Former envoy Pickering on problems at Benghazi mission

Sun Feb 24, 2013 1:08am EST
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By Tabassum Zakaria

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Former American diplomat Thomas Pickering said what struck him most during a review of last year's attacks on the U.S. mission in Benghazi, Libya, were the frequent personnel changes, second-guessing on security upgrades, and dismissive attitude toward dozens of security incidents.

The temporary status of the mission also led to uncertainty about providing additional funding, including for security, he said in an interview.

The United States established a diplomatic presence in the eastern Libyan city after the 2011 revolt against former Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi.

Pickering, who served as a U.S. ambassador in the Middle East, Russia and India, headed an Accountability Review Board (ARB) on the September 11 attacks by militants in Benghazi that killed the U.S. ambassador to Libya, Christopher Stevens, and three other Americans at the mission and a nearby CIA annex.

The mission compound where Stevens was killed was protected against homemade bomb devices but not the horde of attackers - numbering about 60 - who swarmed in, Pickering said in the interview on Friday in his Washington office.

Nor did it offer adequate protection against the use of fire as a weapon and more attention needs to be paid to that threat at diplomatic posts in the future, Pickering said. Stevens and another American diplomat died of smoke inhalation.

The State Department formed a task force to implement 29 recommendations in the ARB report and sent security assessment teams to 19 U.S. missions in 13 countries for an on-the-ground review of posts in high-threat environments.

The department has a three-part plan for fixing security issues at those posts by boosting the number of Marines, adding Diplomatic Security officers and increasing money to deal with construction problems, Pickering said.   Continued...

Former U.S ambassador Thomas Pickering speaks at the International Economic Alliance Global Investment Symposium in New York September 24, 2008. REUTERS/Jacob Silberberg