October 10: 12:00 – 2:30
The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearings on the Benghazi attack took place on Capital Hill today and presented two very different accounts. Lt. Col. Wood and Eric Nordstrom presented one version while Mrs. Lamb and Ambassador Kennedy presented another.
We heard testimony from the State Department today that the administration never concluded that the Sept. 11 attack stemmed from protests over an American-made video ridiculing Islam, separating them from President Obama.
“Asked about the administration’s initial — and since retracted — explanation linking the violence to protests over the anti-Muslim video circulating on the Internet, one official said today, ‘That was not our conclusion.’ “
The State Department said the same thing yesterday.
Testimony revealed that there were five agents at the consulate in Libya but two were there by chance. There were two armed Libyan guards. The compound had been guarded by five unarmed Libyan guards. Libyans working at the compound were warned prior to the attack that they should abandon the compound because a major attack was coming.
Lt. Col, Andrew Wood said in prepared testimony that U.S. security was so weak that in April, only one U.S. diplomatic security agent was stationed in Benghazi.
The committee’s Republican chairman, Rep. Darrell Issa, alleged that the State Department turned aside pleas from its diplomats in Libya to increase security in the months and weeks before the attack in Benghazi.
Eric Nordstrom, the former chief security officer for U.S. diplomats in Libya, testified that it was clear when he arrived in Libya that the transitional government was too weak and fragmented to provide consistent diplomatic security. The State Department, he said, recognized this weakness.
Nordstrom said early in the testimony,
“Libyans wanted to help, but they had very limited capabilities to do so,”
Nordstrom later said,
“While I’d love to have had a large secured building and tons of security personnel in Benghazi, the fact is that the system we had in place was regularly tested and appeared to work as planned despite high turnover of DS [diplomatic security] agents on the ground.”
The committee’s Republican chairman, Rep. Darrell Issa, has alleged that the State Department turned aside pleas from its diplomats in Libya to increase security in the months and weeks before the attack in Benghazi.
Nordstrom addressed the diplomatic security issue in an Oct. 1 email to a congressional investigator. He said his requests for more security were blocked by a department policy to “normalize operations and reduce security resources.”
A memo Tuesday by the Oversight Committee’s Democratic staff provided details of Nordstrom’s interview with the panel’s investigators. In that interview, Nordstrom said he sent two cables to State Department headquarters in March 2012 and July 2012 requesting additional diplomatic security agents for Benghazi, but he received no responses.
He stated that Charlene Lamb, the deputy assistant secretary for international programs, wanted to keep the number of U.S. security personnel in Benghazi artificially low. He said Lamb believed the Benghazi facilities did not need any diplomatic security special agents because there was a residential safe haven to fall back to in an emergency.
Nordstrom said that in Benghazi, a militia loyal to the Libyan government, the 17th February Brigade, provided diplomatic security and lived on the compound. Diplomatic Security agents rotated into Libya on temporary duty, making it difficult to set long-term procedures and forge relationships, he said.
Nordstrom testified that the “ferocity and intensity” of the Sept. 11 attack surpassed any he had seen in Libya and in his 14 years in the Diplomatic Security Service.
“I’m concerned that this attack will signal a new security reality,” he said. “It is critical that we balance the risk mitigation with the needs of our diplomats to do their job in dangerous and uncertain places. The answer cannot be to operate from a bunker.”
Eric Nordstrom requested 12 agents which was denied. Benghazi was subcontracted to Blue Mountain because it was considered a temporary compound. Benghazi had a high turnover rate which meant the security agents were not experienced.
Ambassador Kennedy said not all security personnel could fit on one compound but there was a flow among compounds.
Charlene Lamb, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State, would not use the term “terrorist attack,” and would only use the word “attack.”
Ambassador Kennedy confirmed Susan Rice’s statement on the Sunday News shows (after the previous Tuesday attack) that they believed the attack was a spontaneous attack resulting from a protest. The Libyan President told NBC on September 26th that it was a preplanned Al Qaeda attack, not a result of the video.
The Daily Beast claimed that U.S. officials knew Libya attacks were the work of Al Qaeda affiliates.
During the testimony, Charlene Lamb admitted that she, which means the Obama administration, knew what was happening in real time. In other words, the Obama administration knew in real time what was happening in Benghazi.
Mrs. Lamb, who followed the events in Libya via real time communications in D.C., denied knowing it was a preplanned attack by Al Qaeda.
Rep. Dennis Kucinich was impressive. He demanded accountability for the deaths of our deceased patriots in Benghazi and to do so without partisanship. Rep. Kucinich stated that our country spurred a civil war which unsettled Libya. Based on ludicrous and unsubstantiated threats made by Gaddafi against Benghazi we engaged in an illegal war without congressional approval. Al Qaeda was able to increase their presence. He said that our desire to nation build and spur this war led to this predictable and unacceptable lack of adequate protection for our diplomates.
Rep. Kucinich asked how many weapons were missing in Libya and Eric Nordstrom said about 10,000 or 20,000. Ambassador Kennedy said he did not know if Al Qaeda was a growing presence. He said that he was not an intelligence officer. Kucinich said, to paraphrase, so you don’t have intelligence.
One witness, Lt. Colonel Wood, told Rep. Kucinich that Al Qaeda is more powerful than it was as a result of our intervention and it grows more powerful every day.
Ambassador Kennedy and Charlene Lamb have not been to Libya.
Eric Nordstrom told Rep. Chaffetz that the compound did not meet minimum safety requirements and there were no plans to meet those requirements.
Rep. Lynch became partisan and mentioned general cuts recommended by Republicans but did not mention the fact that the Democrats will not pass a budget.
Ambassdor Kennedy said that there were conflicting reports and there were reports that some were the result of protests when questioned about his statements that the attacks were seen as the result of the movie trailer. Rep. Lankford said he found it difficult to believe that for 7 days the State Department reports remained identical when they turned out to be quite different. Ambassador Kennedy stuck to the same story.
Chairman Issa reminded Ambassador Kennedy that he (Ambassador Kennedy) called the attack a terrorist attack two days after the attack.
Rep. Cooper read off a list of historical attacks at other embassies in an effort to minimize the attack on Benghazi.