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State Dept. opens probe into attack on consulate

| Wednesday, Oct. 3, 2012, 9:42 p.m.

WASHINGTON — Past investigations into attacks on U.S. diplomatic missions have blamed both the administration and Congress for failing to ensure that the overseas facilities were safe despite a clear rise in terror threats to American interests abroad.

An Associated Press examination of two reports that are easily accessible to the public — those created after the devastating Aug. 7, 1998, bombings of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania — may offer clues to the possible outcome of the investigation begun by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton into last month's attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya.

That attack by what is now believed to be al-Qaida-linked militants has become fraught with election-year politics as Republicans accuse Obama administration officials of dissembling in the early aftermath on what they knew about the perpetrators and for lax security at the diplomatic mission in a lawless part of post-revolution Libya.

Two House Republican leaders this week accused the administration of denying repeated requests for extra security at the Benghazi consulate, where Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans were killed on the 11th anniversary of 9/11.

A five-member accountability review board appointed by Clinton will begin looking at whether security at the consulate was adequate and whether proper procedures were followed before, during and immediately after the attack.

Sensitive documents remained only loosely secured in the wreckage, offering visitors easy access to delicate information about American operations in Libya.

Documents detailing weapons collection efforts, emergency evacuation protocols, the full internal itinerary of Stevens' trip and the personnel records of Libyans who were contracted to secure the mission were among the items scattered across the floors of the looted compound when a Washington Post reporter and a translator visited on Wednesday.

Looters and curiosity seekers were free to roam in the initial chaotic aftermath in Benghazi, and many documents may have disappeared.

Two private security guards paid for by the compound's Libyan owner are the only people guarding the sprawling site.

“Securing the site has obviously been a challenge,” said Mark Toner, deputy spokesman at the State Department.

At least one document found amid the clutter indicates that Americans at the mission were discussing the possibility of an attack in early September, just two days before the assault took place. The document is a memorandum dated Sept. 9 from the U.S. mission's security office to the 17th February Martyrs Brigade, the Libyan government-sanctioned militia that was guarding the compound, making plans for a “quick reaction force,” or QRF, that would provide security.

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