Report: Benghazi Attack Could Have Been Prevented

Benghazi attacks could have been prevented by fixing "known security shortfalls," concludes Senate report.

Elad Benari ,

The U.S. Consulate in Benghazi is seen in fla
The U.S. Consulate in Benghazi is seen in fla

The U.S. government could have prevented deadly attacks on its mission in the Libyan city of Benghazi by fixing "known security shortfalls," a Senate report concluded Wednesday, according to AFP.

Four American citizens, including Ambassador Chris Stevens, died in the attack on September 11, 2012 which targeted the Benghazi consulate and a nearby CIA facility.

A Senate Intelligence Committee inquiry held hearings and interviewed dozens of witnesses before coming to its conclusions, AFP noted.

Wednesday's bipartisan report emphasized the security shortfalls that allowed protesters and armed militants to storm the Benghazi compound and torch the U.S. residence.

The report said the State Department had failed to heed warnings to reinforce protection at the sites despite the rapidly deteriorating security environment in Libya.

It also blamed intelligence agencies for not notifying U.S. military officials in the U.S. Africa command that a CIA annex even existed near the Benghazi diplomatic mission.

"The committee found the attacks were preventable, based on extensive intelligence reporting on the terrorist activity in Libya -- to include prior threats and attacks against Western targets -- and given the known security shortfalls at the U.S. mission," the panel said in a statement quoted by AFP.

"The State Department should have increased its security posture more significantly in Benghazi based on the deteriorating security situation on the ground and IC (intelligence community) threat reporting," said the statement.

The Obama administration appeared to accept the Senate report, with White House spokesman Jay Carney saying it "largely reaffirms" the findings from the independent Benghazi Accountability Review Board of 13 months ago.

"The administration is focused on two pieces -- bringing to justice those responsible for the deaths of four Americans and making sure we take steps necessary to improve security at vulnerable facilities," Carney told reporters aboard Air Force One.

The 85-page report also attempts to clarify confusion surrounding the Obama administration's initial statements about the attacks, when it "inaccurately" referred to a protest at the mission prior to the assault "without sufficient intelligence or eyewitness statements to corroborate that assertion."

Intelligence leaders then took "too long to correct these erroneous reports," adding to public confusion about what happened.

The report warns that the FBI probe has been stymied in Benghazi, where "as many as 15 individuals supporting the investigation or otherwise helpful to the United States have been killed."

The State Department also said the report reaffirms the earlier review board's assessments, but deputy State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf also said that - despite knowing there were "bad guys operating in Benghazi" - it would be difficult to look back and determine exactly what could have been prevented.

"We had no specific information indicating a threat -- an attack was coming," she told reporters, according to AFP.

Republican lawmakers accuse President Barack Obama of concealing evidence that Al-Qaeda-linked jihadi groups were behind the attack and of failing to properly protect the outpost.

Obama's administration initially suggested the attacks were a spontaneous protest by Benghazi residents angered by a privately-made American anti-Islamic film posted online.

U.S. military leaders have defended their response to the 2012 assault on the consulate in Benghazi, while the House Intelligence Committee has accused the White House of withholding support for an FBI investigation into the attack.

The Justice Department has filed sealed criminal charges against a number of suspects in the Benghazi attack.

One of those charged is Ahmed Abu Khattalah, founder of the Libyan based Ansar al-Sharia extremist group who was seen at the compound when it was overrun but denied involvement in the attack.

American officials have also identified a former inmate of the Guantanamo Bay detention camp as a possible key organizer of the Benghazi attack.