The head of State Department diplomatic security resigned Wednesday, in the wake of an investigation by a panel looking into the September 11, 2012 killing of four US diplomatic personnel in Benghazi, Libya.
The State Department said Assistant Secretary of State for Diplomatic Security Eric Boswell has resigned, and three other officials have been relieved of their current duties. “All four individuals have been placed on administrative leave pending further action,” State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said in a statement.
Veteran US diplomat Thomas Pickering, who chaired the independent Accountability Review Board (.pdf), said Wednesday that State Department security personnel were “heroic” in their actions after the US compound in Benghazi came under attack, but that security preparations at the facility were “grossly inadequate.”
“They did their best that they possibly could with what they had, but what they had was not enough,” Pickering told journalists at a briefing at the State Department Wednesday.
“Security posture at the Special Mission compound was inadequate for the threat environment in Benghazi, and in fact, grossly inadequate to deal with the attack that took place that night,” retired Adm. Mike Mullen, the former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff who served as vice chair of the ARB review, told journalists.
The review board singled out the State Department’s Diplomatic Security and Near East bureaus for inadequately coordinating, but said that their review–involving interviews with some 100 people and watching hours of video footage—had not found that any individual was in such breach of their duties that they should be disciplined. Security issues at high-threat outposts were a systemic problem, and doing more with less was also culturally ingrained given Congress had not fully funded Department budget requests, the report described.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, in a letter accompanying the report sent to Congressional committees, said she was committed to implementing all 29 of the ARB review board’s recommendations, 5 of which are still classified. Among them, creating a diplomatic security officer for high-threat posts, and sending hundreds of Marines to guard high risk facilities.
Among the ARB review’s chief findings was the inadequacy of relying on local security. The report paints a terrifying picture of the local militia hired by a US contractor to help protect the US compound, the Libyan February 17th brigades, simply melting away when armed attackers breached the gates of the compound.
“The Board’s inquiry found little evidence that the armed February 17 guards alerted Americans at the [Special Mission compound] SMC to the attack or summoned a February 17 militia presence to assist expeditiously once the attack was in progress – despite the fact that February 17 members were paid to provide interior security and a quick reaction force,” the report wrote.
“In contrast, [U.S. Diplomatic Security] DS and Annex [CIA] personnel on the ground in Benghazi performed with courage and an overriding desire to protect and rescue their colleagues, in a near impossible situation,” it continued.
Killed in the attack were US Ambassador to Libya J. Christopher Stevens, information management officer Sean Smith, and two former Navy SEALs serving as security officers for the CIA annex in Benghazi, Glen Doherty, and Tyrone Woods.
Pickering and Mullen briefed House and Senate foreign affairs panels in closed session Wednesday on their findings. Deputy Secretaries of State William Burns and Thomas Nides testify before the panels in open session on Thursday.
“It’s important to recognize that our colleagues in the Bureaus of Diplomatic Security and Near East Affairs and across the Department, at home and abroad, get it right countless times a day for years on end in some of the toughest circumstances imaginable,” Burns told journalists at the State Department Wednesday. “We cannot lose sight of that.”
“But we have learned some very hard and painful lessons in Benghazi,” Burns continued.