By BRADLEY KLAPPER, Associated Press
WASHINGTON (AP) — A State Department audit found Wednesday that an investigation into last year's deadly attack on a U.S. diplomatic post in Benghazi, Libya, was unbiased, countering claims from GOP members of Congress that it lacked independence. But the audit says weaknesses persist in how the State Department identifies threats overseas.
The assessment by the department's inspector general backs up the Benghazi review chaired by former Ambassador Thomas Pickering and former Joint Chiefs Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen, who were the subjects of a sharp examination from Republicans on the House oversight committee last week.
"The Accountability Review Board process operates as intended — independently and without bias," according to the 43-page report, which looked at State Department reviews from 1998 through Benghazi last year.
A spokesman for Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., the oversight committee chairman, noted that the independence and effectiveness of the State Department inspector general's office, too, has been the subject of bipartisan concern. The top position in the office was filled last week after a five-year vacancy.
Assertions that that the Benghazi review by Pickering and Mullen "was fully independent are contradicted by the facts and amount to little more than repackaged talking points from the State Department's political appointees," Frederick Hill said.
The audit also criticized the State Department's risk management and incomplete implementation of security recommendations after previous embassy and consulate attacks.
It said some progress has been made since Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans were killed in Libya on Sept. 11, 2012.
More than a year later, congressional investigations continue into how the Obama administration handled security in the run-up to the attack and explained its circumstances afterward in the heat of a presidential campaign.
"This independent report underscores that the partisan and political assault on the Accountability Review Board must end," State Department spokesman Alec Gerlach said. He accused Issa of "slandering" the integrity of Pickering and Mullen, and cited the audit's finding that their Benghazi review established a model for future such inquiries.
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