By Dave Clark, Agence France-Presse
A probe by a Congressional committee into the September 11, 2012 attack on a US compound in Benghazi debunked allegations that President Barack Obama’s administration fell down on the job.
Since the assault on the US mission in the Libyan city, which left the ambassador and three colleagues dead, the White House, CIA and State Department have been accused of mishandling their response.
But the report released Friday by the House intelligence committee, which is led by some of Obama’s fiercest Republican opponents, cleared the administration of all the most serious charges.
One claim investigated was that the Central Intelligence Agency had not provided adequate security for its own agents at an annex near the diplomatic mission, and Washington had failed to send support.
But the report, based on “thousands of hours of detailed investigation” and interviews with both senior officials and agents who had been on the ground found that this had not been the case.
“CIA ensured sufficient security for CIA activities in Benghazi and, without a requirement to do so, ably and bravely assisted the State Department on the night of the attacks,” it said.
“Appropriate US personnel made reasonable tactical decision that night, and the committee found no evidence that there was a stand-down order or a denial of available air support.
“The CIA received all military support that was available,” it added.
The report did conclude, however, that the State Department diplomatic compound where Ambassador Chris Stevens was killed had inadequate security and had needed CIA assistance.
The committee also found that there was “no intelligence failure prior to the attacks” as the US mission was aware of the worsening security situation in Benghazi but not of a specific planned attack.
The 2012 attack, which came on the anniversary of the September 11, 2001 Al-Qaeda attacks on New York and Washington, was carried out by Libyan militias and extremists, some with Qaeda ties.
But after it was carried out, then US ambassador to the UN Susan Rice blamed the attack on a spontaneous local protest provoked by a privately-made propaganda film that attacked Islam.
– False reports –
During a highly charged presidential campaign, Obama’s critics accused the administration of denying the Al-Qaeda role in the attack in order to protect the president’s counterterrorism record.
But the report concluded that Rice had based her remarks — which did indeed prove false — on an intelligence assessment that was believed correct at the time.
The report also tried to put to rest a persistent rumor that began after the attacks that the CIA had been using the Benghazi base to covertly smuggle Libyan weapons to Syrian rebels.
“The eyewitness testimony and thousands of pages of CIA cables and emails that the committee reviewed provide no support for this allegation,” it said.
In fact, the report said, the CIA agents at the facility were tracking on local groups smuggling weapons, not collecting them themselves.
The report also said that, while some government agencies were slow to respond to its queries, all eventually cooperated with the inquiry and no CIA personnel were intimidated by the administration.