* Security at U.S. mission said “grossly inadequate”
* Other criticisms include “leadership deficiencies” and “real confusion”
* Inquiry may tarnish Clinton’s tenure as secretary of state
By Arshad Mohammed and Anna Yukhananov and Tabassum Zakaria
WASHINGTON, Dec 18 (Reuters) - Security at the U.S. mission in Benghazi, Libya was grossly inadequate to deal with a Sept. 11 attack that killed a U.S. ambassador and three others because of systemic failures within the State Department, an official inquiry found on Tuesday.
In a scathing assessment, the review cited “leadership and management” deficiencies at two bureaus of the department, poor coordination among officials in Washington and “real confusion” on the ground over who had the responsibility, and the power, to make decisions that involved policy and security concerns.
The attack killed Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans and set off a political furor as Republicans used the issue to attack President Barack Obama before the Nov. 6 election.
The report’s harsh assessment seemed likely to tarnish the four-year tenure of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who said in a letter accompanying the review that she would adopt all of its recommendations.
“Systemic failures and leadership and management deficiencies at senior levels within two bureaus of the State Department ... resulted in a special mission security posture that was inadequate for Benghazi and grossly inadequate to deal with the attack that took place,” said the report by the official “Accountability Review Board.”
The report specifically faulted the State Department’s Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs and its Bureau of Diplomatic Security.
The incident has raised questions about the adequacy of security at U.S. embassies around the globe and where to draw the line between protecting American diplomats in dangerous places while giving them enough freedom to do their jobs.
Jon Alterman, head of the Middle East program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said the assessment reflected poorly on Clinton and its recommendations would probably make life harder for diplomats in the field
“This is a mark against Secretary Clinton. While she was not singled out, the report highlighted the lack of leadership and organization on security issues, and those fall into her bailiwick,” Alterman said.
“The report, however, relies a little too much on bureaucratic fixes,” he added. “Sprinkling people throughout the system who are not only empowered to say ‘no,’ but have an institutional interest in doing so, will make it harder for diplomats to get out of tightly guarded facilities.”
The political uproar in the United States over the Benghazi attack has already claimed one victim.
U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice, widely tipped as a front-runner to replace Clinton when she steps down as secretary of state early next year, last week withdrew her name from consideration, saying she wished to avoid a potentially disruptive Senate confirmation process.
Republican lawmakers had blasted Rice for comments she made on several television talk shows in the aftermath of the attack in which she said preliminary information suggested the assault was the result of protests over an anti-Muslim video made in California rather than a premeditated strike.
The review. however, concluded that no protest took place before the attack.
Rice has said she was relying on talking points drawn up by U.S. intelligence officials.