A Damning Indictment of State Department Security in Benghazi
Helle Dale /
Last Friday, the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee released 120 pages of documents on the situation in Benghazi, Libya, from March 2011 to September 2012. In light of these documents, the denial of additional U.S. security personnel in Libya is shocking. The documents provide plenty of new material for tonight’s presidential debate.
Emails describe concerns over unstable security; weekly Benghazi reports detail growing violence; and specific requests for more temporary duty (TDY) security personnel from Regional Security Officer Eric Nordstrom and Ambassador Christopher Stevens himself show that they were keenly aware of the danger.
A final report from Ambassador Stevens on concerns over violence was sent on the fateful day of September 11, hours before armed terrorists attacked the embassy and killed the ambassador and three members of his small security staff.
First is an Action Memo addressed to Under Secretary Patrick Kennedy sent in December 2011 requesting an extended presence in Benghazi through the 2012 calendar year. Of the two recommendations given was that Kennedy approve “a combined footprint of 35 U.S government personnel in Benghazi, including eight State Department and USAID and two TDY beds.”
Both recommendations were signed in the affirmative. Background information, however, states that, due to budget constraints, Diplomatic Security’s (DS) permanent presence was reduced to five, down from 17.
According to a thread of emails from Nordstrom to various State Department personnel, as early as February of 2012 there were concerns regarding the lack of security resources in Benghazi. Nordstrom went on to say that because there were only 2 DS agents supplied on the ground, it “severely limits operations in Benghazi” and the problem couldn’t be rectified because he had “been advised that DS isn’t going to provide more than 3 DS agents over the long term.”
More documents revealed:
- A March 2011 report titled “Progress Elusive in Libya” laid out mounting concerns over the construction of the “New Libya” in the wake of the country’s liberation from General Muammar Qadhafi. The State Department’s Research and Information Support Center reported that there was continued instability and a failure to centralize authority and incorporate militias under the control of the Transitional National Council. It also said that reports indicated that al-Qaeda leadership in Pakistan had sent “‘experienced jihadists’ to Libya to build a new base of operations in the country.”
- In a 12-page Overseas Security Advisory Council Crime and Safety report on February 1, 2012, Nordstrom gave a detailed account of “overall crime and safety,” “regional terrorism and organized crime,” “civil unrest,” the local police situation, and more. The overarching theme of the report was negative, as he stated that “following a change of regime and government, the political situation in Libya remains fragile” and “crime levels in Tripoli have significantly increased with the fall of the Qadhafi regime as local militias are demobilized and there remains an absence of effective security and police structures.”
- On June 25, 2012, the State Department received a lengthy report titled “Libya’s Fragile Security Deteriorates as Tribal Rivalries, Power Plays and Extremism Intensify.” The report was signed by Ambassador Stevens. “From April to June, Libya also witnesses an increase in attacks targeting international organizations and foreign interests,” Stevens wrote, describing attacks on a United Nations official in Benghazi, International Committee for the Red Cross buildings in Benghazi and Misrata, an IED at the mission in Benghazi, an rocket-propelled grenade fired at the British Ambassador’s convoy, and an attack on the consulate of Tunisia.
- On July 9, Ambassador Stevens requested additional security staff—a minimum of 13 TDY security personnel. “Overall security conditions continue to be unpredictable, with large numbers of armed groups and individuals not under control of the central government, and frequent classes in Tripoli and other major urban centers,” he wrote.
Tragically, on September 11, the weekly Tripoli embassy report—signed by Ambassador Stevens—also detailed growing violence. It concluded with testimony from a very frustrated commander of Libya’s Supreme Security Council, who detailed fears of potential strikes by ex-regime supporters. He also complained about the state of security and police forces in Benghazi “who were too weak to keep the country secure.”
And yet on September 14, White House Spokesman Jay Carney denied that the Administration had “actionable intelligence indicating that an attack on the U.S. mission in Benghazi was planned or imminent.” Now, the incriminating record speaks for itself.