Loopholes, Limited Resources Allowed Lax Benghazi Security, Source Says

State Dept. classification of 'consulate' resulted in less security

An armed Libyan man flashes the victory sign in front of a fire at the hardline Islamist group Ansar el-Sharia headquarters on September 21, 2012 in Benghazi, Libya.
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Limited resources and loopholes for how the U.S. State Department classifies its buildings abroad are what allowed for four Americans to be killed in Benghazi, a source tells U.S. News.

The State Department did not start referring to the building where Ambassador Chris Stevens and another State Department employee were killed as "a consulate" until after the Sept. 11 attack, according to a source familiar with the department's ongoing investigation in Libya.

Instead, officials tasked with security at the "special mission compound" had to make do with limited resources to secure the building over the course of the year since State Department officials first occupied it.

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"This was a temporary facility, [and] therefore did not meet the expensive but live-saving standards of a permanent facility," says the source, who asked to remain anonymous due to the ongoing investigation.

Sources previously told U.S. News the compound was a "rented villa," not the usual secured compound, such as a consulate or embassy that houses American diplomats.

At all facilities, Diplomatic Security agents and other security officials try to establish dozens of essential measures, such as setting up defensive fighting positions behind sandbags, and erecting gates and thicker doors that can protect save havens. They also stock these safe rooms with supplies, install monitoring equipment, and dedicate significant time to training local forces to become effective and trusted guards.

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Diplomatic missions worldwide, however, suffer from a lack of protective resources the State Department dedicates to embassies in Kabul and Baghdad.

Previous reports of the Benghazi attack have also failed to include the extraordinary efforts of the officers tasked with overseeing the security of diplomats.

One of the assistant regional security officers, or ASROs, suffered from severe smoke inhalation while searching the house after the strike, the source says. Despite this condition, he and his colleagues still took up a fighting position at the CIA annex while mortar rounds fell, ultimately killing two former Navy SEALs, Tyrone Woods and Glen Doherty.

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"Our assistant RSOs on the ground were heroes, doing the best they could to secure the personnel, and themselves, in light of an overwhelming armed group that seemed focused on the villa where the ambassador was," says the source. "Multiple attempts were made to get back into the burning building, and ARSOs were injured in the mortar attack on the roof with the other security folks when they were killed, all supporting the annex defense until daylight when additional security from Tripoli responders and 'friendly' khatiba/militias could come and assist."

One of these ARSOs is currently recovering in Bethesda, the source says.

The investigation into the incident has been stalled amid Tripoli's transition to a new government. Investigators, including an FBI team, are still hundreds of miles away from Benghazi as of Friday. The local government continues to clash with the militias, reducing law enforcement in the North African country.

The source says diplomats will always be vulnerable as long as security officials must protect them across a network of "tough to secure locations," such as Libya.

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Paul D. Shinkman is a national security reporter for U.S. News & World Report. You can follow him on Twitter or reach him at pshinkman@usnews.com.