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


Stevens had asked Washington to beef up security at the Temporary U.S. Mission facility in Benghazi in the months leading up to attacks, based on intelligence assessments and 20 separate security incidents in the area aimed at Western officials. But he also turned down offers of military help from U.S. Africa Command. Its then-commander, Army Gen. Carter Ham, offered to extend the tour of a Special Forces team in Tripoli but Stevens declined the offer twice, the report said. At the time of the attack, only four Special Operations forces were in the embassy, including two from a unit whose identity is redacted in the report.

The assault on the compound was "not a highly coordinated plot but was opportunistic" and "likely put together in short order" in response to a near riot outside the U.S. Embassy-Cairo, not because of the offensive YouTube "Innocence of Muslims" video. Violent Islamist extremists from militant groups in Benghazi seized on the regional fervor and quickly mounted "deliberate and organized" attacks which resulted in looting and a blaze they set at the U.S. Mission.

Among at least 60 people who penetrated the Temporary U.S. Mission while Stevens was inside were individual terrorists from five groups: Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, based in Yemen; Al Qaeda in the Lands of the Islamic Maghreb, based in Algeria; the Egypt-based Jamal Network; and two branches of Ansar al-Sharia from Libya. All five groups have been designated as Foreign Terrorist Organizations by the United States and several of those groups have well-established links to Bin Laden and core-al Qaeda, according to the U.S.

Stevens was moved into a safe room by Diplomatic Security agents, who then lost sight of the ambassador and Smith amid heavy smoke as they tried to escape.

ABC News sources have said that waivers were given by State Department bureaucrats on the specifications of the safe room in the U.S. Mission, which lacked an independent ventilation system. Stevens and Smith died from smoke inhalation. A State Department report quoted in the Senate report found such security requirements waivers to be "commonplace" at overseas U.S. facilities.

The State Department leases and builds facilities not just for its own diplomats but also for the CIA.

Diplomatic Security agents were outgunned at the U.S. Mission and even after retrieving their M-4 rifles from a building in the compound, they "did not fire a single shot," the report said. CIA paramilitaries who mounted a rescue operation from their nearby "Annex" at 10:05 p.m. -- 20 minutes into the attack -- were not delayed by anyone, contrary to some allegations, and subsequently engaged in a firefight as they retrieved Smith's remains and the surviving DS agents. Some reports have suggested the CIA operatives were not allowed to rush to Stevens' aid, which the Senate investigation said could not be corroborated.

However, the Senate report did not explain why, given the DS agents' knowledge of the security threat in Benghazi, they were not carrying their M-4s at all times within the Temporary U.S. Mission compound, as is standard at U.S. bases in Afghanistan, for example.

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