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Public Statements

Report on the Terrorist Attack at Benghazi

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT

Ms. COLLINS. Mr. President, I am pleased to join the chairman of the Homeland Security Committee, Senator Joe Lieberman, in submitting for the Congressional Record our investigative report on the terrorist attack against the U.S. mission in Benghazi, Libya, that claimed the lives of four Americans who were serving our country. This report is indeed the last initiative the chairman and I will produce together. It is the final work product of 10 years of cooperation and collaboration and was authored in the same bipartisan spirit as our investigations into the attack at Fort Hood and into the Government's response to Hurricane Katrina, among many others.

I will so miss working with Chairman Lieberman. He is an extraordinary Senator who has contributed so much during his years in the Senate and as a leader of our committee. Sadly, our last official act together was prompted by the terrorist attack in Benghazi on September 11 of this year that took the lives of our Ambassador and three other brave Americans. Our findings and recommendations are based on the extensive investigative work the committee has conducted since shortly after the attack of September 11, 2012, including meetings with senior and midlevel government officials; reviews of literally thousands of pages of documents, both classified and unclassified, provided by the Department of State, the Department of Defense, and the intelligence community; a review of written responses to questions posed by our committee to numerous agencies; our consultations with security experts and former officials; and our review of publicly available documents.

Our investigation found that the terrorists essentially walked right into the Benghazi compound, unimpeded, and set it ablaze due to extremely poor security in a threat environment that was indeed ``flashing red,'' in the words of a high-ranking State Department official.

As we all recognize, the ultimate responsibility for this atrocity lies with the terrorists who attacked our diplomats. Nevertheless, there are several lessons we must learn from this tragedy if we are to make our diplomats safer in the future. It is in that spirit that we are putting our unclassified report into the Record so that we can share it with our colleagues and with the American people. We will have more to say about our specific findings and recommendations when we release the report tomorrow.

In the months leading up to the attack, it was well known in Washington that Benghazi was increasingly dangerous and at risk for a significant attack.

Our mission facility in Benghazi was itself the target of two prior attacks involving improvised explosive devices, including an April attack in which one current and one former contract guard at the facility were suspects, and a June attack that blew a hole in the perimeter wall.

There were also multiple attacks on other western targets, including a June attack in which a rocket propelled grenade was fired at the convoy of the British ambassador to Libya, injuring two British bodyguards. Yet, the State Department failed to take adequate steps to reduce the facility's vulnerability to a terrorist attack of this kind.

While the Department and the Intelligence Community lacked specific intelligence about this attack, the State Department should not have waited for--or expected--specific warnings before increasing its security in Benghazi, a city awash with weapons and violent extremists.

Our report also underscores the need for the Intelligence Community to enhance its focus on violent Islamist extremist groups in the region to improve the likelihood of obtaining such intelligence.

The lesson about over-dependence on such intelligence, however, is not new. The independent Accountability Review Board reports following the 1998 attacks on our embassies in Africa found that ``both the intelligence and policy communities relied excessively on tactical intelligence to determine the level of potential terrorist threats to posts worldwide,'' yet prior security reviews and ``previous experience indicate[d] that terrorist attacks are often not preceded by warning intelligence.'' The State Department must finally take this lesson to heart.

The State Department failed to implement adequate security measures to account for the fact that there was no reasonable expectation that the host government--Libya--would protect our diplomats. There was an overreliance on the rule of international law when Benghazi was operating under the rule of militias outside the effective control of the central Libyan government.

The unreliability and conflicting loyalties of the Libyan militia and the unarmed Blue Mountain guards hired to protect the facility are deeply troubling, especially since this problem was recognized long before the attack. Despite evidence that they were not dependable, American personnel were forced to rely upon them far too much. For example, in August, State Department personnel in Benghazi stated that ``[m]ission opinion is that Libyan security forces are indifferent to the safety needs of the U.S. mission.'' This proved all too true.

When a host nation cannot adequately protect our diplomats, the State Department must provide additional security measures of its own, urgently press the host government to upgrade its security forces, or remove U.S. personnel until appropriate steps can be taken to provide adequate security. It is telling that the British government removed its personnel from Benghazi after the attack on its ambassador.

Too often, the State Department failed to sufficiently respond to--or even ignored--repeated requests from those on the ground in Benghazi for security resources, especially for more personnel.

