DAVID GREENE, HOST:
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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
And I'm Steve Inskeep.
Let's hear now what an independent panel says about security in Benghazi, Libya last September 11th. That's when attackers struck the U.S. consulate and killed four Americans there, including the U.S. ambassador. Republicans accuse the Obama administration of misleading the American people about what happened and downplaying links to terrorism. NPR's diplomatic correspondent Michele Kelemen has been covering this story for months. She's with us.
GREENE: Michele, good morning.
MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: Good to be here.
INSKEEP: OK. So who was on this - this is a State Department appointed panel, right? Who's on it, and what did they conclude?
KELEMEN: Well, it was led by former Ambassador Thomas Pickering, a veteran of the State Department, and former chairman of the joint chiefs, Admiral Mike Mullen, both of whom will be on Capitol Hill today briefing members of Congress behind closed doors on their finding.
They poured over diplomatic cables, intelligence reports, and watched the security camera videos of the night of the attack. And their basic finding was that there were, as they put it, systemic failures in the State Department that resulted in a security posture that was inadequate for Benghazi and grossly inadequate to deal with the attack that took place that night.
They singled out the Bureau of Diplomatic Security and the Bureau of Near East Affairs, saying there was a lot of confusion about who was responsible. And in the public report, at least, they didn't single out any person in particular for disciplinary action.
INSKEEP: OK. You said public, because there's also a classified version of this.
KELEMEN: That's right.
INSKEEP: You also talked about the security posture. I want to be clear on this, because this can be so confusing. There's a political question about what was said after the September 11 attack, how it was described after. But when you talk about the security posture, that gets to the question of what happened before, how well-prepared people were for an attack. What do we learn here about the timeline of events, if anything?
KELEMEN: Well, we learned, first of all, that the security situation in Benghazi was getting worse and worse, there were lots of incidents, and that the consulate really was relying on temporary personnel and also local Libyan militias, that the local police force wasn't up to task.
INSKEEP: Now, that's normal, right? I mean, you rely on local forces to protect your embassy, but...
KELEMEN: You do, but in this case, in Benghazi, I mean, as you know, Steve, it's a more lawless part of Libya. It's not Tripoli. It's not where the government has sway. So you had these local militias dealing with it. And, you know, the picture that was painted in the report of the night of the attack, we didn't learn anything particularly new, but you see that it was a very complex attack. It was people first setting fire to the consulate. That's where the U.S. ambassador Chris Stevens and the information officer Sean Smith died. And much later, hours later, at an annex building, that was hit by RPGs. And that's where former Navy SEALS Tyrone Woods and Glen Doherty were killed.
INSKEEP: This investigation was started - a panel was appointed by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Is she saying anything about the findings?
KELEMEN: She sent letters to the committees that will receive the briefings, and says that she accepts all the recommendations that the panel made. She called it a clear-eyed look at the problems that the department is already starting to fix. Now, she was supposed to testify in public, but she's been ill and had a concussion. And her deputies are going to be doing the public briefings on Thursday.
INSKEEP: One other thing briefly, Michele Kelemen. We've heard from diplomats on our program worried that if the lesson taken from Benghazi is that diplomats should retreat behind walls, that that's the wrong lesson. One of the people saying that is former Ambassador Ryan Crocker, who was ambassador to Pakistan and Afghanistan and Iraq - some pretty dangerous places.
(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)
RYAN CROCKER: And if we're doing our jobs right, we're going to run that risk. I was an ambassador six times. In three of those posts, a predecessor was assassinated. It's not new. It's part of the cost of doing America's business. And I simply hope that we don't take the position after Chris's assassination that, gee, we shouldn't expose our people to danger. We need to do it.
INSKEEP: That's former U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker. And, Michele Kelemen, here in our studios, is there a danger of people retreating because of the political intensity of the reaction to this?
KELEMEN: It was one of the concerns that this panel raised repeatedly, and Secretary Clinton did in her letter. She says diplomats can't work in bunkers. And the report points out that you have al-Qaida fragmenting. There's lots of affiliates around the world. At the same time, there are demands that U.S. ambassadors work in hot spots and get out to the public.
INSKEEP: Michele, thanks very much.
KELEMEN: Thank you.
INSKEEP: That's NPR's Michele Kelemen. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.