Four State Department managers were disciplined Wednesday, following sharp criticism from independent investigators that the department did not do enough to protect a group of Americans killed in an eight-hour siege in September of U.S. government compounds in Benghazi, Libya.
The highest-ranking official, Eric Boswell, the head of the Diplomatic Security Bureau, resigned effective immediately, the State Department announced late Wednesday. The three others were responsible for various aspects of embassy security and planning for Libya and the Middle East.
They were relieved of their responsibilities and were expected to be reassigned, said a senior administration official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. The official was not authorized to discuss the matter publicly.
Despite the fallout, Republicans who have criticized the Obama administration’s handling of the Benghazi attack called the inquiry tepid and the recommendations for punishment inadequate.
Rep. Mike Rogers (Mich.), chairman of the House intelligence committee, said the three-month investigation steered clear of holding senior State Department officials accountable for the deaths of the four Americans, including the U.S. ambassador to Libya.
“You’d think the whole purpose would be to be harshly critical of mistakes so you don’t make them again,” Rogers said.
Although the State Department released an unclassified version of the Benghazi report, its authors and others familiar with the investigation said the classified version described in greater detail intelligence failures that contributed to the Sept. 11 attack. The lengthy report paints a picture of inadequate information and difficulty sharing it within the department.
“We found that there was no immediate tactical warning of the September 11 attacks, but there was a knowledge gap in the intelligence community’s understanding of extremist militias in Libya and the potential threat they posed to U.S. interests,” said retired Adm. Mike Mullen, a former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and a co-author of the report.
He added: “Increased violence and targeting of foreign diplomats and international organizations in Benghazi failed to come into clear relief against the backdrop of ineffective local governance, widespread political violence and inter-militia fighting, as well as the growth of extremist camps and militias in eastern Libya.”
The Accountability Review Board found that Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens had unusual latitude to make security and travel decisions, and that he did not always keep his superiors informed. The report squarely blamed terrorists for the assault and did not identify any single failure on the part of U.S. officials that might have prevented it.
“The U.S. security personnel in Benghazi were heroic in their efforts to protect their colleagues, including Ambassador Stevens. They did their best that they possibly could with what they had, but what they had was not enough,” said former U.S. ambassador Thomas R. Pickering, a co-author.
He said the panel fixed blame or responsibility at the level of State Department assistant secretary, “where the decision-making in fact takes place, where, if you like, the rubber hits the road.”
Assistant secretaries head the various bureaus, or sections, which are divided by geographic region and function.
The State Department declined to identify the three officials besides Boswell who were disciplined. But the senior administration official identified two of them as Charlene Lamb, the deputy assistant secretary responsible for embassy security, who testified to Congress in October that the diplomatic mission in Benghazi had the appropriate level of security on the night of the attack, and Raymond Maxwell, a deputy assistant secretary in the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs.
The third, who has not been identified, works in the Diplomatic Security Bureau.
The panel tasked with investigating the attack did not have the authority to recommend that employees be terminated, but it was permitted to determine whether employees were derelict in their duties. Pickering said none of the management failures rose to that level.
The report also does not fault Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton directly. She received a copy of the classified report earlier this week and has told Congress that she accepts its findings. The House Foreign Affairs Committee said Wednesday that she will testify before the panel by mid-January, after having been forced to cancel her scheduled testimony because of an illness.
“We have learned some very hard and painful lessons in Benghazi,” said Deputy Secretary of State William J. Burns, who will testify in Clinton’s place. “We are already acting on them. We have to do better.”