and the military being given stand down orders when they could have intervened, but devotes a considerable amount of space to the talking points produced immediately after the attack. The report helpfully lays out the 12 versions of the talking points in chronological order, showing exactly what changes were made and who made them, clearly demonstrating that they went through the normal interagency process. If you’re into sausage-making, it’s actually an interesting read. You can see where the statement that the attack was a result of the protests in Egypt originated with the CIA in the first version and remained throughout every subsequent version. You can also see the CIA using the talking points to try to protect themselves from blame. The first three versions were entirely within the CIA, not going out to other agencies until version 4. In the third version, the CIA’s Offices of Public Affairs and Congressional Affairs added lines pointing out that the CIA had warned of threats in the area. These statements had no relevance to what actually happened and were entirely self-serving, so the CIA wouldn’t be blamed for an intelligence failure. The CIA was justified in pointing this out, because they had provided warnings, but this wasn’t the place to point it out. These statements were removed by the CIA in version 9 after the White House Security Staff and State objected. Having been involved in creating these types of documents, it’s interesting to me that you can identify the type of additions, deletions, and edits you receive based on what type of office is doing the review. Public Affairs, Legal, Congressional Affairs, and senior people typically make inputs based on their role and sometimes you can figure out who made an edit just by what type of edit it is.

For me as an intelligence guy, the biggest takeaway from this report is need for the IC and policy-makers to take I&W seriously. It’s up to the IC to produce timely, accurate, relevant, and predictive intelligence so policy-makers have the most complete information to make decisions with. A failing in a lot of intelligence is that there is too much focus on the first three elements of effective intelligence, but not as much on the fourth. At the strategic level, being predictive is critical. The IC can’t just tell policy-makers what happened and let them connect the dots themselves. They IC has to provide the “so what” factor. If you just tell a policy-maker that the number of threat incidents has increased in an area, he has no basis of knowledge and expertise to know why that matters. His question is, “So what?” If he can’t easily answer that question himself, he disregards the information. The IC has to tell him why that increase is important and the potential results of that increase. The report references “triggers” that were established for the Benghazi mission. Triggers are events or trends that lead to specific actions. In this case, those triggers were ignored. It could be because the triggers were too nebulous to be of any value. If they’re not clearly defined, you’re never really sure if one has been tripped. It’s the IC’s responsibility to help the policy-makers define those triggers in a way that leaves as few questions as possible as to when they’ve been tripped. The other possibility is that the triggers were being ignored, either by the IC or the decision-makers. In that case, the IC has an advocacy role to make sure those triggers are being paid attention to. My hope is that the IC, and INR in particular, takes this lesson to heart.








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