WASHINGTON — A stinging report by the Senate Intelligence Committee released on Wednesday concluded that the attack 16 months ago that killed four Americans in Benghazi, Libya, could have been prevented, singling out the State Department for criticism for its failure to bolster security in response to intelligence warnings about a growing security crisis around the city.
The report is broadly consistent with the findings of previous inquiries into the attack on Sept. 11, 2012, but it is the first public examination of a breakdown in communications between the State Department and the CIA during the weeks leading up to the deadly episode at the diplomatic compound where J. Christopher Stevens, the American ambassador, and three others died.
It is also the first report to implicitly criticize Stevens, raising questions about his judgment and actions in the weeks before his death. Like previous inquiries, the Senate investigation does not cite any specific intelligence warnings about an impending attack.
The events in Benghazi and their aftermath become the subject of a fiercely partisan debate, with Republicans accusing Obama administration officials of making misleading statements about connections between the attackers and Al Qaeda. In an addendum to the bipartisan report, Republican committee members singled out former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, a possible Democratic presidential candidate in 2016, as bearing ultimate responsibility for lax security at the diplomatic compound in Benghazi.
The report does not break significant new ground on the issue of administration statements about the episode, or about the infamous talking points drawn up after the attack for a television appearance by Susan E. Rice, now the national security adviser. But it is unsparing in its criticism of the State Department for failing to provide adequate security to the mission even as violence spiked in Benghazi in June 2012. In contrast, the report said, the CIA quickly bolstered security at its annex about a mile away.
“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 US Mission,” the Senate committee said in a statement in releasing the 58-page declassified report.
Together with the conclusions of previous investigations, the new Senate findings are likely to increase pressure on Patrick F. Kennedy, the undersecretary of state for management, whose office oversees diplomatic security. Republicans on the committee noted that Kennedy held a similar job in the prelude to the bombings of two US embassies in East Africa in 1998 and should be held accountable for the attack in Benghazi.
On the contentious issue of the role of Al Qaeda or other international terrorist organizations in the attack, the report said that individuals affiliated with many such groups had participated in the attack, but that none of them appeared to have planned or led the assault.
“Intelligence suggests that the attack was not a highly coordinated plot, but was opportunistic,”the report said. “It remains unclear if any group or person exercised overall command and control of the attacks or whether extremist group leaders directed their members to participate. Some intelligence suggests the attacks were likely put together in short order, following that day’s violent protests in Cairo against an inflammatory video.”
The report said that Stevens was aware of all of the intelligence reporting, including updates on the increased risks of anti-Western terrorist attacks that had prompted the CIA to substantially upgrade the security at its own Benghazi facility in June 2012
At times Stevens requested additional security personnel from the State Department in Washington. But the inquiry also found that in June 2012, at approximately the time the threats were mounting, Stevens recommended hiring and training local Libyan guards to form security teams in Tripoli and Benghazi. The plan showed a faith in local Libyan support that proved misplaced on the night of the attack.
The White House largely lined up behind the report’s findings. “This reinforces what other investigations have found,” a White House spokesman, Jay Carney, told reporters on Wednesday.
The State Department has been racing to fulfill 29 recommendations made in December 2012 by an independent review panel as part of its investigation into the attacks. Those include sending dozens of additional diplomatic security agents to high-threat embassies and installing millions of dollars in advanced fire-survival gear.