POMED Notes: The Security Failures of Benghazi
The House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform hosted a hearing on Wednesday (10/10) entitled “The Security Failures of Benghazi.” The witnesses included Charlene Lamb, Deputy Assistant Secretary for International Programs, Bureau of Diplomatic Security, U.S. Department of State; Eric Nordstrom, Regional Security Officer, U.S. Department of State; Lt. Col. Andrew Wood, Utah National Guard, U.S. Army; and Ambassador Patrick Kennedy, Under Secretary for Management, U.S. Department of State.
For full notes continue reading or click here for the PDF.
Chairman Darrell Issa (R-CA) began with a detailed description of the attack in Benghazi which occurred on 9/11/12, and expressed hope the State Department would “come clean” about what took place. Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) discussed the overall deterioration of the security situation in Libya post-Qadhafi, citing an attack on a British diplomat, and criticized the State Department for not providing adequate information on the events. Rep. Mike Kelly (R-PA) said the government had a responsibility to protect their personnel, but had obviously let them down.
Ranking Member Elijah Cummings (D-MD) reaffirmed his desire for a thorough investigation, but reminded the committee “we should not be about the business of drawing conclusions and then looking for the facts.” He mentioned funding cuts that effected diplomatic security, and proposed a supplemental funding bill to embassy security by cutting oil subsidies. Rep. Eleanor Norton (D-DC) said “perhaps, had there been more resources, there might have been different results,” in relation to budget cuts made by the House. Rep. Stephen Lynch (D-MA) urged members of the Committee to meet Secretary Clinton’s request for funding.
Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-VA) reminded the committee there is an “inherently unstable situation” in the Libya, thus the focus should be on finding a solution to the overall situation. Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) berated the diplomatic mission to Libya, saying “our nation spurred on a civil war,” and “our military intervention led to greater instability.” Kucinich concluded that “interventions do not make us safer.” Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) said the Obama administration has projected weakness and bent to Muslim actors in the Middle East, empowering radical Islamists. Rep. Jim Cooper (D-TN) noted “serving America abroad is dangerous.”
Lt. Col. Andrew Wood emphasized to the committee that he does not speak for any government agency. As a member of the Site Security Team (SST), Wood provided security alongside diplomatic security agents. He felt “the situation remained unstable,” and had received permission from his commanding officer to remain in Libya, but was recalled in August 2012. “Security was a struggle and remained a struggle during my time there,” Wood concluded.
Former Regional Security Officer (RSO) at the U.S. Embassy in Libya Eric Nordstrom said, “I had not seen an attack of such intensity and ferocity in all my years of service.” He described the situation in Libya as fragile, and the Libyan government as unable of helping with security, intelligence, or law enforcement. Nordstrom concluded that the ultimate goal had been to employ local Libyans as unarmed body guards, a routine practice.
Deputy Assistant Secretary for International Programs at the State Department Charlene Lamb described the compound itself to expand on information about the attack. On 9/11/12 there were five security personnel, three members of the Libyan 17th Brigade, and a Quick Reaction Team in a nearby annex, all of whom responded to the attack.
Ambassador Patrick Kennedy reminded the committee “we do not yet know all the answers and we were giving the best information we had at the time.” He emphasized the importance of the U.S. mission in Benghazi, noting “the State Department must operate in places where there are serious threats to our security.” Kennedy concluded that 9/11/12 was an “unprecedented event.” He mentioned that the FBI and the Accountability Review Board at the Department of State were both conducting investigations.
During the Q&A session, Nordstrom was asked about his requests for additional security resources which had been denied. When asked about building standards by Rep. Chaffetz, Nordstrom said none of the buildings in the Libyan compound, including a proposed building that will be used for the next 10 years, are up to code. Nordstrom said there wasn’t open warfare in Benghazi, and there were improvements in the country, but the main concern was having sufficient resources to address an impromptu event. He had said in a previous cable, “fighting bureaucracy is harder than fighting terrorism.”
Responding to questions by Rep. Cummings and Rep. Dan Burton (R-IN) about why the requests for additional security forces were denied, Lamb said there had not been justification for approving them. She said that if the SST operation had extended their stay in Libya, they would have been based in Tripoli, not Benghazi. Lamb admitted telling Nordstrom not to request an extension for a SST.
When asked about her location during the events by Rep. James Lankford (R-OK), Lamb described watching from the Diplomatic Security Command Center (DSCC), which prompted Issa to request a tape of the events. Rep. Patrick Meehan (R-PA) questioned Lamb on the presence of trained Libyans, which Lamb assured was a successful model for diplomatic security.
In response to Rep. Jim Jordan‘s (R-OH) question about security on the ground, Wood expressed great frustration that demands for additional security personnel were not met, even though he received approval from his commanding officer to keep the SST in country as long as needed. Wood said a cookie cutter approach was applied to security in Libya, and resources were not provided as necessary. Rep. Paul Gosar (R-AZ) pressed Wood about the situation on the ground, which Wood described as not secure. When Rep. Raul. Labrador (R-ID) asked about the event, Ward said “it was instantly recognizable to me as a terrorist attack.”
Rep. Norton and Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC) asked Kennedy to clarify why the State Department told the public the event had been a random attack sparked by an anti-Muslim film. Kennedy responded saying the statement was based on intelligence received from the National Intelligence Director, and there was no reason to doubt it at the time. Rep. Dennis Ross (R-FL) asked if Libyan intelligence was more capable that the U.S., noting they called the event a terrorist attack before the State Department. Rep. Danny Davis (D-IL) asked for the importance of the mission in Libya to be addressed. Kennedy said the mission’s goal was to help build a democratic structure and rebuild the nation. Kennedy said security risks are evaluated on a variety of factors, including the stability of the host government, threats against the U.S., the physical location of the embassy, and so on. Rep. Tim Murphy (R-OH) asked if the presence of reasonable numbers of security personnel could have stopped the attack. Kennedy responded that the compound could not have been equipped such an attack. Responding to Rep. Jordan’s (R-OH) frustration that additional assets were denied even though there had been 230 threats against the embassy over the a 12-month period, Kennedy said there were never attacks of the same precedent in Benghazi. He reminded the committee that ambassadors must still go into harm’s way, and although the State Department tries to mitigate threat, no actionable intelligence was available that indicated an attack on the scale of what took place on 9/11/12.