Senate Probers: Stevens Didn't Have to Die in Benghazi

PHOTO: A vehicle and surrounding buildings burn after they were set on fire inside the US consulate compound in Benghazi, Libya, late Sept. 11, 2012.
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A rare bipartisan report by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence released Wednesday attempted to put to rest conspiracy theories and politically-driven allegations about the Sept. 11, 2012, Benghazi attacks that killed four American officials.

The panel's 85-page report placed blame for the incident first and foremost on armed Islamist militants -- mostly associated with five groups closely tied to core-al Qaeda -- but also with the State Department run by former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, whose staff failed to heed incessant warnings that security was evaporating there.

The committee's majority Democrats, led by Chairman Dianne Feinstein of California, concluded that the attacks "were likely preventable."

While investigators found "no singular 'tactical warning' in the intelligence" leading up to the attack, it listed "tripwires" such as multiple military intelligence reports that the senators believe "provided ample strategic warning" of the rising danger to U.S. facilities and personnel in Benghazi. The attacks that began at 9:45 p.m. that night resulted in the deaths of U.S. Ambassador to Libya Christopher Stevens, Foreign Service Officer Sean Smith and CIA paramilitary operators Ty Woods and Glen Doherty, both former Navy SEALs.

Of greatest concern beforehand were militants, some of whom had established training camps, from Islamist extremist groups in North Africa with historic ties to Osama Bin Laden's al Qaeda, according to the report. Investigators found that "individuals affiliated with terrorist groups ... participated in the Sept. 12, 2012 attacks," though no evidence shows that al Qaeda in Pakistan directly ordered the attacks the same day a video by Bin Laden's successor Ayman al-Zawahiri was released.

"Despite the clearly deteriorating situation in Benghazi and requests for additional security resources, few significant improvements were made by the State Department," the committee concluded, adding that the cabinet-level agency overseeing U.S. diplomacy "should have increased its security posture more significantly in Benghazi."

The senators also said that the intelligence community has since "identified several individuals responsible for the attacks." An ABC News intelligence source said most of the Benghazi perpetrators have been identified and their whereabouts are known to the U.S., even though none have been apprehended so far.

"The FBI's investigation into the individuals responsible for the Benghazi attacks has been hampered by inadequate cooperation and a lack of capacity by foreign governments to hold these perpetrators accountable, making the pursuit of justice for the attacks slow and insufficient," the report said.

State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf on Wednesday told reporters that "there was no specific threat indicating an attack was coming. Obviously we've talked at length about the fact that we knew there were extremists and terrorists operating in Libya and in Benghazi. But again, we had no specific information indicating a threat -- an attack was coming."

Republican members of the committee signed the report but in "additional views" decried the "complete lack of accountability" within the Obama administration over Benghazi failings.

In the main bipartisan report, however, the committee essentially held Stevens himself at least partially accountable for his own death.

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