On Thursday morning, State Department officials will finally testify in an open hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. They will discuss a report on the Sept. 11 terrorist attack in Benghazi, Libya. Given the tragic deaths of four Americans — and the Obama administration’s conflicting accounts of what happened that day — the American people will pay close attention to this testimony.
Americans deserve clear answers to three important questions.
First: Are we any closer to catching the terrorists who did this? The president said one of his top priorities has been to bring these murderers to justice. Still, it took 23 days to get U.S. investigators to the scene. In contrast, CNN had reporters combing through the evidence in the consulate within three days.
Counterintelligence officials have reportedly said their search for suspects has been slowed by a lack of cooperation from authorities in Libya, Egypt and Tunisia. Someone planned this attack, and a large group executed it. It’s not clear the administration even knows who it’s looking for or has done all it can to find them.
Second: Why was there not better security in this obviously dangerous post? It has been evident for a long time that eastern Libya is a hotbed of Islamic extremism. These latest attacks took place on Sept. 11, when we should have been on the highest possible alert.
From what I have seen, the State Department made one bad decision after another leading up to this tragedy. From June 2011 to July 2012, there were at least 48 security incidents in Benghazi. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens asked for more protection, but the department denied his request.
Rigorous threat assessment is vital to keep Americans safe at home and abroad. If the administration failed to do that, we need to know why. Congress set aside $2.6 billion for diplomatic security in 2012. Taxpayers deserve an explanation of how this money is being spent. If a hot spot like Libya wasn’t secure, what about our other embassies around the world?
Third: What lessons has the administration learned in the wake of this attack? The report on Benghazi makes several recommendations. At least two are repeated from previous reports in 1999, when American embassies were attacked in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam. The State Department needs to relearn the lessons of previous terrorist attacks — fast.
The administration had been telling us for more than a year that al-Qaida was on the run. That may be true for the core leadership, but regional al-Qaida affiliates still pose a real threat in Africa. The State Department acted as if it were unaware of that threat. Maybe it was reading its own press releases rather than looking at the intelligence. If the intelligence community didn’t see this coming, somebody failed to connect the dots.
Thursday’s hearing will be the latest in a handful of administration briefings on Benghazi. Each one seemed to raise more questions than answers, and each had a different story. The explanations still don’t add up.
Americans died because someone made mistakes in Benghazi. Too often, Washington bureaucrats protect each other by blaming circumstances rather than people. We cannot afford for facts and good information to fall victim to finger-pointing. The newly released report on Benghazi provides another round of warnings about steps we must take to ensure that a similar tragedy never happens again. This report needs to shake the State Department from its pattern of repeating past mistakes. It should be taken seriously, not shelved.
Congress is ready to do all we can to help prevent attacks like this, but the administration must come clean about its failures. Democrats and Republicans have similar questions about this tragedy. The American people deserve to hear the answers.
Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., is a member of the Foreign Relations Committee and chairman of the Republican Policy Committee.