Accounts by U.S. officials with firsthand knowledge of circumstances leading to the murders of U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans in Benghazi, Libya last month revealed that armed security was lacking despite requests for more support, and some on the ground had reasons to expect the terrorist attack that eventually took place.
Army National Guard Lt. Col. David Wood, a former Site Security Team (SST) commander in Libya earlier this year, discussed the Benghazi consulate’s ongoing ‚??struggle‚?Ě for adequate site security before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, despite concerns that doing so might damage his career.
‚??As a citizen, I made the determination that this outweighs all other interests and will risk whatever circumstances may result from my testimony,‚?Ě he said.
That testimony was damning.
Video: Rep. Trey Gowdy wants to know why the American people were lied to.
Wood said the Sept. 11 attack, as a terrorist action, was ‚??almost expected‚?Ě as various attacks and incidents of violence in Benghazi and Tripoli caused many foreign service organizations, including the Red Cross, to withdraw.
Following the exit of the Red Cross from Benghazi, Wood said, ‚??After that, it became clear to me that we were the last flag flying in Benghazi. We were the last target on their list in Benghazi.‚?Ě
Meanwhile, a scale-down in security personnel was taking place in spite of requests from the embassy that numbers remain constant. Eric Nordstrom, a former Regional Security Officer serving in Tripoli earlier this year, testified that cables to the U.S. state department requesting a steady state of five temporary duty (TDY) Diplomatic Security personnel in Benghazi and at least 13 security personnel total had been ignored. At the time of the attacks, only three DS personnel were present that had been assigned to the site. Nordstrom sent the requests even though Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Charlene Lamb had asked him by phone not to do so, citing, he testified, political reasons.
‚??I recall specifically two phone calls,‚?Ě Nordstrom said. ‚??In those conversations, I was specifically told you cannot request an SST extension… (Stevens and I) felt strongly about the need for them and we went ahead and requested them anyway.‚?Ě
Lamb, who also testified, said she just didn‚??t believe the conditions on the ground called for more than three TDY DS agents at a time on the ground.
‚??When the cable came in where RSO Nordstrom laid out all his staffing requirements and needs, I asked him to work out all the details and line up exactly how many security personnel, and armed security personnel did he need,‚?Ě she said. ‚??I said that personally, I would not support it.‚?Ě
Though Democratic members of the committee blamed Republicans throughout the hearing for cutting security State Department security spending, Lamb clarified for Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.), who was invited to sit on the committee for the hearing, that the staffing denial was not linked to budget shortages, just the result of evaluating conditions on the ground.
What was abundantly clear from the hearing was evidence abounded from day one that the attacks were terror-related, and not a spontaneous protest to an American-made film, as the State Department claimed for days after the event, and the president claimed even longer.
Lamb and others offered graphic testimony of the horrific assault, which involved gunfire, mortar rounds, and diesel fuel.
Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), who organized the hearing, discussed his own trip to Libya in the immediate aftermath of the attack.
‚??I will tell you‚?¶that when I was in Libya for a good part of a day, never once did a person mention a video,‚?Ě he said. ‚??It was a terrorist attack, let‚??s be honest about it.‚?Ě
Chaffetz said the region should have received extra attention after a June 6 IED attack that blew a hole ‚??big enough for forty men‚?Ě in the Benghazi consulate‚??s security perimeter.
‚??It was a test by terrorists, and it was successful,‚?Ě he said. ‚??It was a terrorist attack on a U.S. asset in Libya and it was exposed, and we did nothing‚?¶We could have and should have saved the life of Ambassador Stevens and the other people that were there.‚?Ě
Thirteen days after the attacks, President Barack Obama was still implying, in his speech to the U.N. General Assembly, that the attacks were a response to the amateur film, rather than an act of terror. U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice has come under fire for on-the-record statements, not retracted or altered for weeks after the incident, directly linking the Benghazi attacks to the film, and some including Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) have called for her resignation.
Under Secretary of State Patrick Kennedy said the statements were a result of changing intelligence information.
‚??What we knew that first week and that weekend has evolved over time,‚?Ě he said.
Members of the committee said the evidence looked more like an administration seizing on a convenient narrative among various conflicting reports.
‚??This thing smells,‚?Ě said Rep. Mike Kelly (R-Pa.) ‚??If it waddles like a duck and quacks like a duck, it‚??s a duck.‚?Ě
Committee chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) said he planned to follow the leads presented by the evidence shared by the panel to their conclusions and to pursue a classified briefing with State Department officials on the attacks.