Senate concludes State Dept. ignored security warnings ahead of Benghazi attack

January 15, 2014 at 6:22 PM EDT
A bipartisan Senate report has concluded that the State Department could have prevented the deadly 2012 attack at the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya. The Senate Intelligence Committee found officials ignored warnings of growing terrorist activity. Gwen Ifill talks to Adam Goldman of The Washington Post.

GWEN IFILL: More than a year ago, a U.S. ambassador and three other Americans were killed in an uprising in Benghazi, Libya. The questions about the incident, why it happened, how it happened, whether it could have been avoided, have never completely gone away.

Today, after dozens of hearings and interviews, the Senate Intelligence Committee issued its own bipartisan conclusions.

Adam Goldman of The Washington Post joins us now to talk about them.

So, how did the Senate Intelligence Committee’s finding differ from what we have heard about? We have heard so much about this Benghazi episode? Was there anything different that they discovered today? 

ADAM GOLDMAN, The Washington Post: No.

I think they came to the same conclusion as other reports that what happened in Benghazi was preventable. I think what was new about the report was the detail they went into. And that in itself was extraordinary. The whole report was released.

And we really got a blow-by-blow of what happened. And there weren’t very many redactions in this report.

GWEN IFILL: In which way — in what way did they say it was preventable?

ADAM GOLDMAN: That it was clear — the report lays out in very clear terms that there was more than enough evidence to suggest that the security environment in Benghazi was deteriorating quickly.

In fact, there were 20 security incidents in Benghazi in August before, and the State Department had received repeated warnings that the situation was getting worse. And the CIA on the ground, which was operating out of an annex about a mile away from the diplomatic compound, also had major concerns and had done a briefing about terrorism activity in the area.

GWEN IFILL: And that annex that you mentioned, the military knew nothing about the CIA annex, where this all happened?

ADAM GOLDMAN: Yes, one of the things that the report highlighted was a lack of communication.

AFRICOM, which is in charge of Africa, didn’t know the CIA was operating out of that annex.

GWEN IFILL: So, were they able to sufficiently protect them even after the event began?


The report found that there weren’t available resources in the region to respond in case of an emergency. And what the report lays out is a contingent, a military contingent from Tripoli actually responded to what happened. But they don’t arrive in Benghazi in the airport until about 1:00. They don’t get to the annex itself, which was already under fire, until hours later.

GWEN IFILL: And they’re not notified of this attack by the State Department. So the State Department has dropped the ball here.

ADAM GOLDMAN: Well, the State Department does notify the CIA at about 9:40 p.m. on September 11. The annex — people from the annex leave there about 30 minutes later. And when they get there, they are immediately engaged in a firefight.

GWEN IFILL: There are some amazing details about how that firefight unfolded, including people going to the roof, breaking open a skylight, trying to let air in, in order to rescue the ambassador, who by then was trapped.

ADAM GOLDMAN: Yes. It was laid out in harrowing detail in some parts of the report, one diplomatic security agent trying to take the ambassador with them and rescue him and go through a window, you know, almost losing consciousness.

The report points out that the attackers used diesel fuel to light the compound on fire. And there was thick smoke. It was really — you know, it was really a tough situation.

GWEN IFILL: Now, the heart of the political argue here has always been about who knew what when and what the cause was of that, of the uprising in the first place. Was there any new light shed on that?


One of the things the report says was that September 18, seven days after that — the attack, the FBI and CIA was able to review security footage and come to the determination there were no protests. They were not ever able to — and the I.C., the intelligence community, wasn’t able to correct the record until six days later, but by that time the narrative had already been set.

GWEN IFILL: And part of the narrative, at least a couple weeks ago, we heard reports that in fact this wasn’t the video, the — the video that sparked the protest, that there was an al-Qaida link — or there was not an al-Qaida link. I feel like every time we hear a report about this, it says the opposite of what the last report says.

ADAM GOLDMAN: Well, I think this is what we know.

Right now, there wasn’t any evidence that core al-Qaida, Zawahri from Pakistan, orchestrated this attack. What we do know is that terrorist organizations did participate in it. So, you know, is it al-Qaida or is it terrorism, and does it really matter?

GWEN IFILL: We don’t know what the link necessarily might be. The title is not the issue.

ADAM GOLDMAN: Right. And the FBI…

GWEN IFILL: But it wasn’t a spontaneous attack is, I guess, what…


ADAM GOLDMAN: They describe it as opportunistic.


ADAM GOLDMAN: And there were elements on the ground in Benghazi that took advantage of this moment. And it’s not clear if the militias themselves were actually coordinating.

GWEN IFILL: Very interesting detail that I had never seen before, which is that in the process of this FBI investigation, 15 witnesses have since been killed?

ADAM GOLDMAN: Not witnesses, people who might have…

GWEN IFILL: Cooperated?

ADAM GOLDMAN: … cooperated or supported the investigation, supported the U.S. And that in itself is chilling.

And while the report doesn’t say Libya was hampering the investigation, I can tell you through my own reporting that Libya has been hampering the investigation.

GWEN IFILL: The government itself?

ADAM GOLDMAN: Well, and particularly the FBI, which is very, very frustrated. It’s been very difficult to interview witnesses on the ground in Libya.

GWEN IFILL: Which is maybe why it took so long for this report to come out?

ADAM GOLDMAN: No. I think the minority — well, the minority view, the Republicans on the committee say in the report it took so long to come out because the White House obstructed it and the State Department didn’t provide the information they wanted.

GWEN IFILL: Adam Goldman of The Washington Post, thank you.

ADAM GOLDMAN: Thank you.