Obama blames Benghazi deaths on security ‘sloppiness’

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Libyan security stands guard at the gate of the U.S. mission in Benghazi on Sept. 15, 2012 while investigators work inside. (Mohammad Hannon / AP Photo)

UPI– President Obama blamed security “sloppiness” in the deadly attack on the U.S. mission in Libya as a new bipartisan Senate report faulted the White House.

Obama told the NBC News program “Meet the Press” he agreed with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s decision to carry out all 29 recommendations made Dec. 18 by an independent review board that was highly critical of the State Department for failing to identify and respond to security risks before four Americans, including U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens, were killed in the Sept. 11 attack in Benghazi.

The recommendations by the five-member Accountability Review Board, led by retired U.S. Ambassador Thomas R. Pickering, included sending 225 additional U.S. Marine Corps guards to embassies and consulates and revamping how the State Department adjusts security at posts based on threat warnings.

“My message to the State Department has been very simple, and that is we’re going to solve this,” Obama told “Meet the Press” in a rare interview. “We’re not going to be defensive about it. We’re not going to pretend that this was not a problem. This was a huge problem, and we’re going to implement every single recommendation that’s been put forward.”

Obama said a key review board finding — that the State Department relied too heavily on local Libyan militias to safeguard the compound, leaving diplomats and other U.S. personnel highly vulnerable — was similar to a finding in internal administration reviews.

“It confirms what we had already seen, based on some of our internal reviews. There was just some sloppiness, not intentional, in terms of how we secure embassies in areas where you essentially don’t have governments that have a lot of capacity to protect those embassies,” Obama said.

Four State Department officials were removed from their posts a day after the report was released.

The report, which criticized security at the diplomatic compound in Benghazi as “grossly inadequate,” was to be followed Monday by a bipartisan Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee report on the assault.

The new report — written by committee Chairman Joe Lieberman, Ind-Conn., and ranking member Susan Collins, R-Maine — faulted the White House and Pentagon in addition to the State Department, The Wall Street Journal reported.

The report by the Senate’s chief oversight committee — the first bipartisan congressional investigation into the attack — said there was no way the Defense and State departments could have rescued the Americans, with the evacuation plans they had, which the Journal said report characterized as irresponsibly inadequate.

Because the departments didn’t know, for instance, how well U.S. agencies could respond to the Benghazi mission post in the event of a crisis, when the Pentagon mobilized after the attack, it was unable to respond effectively in a timely fashion, said the report, reviewed by the Journal Sunday.

Even if the Pentagon had planned more extensively, the response would still have probably been inadequate because the head of the U.S. military’s Africa Command didn’t know that roughly two dozen CIA personnel were stationed at an annex close to the Benghazi diplomatic post, Collins told the Journal.

That finding “came as a shock to me,” she said.

The report also assailed Obama and other members of the administration for being “inconsistent” about whether the assault was a terrorist attack. The inconsistency “contributed to the confusion in the public discourse” about the attacks, the report said.

The report criticized Obama for giving differing statements about the attack — referring to it indirectly in White House Rose Garden remarks Sept. 12 as an “act of terror” but then later that day declining in a television interview to characterize the attack.

On Sept. 18, Obama called the attackers “extremists and terrorists” in one TV interview. But days later, on another program, Obama was vaguer, saying an investigation was still under way, the report cited by the Journal said.

Obama made a similar statement about an investigation Sunday, telling “Meet the Press”: “You know, with respect to who carried it out, that’s an ongoing investigation. The FBI has sent individuals to Libya repeatedly. We have some very good leads, but this is not something that I’m going to be at liberty to talk about right now.”

U.S. intelligence reports from the first hours after the attacks suggested they were carried out by militants tied to al-Qaida’s North African affiliate and local groups seeking to follow al-Qaida.