Wednesday, October 10, 2012
U.S. officer got no reply to requests for more security in Benghazi
By Susan Cornwell and Mark Hosenball
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A U.S. security officer twice asked his State Department superiors for more security agents for the American mission in Benghazi months before an attack that killed the U.S. ambassador to Libya and three other Americans, but he got no response.
The officer, Eric Nordstrom, who was based in Tripoli until about two months before the September attack, said a State Department official, Charlene Lamb, wanted to keep the number of U.S. security personnel in Benghazi "artificially low," according to a memo summarizing his comments that was obtained by Reuters.
Nordstrom also argued for more U.S. security in Libya earlier this year by listing 230 different security incidents in Libya which occurred between June 2011 and July 2012, according to another document.
Nordstrom's actions and those of his superiors are likely to figure prominently in a House committee hearing on Wednesday that will be Congress' first public examination of what went wrong at the U.S. diplomatic post in Benghazi.
The State Department, which has defended security procedures in Libya and has convened its own independent review board, did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Nordstrom's statements.
Debate over whether the Americans were caught unprepared for the assault by militants on the diplomatic mission in Libya's relatively lawless eastern section has put the administration of President Barack Obama, a Democrat, on the defensive in the run-up to the November presidential election.
A leading Republican on the committee probing the attack, Representative Jason Chaffetz, told Reuters Tuesday he thought security decisions U.S. officials made for the Benghazi mission had turned out to be "deadly" ones.
The top U.S. intelligence authority, the office of the Director of National Intelligence, says the four Americans were killed in an organized terrorist assault, but the attackers have not been identified.
A brief summary of Nordstrom's interview with the Republican-controlled House Oversight and Government Reform Committee was contained in a memo prepared by the committee's minority Democratic staff.
Separately, a U.S. official confirmed to Reuters that in addition to the four Americans who were killed in the Benghazi attacks on September 11, three more Americans were injured. Only one of those remains in hospital, the official said.
MEMO CALLED FOR FIVE US AGENTS AT BENGHAZI
Nordstrom, a State Department regional security officer, told lawmakers that Patrick Kennedy, the under secretary of state for management, issued a "decision memo" in December 2011 requiring that the Benghazi post be manned with five diplomatic security agents, but that it usually had only three or four.
"He (Nordstrom) stated that he sent two cables to State Department headquarters in March and July 2012 requesting additional Diplomatic Security Agents for Benghazi, but that he received no responses," the memo said.
At some point, however, it appears Nordstrom learned the views of Lamb because he told the committee she "wanted to keep the number of U.S. security personnel in Benghazi artificially low," the memo said.
"He said that Deputy Assistant Secretary Lamb believed the Benghazi post did not need any Diplomatic Security Special Agents because there was a residential safe haven to fall back to in an emergency, but that she thought the best course of action was to assign three agents," the memo said.
It is unclear who made the final decision about how many agents were stationed in Benghazi.
"Sadly, that was a deadly decision," Representative Chaffetz said of leaving the mission with just a few security agents.
"Look at the result -- the first (U.S.) ambassador killed since the 1970s," Chaffetz said in an interview.
The Oversight and Government Reform committee has been investigating the handling of security at the U.S. mission in Benghazi before the attack. House Republican aides also confirmed the account of the Nordstrom interview as presented in the Democratic memo.
Nordstrom also argued for more U.S. security in Libya earlier this year by compiling a dossier of 230 different security incidents in Libya, from militia gunfights to an explosive device thrown over the wall of the U.S. mission, which occurred between June 2011 and July 2012.
The dossier was released by committee aides along with an email written by Nordstrom about it after the Benghazi attack in which he said the list of incidents "underscored" the Libyan government's "inability to secure and protect diplomatic missions."
The Libyan government was "overwhelmed and could not guarantee our protection. Sadly, that point was reaffirmed on September 11, 2012 in Benghazi," Nordstrom wrote.
Nordstrom is expected to testify at a hearing of the committee on Wednesday, along with Lamb, the deputy assistant secretary of state for international programs, and Lieutenant Colonel Andrew Wood, who headed a security support team at the U.S. Embassy in Tripoli.
The Democratic memo said that Kennedy was also invited to testify.
Ambassador Chris Stevens died of smoke inhalation when he was trapped alone inside the burning building in Benghazi in an attack that began on the evening of September 11.
The Democratic memo said that since gaining the House majority in 2010 elections, Republicans have voted to reduce embassy security funding by about half a billion dollars below the amount requested by the Obama administration. The Democratic-led Senate had been able to restore "a small portion" of these funds, it said.
(Additional reporting by Tabassum Zakaria. Editing by Warren Strobel and Cynthia Osterman)