House Republicans begin digging on Libya security failures
Yesterday, the House Oversight and Government Reform Committe held its first round on hearings over last month’s terrorist attack at the United States consulate in Benghazi, Libya that took the lives of four Americans, including Ambassador Christopher Stevens, and the subsequent cover-up.
House Republicans are looking to get to the bottom the security failures that aided terrorists in attacking the consulate and finding out why the White House and State Department initially blamed the anti-Islamic video, “Innocence of Muslims,” for the incident. In case you haven’t read anything about the hearing, things got a little testy.
Eli Lake, who has contributed some excellent reporting on aftermath of the attack and cover-up, has a great breakdown of the hearing:
The star witness for Republicans at Wednesday’s hearing on the assault on the consulate in Benghazi said he twice urged the State Department to keep an elite diplomatic security team in Libya, but was denied each time. The team, a group of soldiers attached to the national guard, left the country in August.
In his testimony, Eric Nordstrom, the top U.S. diplomatic security official in Libya until the end of June, was at times harshly critical of his superiors at State. His tone differed from his prepared remarks, which appeared more measured, and which he said were written with the help of guidelines from the State Department. In those remarks, he said the vast majority of his requests for security resources were “considered seriously and fastidiously.
But under questioning by Republicans, Nordstrom detailed two phone calls he had with Charlene Lamb, a deputy assistant secretary of state working in the diplomatic security bureau. “In those conversations I recall I was specifically told you cannot request an extension of the SST,” Nordstrom said, referring to the so-called Site Security Team, made up of former U.S. military personnel. “In the first case in February, we felt strongly about the need for that and requested it anyway.”
Lamb acknowledged under questioning that she had urged Nordstrom not to request more security personnel. “Personally I would not support it,” said Lamb. “We had been training local Libyans for a year.” She added, “With due respect, they were in Tripoli they were not in Benghazi, it would not have made any difference in Benghazi.”
Though the SST was based in Tripoli, its mission was to support U.S. diplomats throughout Libya. In some ways, the team served as reserve of highly trained security personnel that could be deployed to hot spots. Sometimes, the team would travel with a high-ranking diplomat to provide extra security. On two occasions, members of the SST traveled to Benghazi to “bolster security at that location,” said Wood in his testimony.
Regardless, Lamb’s statement gets to the heart of a key criticism of the State Department in the run up to the Benghazi attack, which is that it relied too heavily on trained Libyans to provide diplomatic security.
Not only were requests for more security rejected and not only did we rely too heavily on Libyans — some of local “security” team weren’t even being paid, according to a report from ABC News. The State Department also claims that they never concluded that the controversial video played a part in the incident, which is what U.N. Ambassador Susan initially said. They’re essentially leaving her hanging while House Republicans continue to investigate, nevermind that it was the standard line from the Obama Administration that the video was to blame — and they knew this within 24 hours of the incident.
House Democrats on the committee, led by Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD), tried to turn the hearing around on Republicans by claiming that spending cuts led to the lack of security at the consulate. That’s a pretty pathetic attack considering that many Democrats also voted for those cuts.
This is an embarrassing moment for the White House, especially because it’s so close to an election, though that’s just a coincidence. The Operation Fast and Furious scandal may not have stuck — despite the deaths of 200 people, including Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry and Custom Agent Jamie Zapata, but lies and misinformation that have purposefully come out from the incident in Libya are beginning to blowback on Obama.