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Top State Dept. official quits, others on leave after report on security lapses in Libya

 

A State Department security chief has resigned and three other officials could lose their jobs following the release of scathing report about safety lapses at the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi in the run-up to the terror attack that killed four Americans.

The department late Wednesday confirmed an Associated Press report that Eric Boswell, the assistant secretary of state for diplomatic security, stepped down under pressure after the release of the report Tuesday night.

State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland also said three others -- two in the Bureau of Diplomatic Security and one in the Bureau of Near East Asia Affairs -- have been "relieved of their current duties" and placed on administrative leave "pending further action." That contrasted with the AP's earlier report that at least three officials had resigned, including Charlene Lamb, the deputy assistant secretary responsible for embassy security.

The State Department-ordered investigation of the Sept. 11 attack on the consulate in Benghazi, Libya, concluded that "systemic failures" left the facility inadequately protected.

The independent review board's report also confirmed that no protest preceded the deadly attack, as the Obama administration first told the public. 

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is scheduled to testify about Benghazi on Capitol Hill before mid-January, House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairwoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen told Fox News on Wednesday night. 

Clinton was scheduled to testify Thursday before that committee and a Senate committee. However, she became ill and last week fainted and hit her head, resulting in a concussion and her canceling the appearances. 

Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., said she was told about Clinton's rescheduled appearance by Cheryl Mills, the secretary of state's chief of staff, who also said Clinton was "healing well." 

The report identified "leadership and management deficiencies at senior levels within two bureaus." It suggested 29 ways the department can improve its operations, but recommended no disciplinary action. 

The Accountability Review Board's report came after more than three months of intense debate in Washington over who was behind the attack, what motivated the attackers and why U.S. authorities weren't able to stop the violence, which took the lives of Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three others.  

The security failures were singled out repeatedly in the report. 

Despite clear and present threats, the review board found the security staffing at the Benghazi consulate was "short-term, transitory" and "relatively inexperienced" -- and ultimately "inadequate." 

It also found "a pervasive realization among personnel who served in Benghazi that the Special Mission was not a high priority for Washington when it came to security-related requests, especially those relating to staffing." 

The board's co-chairman, retired Adm. Mike Mullen, told reporters that 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." 

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton vowed Tuesday to address the deficiencies identified in the report. 

"The Accountability Review Board report provides a clear-eyed look at serious, systemic challenges that we have already begun to fix. I am grateful for its recommendations for how we can reduce the chances of this kind of tragedy happening again. I accept every one of them," Clinton said in letters to the Senate and House panels reviewing the attack. 

Although much of the focus is on the State Department's preparedness, the review board didn't let Libyans off the hook. Some of the security was provided by a militia, and there were "some troubling indicators of its reliability in the months and weeks preceding the September attacks," the report said. 

The review board "found little evidence" that the guards provided by the militia "offered any meaningful defense" of the compound. 

Among the board's recommendations for the State Department are to strengthen its security detail in high-risk posts, to build more-secure facilities, to request the support of additional Marines and to step up security training. 

The Associated Press contributed to this report.