By Jamie Crawford
The independent inquiry into the September 11 attack on the U.S. mission in Benghazi made key recommendations to overcome what investigators found were weak security, lack of support for improvement requests denied and failure to see risk in the accumulated incidents of attacks in Benghazi.
The Accountability Review Board (ARB) delivered its report, a comprehensive investigation of what went wrong in Benghazi, to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Monday, who in turn submitted it to Congress on Tuesday.
It put forward recommendations in six core areas - overarching security considerations, staffing for high threat and high risk posts, training and awareness, security and fire safety equipment, intelligence and threat analysis, and personal accountability.
In addition to its recommendations to the State Department, it also called on Congress to do its part to support such posts in the future.
"One overall conclusion in this report is that Congress must do its part to meet this challenge and provide necessary resources to the State Department to address security risks and meet mission imperatives," the report said.
In a letter to the chairmen of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and House Foreign Affairs Committee - the committees charged with oversight of the State Department - Clinton said work was already beginning on the implementation of all of the board's recommendations.
"Because of steps we began taking in the hours and days after the attacks, this works is well underway," Clinton said in letters addressed to Sen. John Kerry, D-Massachusetts, and Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen. R-Florida. "We will have implementation of every recommendation underway by the time the next Secretary of State takes office. There is no higher priority for me or my department.
The report called on the State Department to review the "proper balance" between risk and expected outcomes in in high threat posts, but acknowledged the overall answer "cannot be to refrain from operating in such environment."
One such recommendation was for the establishment of a panel of independent experts with experience in high-threat environments to help identify best practices and regularly evaluate security practices at high-risk U.S. posts overseas. It also called for establishing "multi-bureau support" cells that could help expedite physical security measures and appropriate staffing and equipment for high threat missions before their opening.
The board "strongly" endorsed the State Department's request for increased diplomatic security personnel at high risk posts.
"The Department should assign key policy, program, and security personnel at high risk, high threat posts for a minimum of one year," the report said. "For less critical personnel, the (temporary duty length) should be no less than 120 days."
With added focus on countries in the Middle East, the board also recommended that the State Department upgrade its roster of Arabic-speaking American employees, with the proper amount of resources being granted to do so.
Given the that Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens died of smoke inhalation after attackers set fire to his compound in Benghazi, the board said the State Department "should ensure provision of adequate fire safety and security equipment for safe havens and safe areas" in such facilities like the compound in Benghazi. It also called for an upgrade of surveillance cameras at such locations with greater resolution and nighttime visibility.
And the analysis of intelligence and threats at dangerous posts like Benghazi must be reviewed as well the report said.
"Careful attention should be given to factors showing a deteriorating threat situation in general as a basis for improving security posture," the board said in its report. "Key trends must be quickly identified and used to sharpen risk calculations."
While the board said it was "humbled by the courage and integrity" shown by the actions on the ground in Libya who responded to the attack, it did recommend a revision of Department regulations to allow greater personal accountability of senior officials in similar situations in the future.
In her letter to the committee chairmen outlining steps the State Department is already taking, Clinton said she was implementing additional reforms beyond those recommended by the board including an annual review of high threat posts chaired by the Secretary of State.