Transcript: Testimony of Regional Security Officer Eric Nordstrom on the “Security Failures in Benghazi”

Edited by Jenny Jiang

Transcript of testimony of Eric A. Nordstrom, Regional Security Officer in Tripoli, Libya from Sept. 21, 2011 to July 6, 2012, before the House Oversight Committee on the “Security Failures in Benghazi” on Oct. 10, 2012:

Eric A. Nordstrom, Regional Security Officer in Tripoli, Libya from Sept. 21, 2011 to July 6, 2012, before the House Oversight Committee on the “Security Failures in Benghazi” on Oct. 10, 2012. SOURCE: House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform

Good morning, Chairman Issa, Ranking Member Cummings, and other distinguished members of the committee.

My name is Eric Nordstrom and I current serve as a supervisory special agent with the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Diplomatic Security.

I joined the Department in April 1998 and have served in domestic and overseas postings, including Washington D.C.; Tegucigalpa, Honduras; Addis Ababa, Ethiopia; New Delhi, India; and most recently as the Regional Security Officer at the U.S. Embassy in Tripoli, Libya – a position I held from Sept. 21, 2011 until July 26, 2012.

As the Regional Security Officer or RSO at the U.S. Embassy in Tripoli, I served as the principal advisor to Ambassadors [Gene] Cretz and Stevens on security and law enforcement matters.

I’m here today to provide testimony in support of your inquiry into the tragic events of Sept. 11, 2012, including the murders of Ambassador Stevens, Sean Smith, Glen Doherty, and Tyrone Woods.

I had the pleasure of working with Ambassador Stevens during the final months of my tour in Libya and would echo what many are saying: The loss of Ambassador Stevens is not only tragic for his family and sad for our country but his death proved to be a devastating loss for Libya struggling to recover from its recent civil war.

My family and I would like to offer our personal condolences to the families of these four patriots who gave their lives in the service of their country.

My contribution to our nation’s efforts in Libya would prove to be only a small part of a wider effort. There were many of us dedicated to the mission in Libya both at home and abroad.

To my colleagues who served with me and those who are presently there in the aftermath of this attack, you have your country’s sincere thanks and prayers.

Let me say a word about the evening of Sept. 11th. I have not seen an attack of such ferocity and intensity previously in Libya nor in my time at the diplomatic security service. I’m concerned that this attack signals a new security reality just as the 1983 Beirut barracks bombing did for the Marines, the 1998 East Africa embassies bombings did for the State Department, and 9/11 did for our entire country.

However, we must remember that it is critical that we balance our risk mitigation efforts with the needs of our diplomats to do their jobs. The answer cannot be to operate from a bunker.

Arriving in Tripoli in the midst of the Libyan civil war, it was immediately obvious to me that the post-revolution Libya was a weakened state exhausted from their civil war and operated under fragmented and paralyzed government institutions. They were barely able to protect themselves from armed gangs, Gaddafi loyalists, or roving militias.

As a result, the Libyan temporary government was unable to extend security assets to diplomatic missions in customary ways that we expect around the world. We could not rely on the Libyan government for security, intelligence, and law enforcement help to identify emerging threats or to ask them for assistance in mitigating those threats.

In Benghazi, however, the government of Libya through the 17th February Martyrs Brigade was able to provide us consistent armed security since the very earliest days of the revolution.

Routine civil unrests, militia on militia violence, general lawlessness, and surprisingly motor vehicle accidents were the primary threats facing our missions and personnel during my time in Libya.

As Col. Andrew Wood noted, in the Spring of 2012, we noted an increasing number of attacks and incidents which appeared to target foreign affiliated organizations.

In response to these incidents, we implemented a number of changes to our security posture designed to mitigate those threats and disrupt any planning by would-be attackers.

Those efforts included reviewing and practicing our emergency preparedness drills and most importantly we reiterated our request at all levels of government for a consistent, armed host nation security force to support the mission. We also requested security staffing and extensions of the DOD security support team.

In my opinion, the primary security staffing issue that we dealt with was maintaining U.S. security personnel, whether diplomatic security agents or security support team members, for a sufficient amount of time to enable full training and deployment of a local body guard unit.

In early July 2012, prior to my departures, post requested continued TDY staffing of 15 U.S. security professionals, either D.S. field office agents, mobile security deployment agents, or DOD SST personnel, plus retention of a 6-agent mobile security deployment training team that would work with our newly-created body guard unit.

Earlier post extension requests for our DOD SS team in November 2011 and March 2012 were approved. Also, in March 2012, I requested DS staffing levels in Tripoli of 5 full-time agents to be permanently assigned there, 12 temporary duty D.S. agents, and 6 mobile security deployment D.S. agents – again – to train our newly-created body guard unit. Our request to maintain a level of 5 TDY D.S. agents in Benghazi was included in that same March 2012 request.

Our long-term security plan in Libya was to deploy an armed locally-hired Libyan body guard unit. Due to Libyan political sensitivities, armed private security companies were not allowed to operate in Libya. That was the case under Gaddafi and that was the case under free Libya.

Our existing uniformed static local guard force, both in Tripoli and Benghazi, were unarmed similar to our local guard forces at many other posts around the world. Their job is simple: It is to observe, report and alert armed host nation security or armed response forces, possibly DS agents if that’s the case.

The use of local nationals as armed body guards is a routine practice of the Department and we often do so to comply with the local firearms regulations of the host nation. Local nationals provide us with continuity, local expertise, threat awareness in their community, and language and cultural skills.

I’m confident the committee will conclude that officers and employees of the Department of State Diplomatic Security Service and Mission Libya conducted themselves professionally and with careful attention to managing the people and budgets in a way that reflected the gravity of the tasks.

I’m proud of the work that our team accomplished in Libya under extraordinarily difficult circumstances. The protection of our nation’s diplomats, our embassies and consulates, and the work produced there is deserving of the time and treasure invested.

I’m glad to further discuss my experiences and hope it provides beneficial [information] to the committee, the State Department, and my fellow DS agents who are protecting and advancing U.S. interests abroad.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman and members of the committee for the opportunity to appear before you today. May God bless our country as we work towards peace in a contentious world. I stand ready to answer any questions that you might have of me.

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