Ironically, the challenges facing the security personnel in Benghazi were well summarized in a March 2012 write-up from the top U.S. security officer in Benghazi as he sought to recognize his security agents with a meritorious honor award. The official justified the award based upon the fact that, ``Agent ingenuity took over where funding and Department restrictions left off.''

The temporary and junior security personnel in Benghazi pleaded for more help from Washington and Tripoli, but they were forced to make do on their own.

The Department must also reassess its local guard programs, particularly the use at high-risk posts of local guard contractors who do not meet standards necessary for the protection of our personnel or facilities.

I have previously noted the parallels and repeated mistakes identified in the report on the 1998 bombings of our embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, and we include several of these in our report. One of the recurring lessons is that the President and Congress must work together to ensure that we appropriately fund security for the State Department.

We have seen finger pointing about the lack of resources for embassy security, but the budget is a shared responsibility. The inadequate security in Benghazi was a product of both budgets approved by Congress and of the desire of the administration for a light footprint.

Overall, appropriations for the Department of State's security have increased by 27 percent since 2007 and Congress has generally been responsive in providing supplemental and Overseas Contingency Operations--OCO--funds to the Department of State. But, there was no supplemental or OCO request made by the President for additional embassy security enhancements in the last three years.

The administration must reevaluate its budget priorities, and since the Benghazi attack, Secretary Clinton is undertaking such a review. She has asked to reprogram $1.4 billion of the FY13 budget request to jump start this effort.

The lack of resources is just one of a number of factors we identified in our report that contributed to a perfect storm on the night of September 11.

Our report also calls for the State Department to work more closely with the Department of Defense and the intelligence community to improve the security of our diplomats in high-threat areas when our national interests require their presence. When a host nation cannot protect our personnel, the Department of State must work more effectively with the Department of Defense to assign and deploy military assets, such as Marine Security Guards, and plan for contingencies in the event of an attack.

One of our findings is that, while the Defense Department attempted to mobilize its resources quickly, it had neither the personnel nor other assets close enough to reach Benghazi in a timely fashion. Indeed, as we learned, the Combatant Commander of U.S. Africa Command did not have complete visibility regarding the number of U.S. government personnel in Benghazi who would require evacuation in the event of an attack.

Our diplomats are increasingly being called on to serve in dangerous posts, in countries where emerging democracies lack the ability to protect U.S. personnel and where terrorists and extremist factions harbor antipathy toward the West. The U.S. cannot afford to retreat entirely from dangerous places where our country's interests are at stake, nor is it possible or smart to transform every diplomatic post into a fortress.

The absence of reasonable time-tested security measures is, however, unacceptable in such high-risk countries. When a host nation cannot adequately protect our diplomats or if the State Department and other U.S. agencies cannot work together to provide appropriate security, we cannot ignore the option of temporarily removing U.S. personnel until appropriate steps can be taken to provide adequate security.

Finally, our report concludes that the attack in Benghazi was recognized as a terrorist attack by the intelligence community from the beginning.

Nonetheless, administration officials were inconsistent in stating publicly that the deaths in Benghazi were the result of a terrorist attack. If the fact that Benghazi was indeed a terrorist attack had been made clear from the outset by the administration, there would have been much less confusion about what happened in Benghazi that terrible night. The attack clearly was not a peaceful protest in response to a hateful anti-Muslim video that evolved into a violent incident. It was a terrorist attack by an opportunistic enemy.

This, too, is not a new lesson. One of the key lessons of this Committee's 6-year focus on the threat of violent Islamist extremism is that, in order to understand and counter the threat we face, we must clearly identify that threat. We have repeatedly expressed our disappointment in the administration's reluctance to identify violent Islamist extremism as our enemy--while making the sharp distinction between the peaceful religion of Islam and a twisted corruption of that religion used to justify violence. The administration's inconsistent statements about whether this was a terrorist attack are symptomatic of this recurring problem. We hope this lesson will finally be heeded.

Ultimately, it is with the goal of enabling continued U.S. engagement around the world to support our own national interests that we offer our findings and recommendations regarding the terrorist attacks in Benghazi, Libya, on September 11, 2012. The men and women who serve our country in dangerous posts deserve no less.

Mr. President, I thank the chairman for his extraordinary work on this very important project.

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