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Benghazi report: Clinton should have realized risks

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Hillary Clinton (CNN file photo)

WASHINGTON — House Republicans are planning to release a long-awaited report Tuesday on the Benghazi terror attacks that killed four Americans on Hillary Clinton’s watch as secretary of state, reviving the politically charged issue less than five months before the election.

The report, parts of which have already been reviewed by CNN, paints a picture of a perfect storm of bureaucratic inertia, rapidly worsening security in Libya and inadequate resources in the months that led up to the killings of Ambassador Chris Stevens and three colleagues on September 11, 2012.

Clinton told the House Benghazi Committee last year that she was aware of the dangers in Libya but “there was no actionable intelligence” indicating a planned attack.

The portion of the report obtained by CNN doesn’t offer a scathing indictment of Clinton. But it does argue that intelligence was available suggesting an attack was possible and Clinton and a top aide, Patrick Kennedy, should have realized the risks posed to the Benghazi mission by extremist groups.

“It is not clear what additional intelligence would have satisfied either Kennedy or the Secretary in understanding the Benghazi mission compound was at risk — short of an attack,” the report says.

Conservative members of the panel are expected to release a more political analysis of the attack Tuesday that’s far more critical of Clinton.

The report caps a much-politicized two-year probe into the attack on a U.S. outpost and CIA annex that killed Stevens along with IT expert Sean Smith and two security personnel, Glen Doherty and Tyrone Woods. The attack was initially thought to be perpetrated by an angry mob responding to a video made in the U.S. mocking Islam and the Prophet Mohammed, but the assault was later determined to be a terrorist attack — a finding that Republicans accused the White House of covering up to protect President Barack Obama’s re-election prospects.

The committee report is sure to fuel charges by Republicans — including presumptive nominee Donald Trump — that Clinton is untrustworthy and that her tenure as the top U.S. diplomat was disastrous.

Democrats preemptively rebutted the findings Monday by releasing their own dissenting report. They accused Gowdy and the committee of flagrant political bias while arguing the investigation wasted taxpayer money to try to damage Clinton ahead of the November election.

White House spokesman Eric Schultz also ripped the Benghazi panel Monday, saying it amounted to a “Republican conspiracy theory in search of a conspiracy.”

Clinton campaign spokesman Brian Fallon blasted the committee in an overnight tweet.

“Far from honoring the four brave Americans who died, the Benghazi Committee has been a partisan sham since its start,” he wrote.

Clinton herself appeared to anticipate the report — and the potential political firestorm that could ensue — Monday when she spoke frankly about public perceptions that she’s not trustworthy.

“I personally know I have work to do on this front,” she said Monday at a Rainbow Push Coalition lunch in Chicago.

The report being released Tuesday includes testimony from senior State Department and intelligence officials along with lower-ranking diplomats and diplomatic security agents. It adds color and texture to the public record of the attacks already unveiled by multiple congressional and independent investigations.

It shows that the State Department assessment of the situation in Benghazi in 2011 and 2012 noted rising crime levels, rampant firearm ownership, and a high risk of militia violence in the security vacuum left by the toppling of Libyan dictator Moammar Gaddafi. The precarious security situation, according to the report, was exacerbated by inadequate security at the Benghazi outpost, which was plagued by equipment failures, a lack of manpower and relied on an often-disorganized local militia for protection.

The report says requests for more security in Benghazi repeatedly met no response or were refused by senior officials in Washington, though the parts of the report seen by CNN do not directly lay the fault directly at Clinton’s door.

The report also reveals that Stevens and senior department officials were apparently keen to set up a permanent consulate in Benghazi ahead of a planned visit to the city by Clinton in October 2012.

But the difficulty finding a suitable secure facility prompted officials to exclude the Benghazi compound from official department rules and standards that would have otherwise been more stringent.

“If you are in a non-diplomatic facility, there are no security standards. They don’t exist,” one unnamed diplomatic security agent told the committee.

Other findings include :

The tenacity of Chris Stevens.

The report reveals the determination of Stevens to keep the post open in Benghazi — “Chris had, I think a different tolerance of risk than I did,” said Joan Polaschik, former U.S. deputy chief of mission in Libya.

— After the fall of the Gadhaffi regime in 2011, one of Clinton’s top State Department aides, Jake Sullivan, asked a colleague what it would take to get a team back to the Libyan capital of Tripoli to re-open the U.S. embassy.

— “An ambassador to Libya who actually wants to go. Locking Pat Kennedy (then Under Secretary for Management) in a closet for long enough to actually take some real risks,” the colleage emailed back.

— In testimony to the committee, Charlene Lamb, formerly a senior State Department official, said that Stevens was ultimately responsible for security at his post. “It is very unfortunate and sad at this point that Ambassador Stevens was a victim, but that is where ultimate responsibility lies.”

Inadequate security in Benghazi

Throughout late 2011 and through 2012, security became perilous in Benghazi and there were at least two attacks on the compound and on diplomats and other international facilities.

— A diplomatic security agent in the city in November 2011 told the committee that security was “woefully inadequate” with no perimeter security, low walls and no lighting.

— The report said the Benghazi mission made repeated requests for new agents in late 2011 and early 2012. After a series of attacks on international targets in the city, more requests were made. But “no additional resources were provided by Washington D.C. to fortify the compound after the first two attacks. No additional personnel were sent to secure the facility, despite repeated requests for security experts on the ground.”

— At one point, then-State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland emailed Stevens to ask how to publicly describe the security incidents in 2012 : “Washington D.C. dismissed Stevens’ multiple requests for additional security personnel while also asking for help in messaging the very violence he was seeking security from,” the report said.

— The report, citing a cable from the U.S. embassy in Tripoli, suggests there simply were not sufficient resources in the unstable nation to send to properly protect Benghazi. In early August 2012, there were only 34 security staff at the embassy. By the end of the month there were only six.

— Such shortages might explain the overreliance on the February 17 local militia in Benghazi to help secure the outpost — but a diplomatic security agent quoted in the report said the group was “undisciplined and unskilled.”

— In 2011 and early 2012, security sometimes became so difficult in Benghazi that staff were unable to do their jobs reaching out Libyans to report back to Washington on the restive political situation in the city. But the report says that in February 2012, the lead diplomatic security agent at the Tripoli Embassy told the post that “substantive reporting” was not its job anyway.

“[U]nfortunately, nobody has advised the (principal diplomatic officer) that Benghazi is there to support [redacted] operations, not conduct substantive reporting,” the agent wrote, in a possible sign that the primary purpose of the mission was in fact to support the CIA.

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