WASHINGTON: Three State Department officials resigned under pressure Wednesday, less than a day after a damning report blamed management failures for a lack of security at the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya, where militants killed the U.S. ambassador and three other Americans on Sept. 11.
The resignations came as lawmakers expressed anger and frustration over the findings of an independent review panel, and the State Department struggled to find a balance between protecting its diplomats while allowing them to do their jobs connecting with people in high-risk posts.
Obama administration officials said those who had stepped down were Eric Boswell, the assistant secretary of state for diplomatic security, Charlene Lamb, the deputy assistant secretary responsible for embassy security, and Raymond Maxwell, the deputy assistant secretary of state who oversees the Maghreb nations of Libya, Algeria, Tunisia and Morocco. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity, because they weren’t authorized to discuss personnel matters publicly.
Some of the three may have the option of being reassigned to other duties, the officials said.
The department declined to comment on the resignation of the officials whose decisions had been criticized in the unclassified version of the Accountability Review Board’s report released late Tuesday.
The board’s co-chairman, retired Adm. Mike Mullen, said the board had not determined that any officials had “engaged in willful misconduct or knowingly ignored his or her responsibilities,”
But Mullen, a former Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman, added, “We did conclude that certain State Department bureau level senior officials in critical levels of authority and responsibility in Washington demonstrated a lack of leadership and management ability appropriate for senior ranks in their responses to security concerns posed by the special mission.”
Mullen said the mission’s security fell through bureaucratic cracks caused in part because buildings were categorized as temporary. The report said that budget constraints had caused some officials to be more concerned with saving scarce money than in security.
Co-chairman Thomas Pickering, a retired ambassador, said the personnel on the ground in Benghazi had reacted to the attack with bravery and professionalism. But, he said, the security precautions were “grossly inadequate” and the contingent was overwhelmed by the heavily armed militants.
“They did the best they possibly could with what they had but what they had wasn’t enough,” he said.
Pickering and Mullen spoke shortly after briefing members of Congress in private. Lawmakers from both parties emerged from the sessions with harsh words for the State Department.
“My impression is the State Department clearly failed the Boy Scout motto of be prepared,” said Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo.
“They failed to anticipate what was coming because of how bad the security risk already was there. ... They failed to connect the dots,” he said. “They didn’t have adequate security leading up to the attack and once the attack occurred, the security was woefully inadequate.”
Rep. Adam Schiff, a member of the House intelligence committee, said security was “plainly inadequate, intelligence collection needs to be improved, and our reliance on local militias was sorely misplaced.
“These are not mistakes we can afford to make again,” he said.
The House intelligence committee chairman, Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Mich., said the report laid bare “the massive failure of the State Department at all levels, including senior leadership, to take action to protect our government employees abroad,” and complained that no one was being held accountable.