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Public Statements

Congressman Tom Cole's Weekly Column - Still No Accountability for Benghazi

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The "Accountability Review Board" assembled by the State Department to investigate security failures leading to the Benghazi terror attack has released a report that fails to hold any senior officials accountable for the assault that claimed four American lives.

The investigation found that security was "grossly inadequate" and "profoundly weak" due to a "lack of proactive senior leadership" and overreliance on Libyan security guards whose response was "profoundly lacking" and characterized by "weak capacity." The board's report details "systemic failures and leadership and management deficiencies at senior levels within two bureaus of the State Department."

Most incriminating, the report confirms that "security staff in Benghazi on the day of the attack and in the months and weeks leading up to it was inadequate, despite repeated requests from Special Mission Benghazi and Embassy Tripoli for additional staffing." The report notes that the intelligence community failed to detect any specific warning of the Sept. 11 consulate attack, but that is no excuse. While intelligence gaps certainly contributed to the tragedy, it didn't take the CIA to notice the pattern of increasing violence in the months leading to the fatal attack. As early as June 25, Ambassador Chris Stevens warned the State Department of the deteriorating security situation, listing six of the multiple attacks that had already occurred, including an attack on a U.N. official in Benghazi, an IED explosion at the consulate compound, and a rocket-propelled grenade attack on the British ambassador's convoy. It was not a failure of intelligence but a failure of judgment on multiple levels within the State Department that left the consulate vulnerable to attack.

According to retired Adm. Mike Mullen, a former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and a co-author of the report, "there was a knowledge gap in the intelligence community's understanding of extremist militias in Libya and the potential threat they posed to U.S. interests." This is also indefensible considering ample warning of the terrorist threat even before President Obama committed U.S. forces to intervene in Libya. A report from ABC News cited Defense Department records from 2007 indicating that nearly one-fifth of al Qaeda's foreign fighters in Iraq came from Libya, making Libya "far and away" the largest provider of foreign fighters per capita to the terror group's operations in Iraq. Furthermore, "almost all of the Libyan fighters hailed from the east -- cities like Benghazi." I cited these facts in April 2011 during the debate over President Obama's unconstitutional Libya action, and the intelligence community and State Department certainly should have considered militia activity a prime factor in security decisions in Benghazi.

Given the known militia presence and well-documented series of attacks leading up to Sept. 11, 2012, it is all the more implausible that the Obama administration ever really believed the attack was carried out by a disorganized mob protesting a video. Even prior to the Accountability Review Board study, e-mail records indicated that the White House knew within two hours that the attack was the work of organized terrorists. Now we have a review board report that definitively states that "there was no protest prior to the attacks."

Under mounting pressure after the scathing report, four State Department officials have resigned. This is appropriate, and it is encouraging that the State Department has begun implementing some of the review board's 29 recommendations, including increasing the number of Marine guards stationed at diplomatic missions. Yet the most senior officials continue to avoid full accountability. Outgoing Secretary of State Clinton has remained conspicuously and conveniently absent from the discussion, sending a letter to Capitol Hill in lieu of testifying in congressional hearings. Secretary Clinton has previously claimed that she accepts "full responsibility" for the Benghazi failures, and that should include testifying before Congress when her health permits. Congress remains committed to full disclosure and accountability in the Benghazi attack to ensure the safety of the thousands of foreign service workers serving in harm's way around the world.


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