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Senate panel says attack on U.S. post in Benghazi was preventable

A protester reacts as the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi is seen in flames during a protest by an armed group said to have been protesting a fil
A protester reacts as the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi is seen in flames during a protest by an armed group said to have been protesting a fil

By Mark Hosenball

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Senate Intelligence Committee said on Wednesday that the deadly September 11, 2012, attack by militants on U.S. government posts in Benghazi, Libya, was preventable and faulted the State Department for inadequate security precautions.

In the months before the attacks on an American diplomatic post and CIA compound in Libya's second-largest city, U.S. intelligence agencies had issued numerous reports warning that security in eastern Libya was deteriorating and that U.S. personnel and posts in Benghazi were at risk, according to a declassified report issued by the committee.

But the committee said the State Department "failed to increase security enough to address the threat," even though the U.S. diplomatic post in Benghazi had suffered two earlier, but less damaging, attacks during the previous six months.

Four Americans, including Christopher Stevens, the U.S. ambassador to Libya, were killed when militants attacked the lightly protected U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi and a better-fortified CIA base nearby on the night of September 11.

The attack became a political flashpoint in Washington in the run-up to the 2012 election, with Republicans arguing that President Barack Obama tried to play down its significance as he campaigned for a second term.

The Senate panel said it found no evidence that U.S. spy agencies or the State Department had received specific warnings pinpointing that day for an attack. However, it said the CIA and State Department had both sent "general warning notices to facilities worldwide" about possible attacks on the anniversary of the September 11, 2001, al Qaeda attacks on the United States.

"Despite the clearly deteriorating security situation in Benghazi and requests for additional security resources, few significant improvements were made by the State Department" to the diplomatic compound where Stevens died, though the CIA base was better protected, the report said.

The committee said murky intelligence reporting in the immediate aftermath of the attacks led to confused or erroneous public statements by "policymakers" who initially blamed the attack on a protest against a anti-Islamic video produced in the United States that had appeared on the Internet. The committee said U.S. spy agencies "took too long to correct these erroneous reports."

A CIA spokesman said the agency had cooperated with the investigation and will "examine the committee's recommendations pertaining to agency practices and procedures."

A State Department official said, "The Department is focused on preventing another tragedy like this one."

(Reporting by Mark Hosenball; Editing by Doina Chiacu)

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