U.S. Embassy in Tripoli denied repeated requests for additional security prior to Benghazi attack

SOURCE: House Committee on Oversight & Government Reform

A senior State Department official acknowledged denying requests by Ambassador Chris Stevens and the U.S. Embassy in Tripoli for additional security even as conditions in Libya deteriorated in the months prior to the deadly Benghazi attack.

Under Secretary of State Charlene Lamb, who oversees the department’s Bureau of Diplomatic Security, confirmed to the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform on Wednesday that the Tripoli Embassy’s requests were denied.

Read more: U.S. counter-terrorism official calls Benghazi consulate assault an ‘opportunistic’ terrorist attack

“We had the correct number of assets in Benghazi at the time of 9/11 for what had been agreed-upon,” Lamb insisted.

The oversight committee hearing was called after Lt. Col. Andrew Wood, who led the site security team (SST) in Tripoli until mid-August, came forward with concerns over the “weak” security at the consulate in Benghazi.

“The security in Benghazi was a struggle and remained a struggle throughout my time there,” Wood testified. “Diplomatic security remained weak. In April there was only one US diplomatic security agent stationed there. The RSO struggled to obtain additional personnel there but was never able to attain the numbers he felt comfortable with.”

Read more: Timeline of the deteriorating security conditions in Benghazi prior to 9/11 attack

According to documents provided to the oversight committee, the Embassy requested in July the extension of temporary duty security personnel (“TDY”) for another 60 to 90 days due to worsening security conditions as the nascent Libyan government struggled to maintain law and order. Subsequent Embassy cables raised concerns over the lack of security support from the government of Libya; traditionally, the host nation is responsible for providing the exterior security for embassies and consulates.

However, the cable sent on July 9, 2012 focused on buttressing the security at the Tripoli Embassy and made only a brief mention of the need for at least 4 security agents – including transferring one permanently assigned Regional Security Officer from Tripoli – to staff the Benghazi consulate. The Benghazi request was made in the context of transitioning from “emergency to normalized security operations.”

“There were 5 Diplomatic Security agents on the Compound on September 11th. There were also 3 members of the Libyan 17th February Brigade. In addition, a well-trained U.S. quick reaction security team was stationed nearby at the Embassy annex,” testified Lamb. (Later in the hearing, Lamb clarified that two of the five Diplomatic Security agents accompanied Stevens from Tripoli.)

Lamb also pointed out that the consulate compound underwent a series of security upgrades, including extending the height of the outer wall with concrete and barb wires and installing Jersey barriers, to reinforce the perimeter. These upgrades were implemented after an explosive device blew a hole in the perimeter on June 6, 2012.

Read more: Timeline of the deadly U.S. consulate attack in Benghazi, Libya

But given that dozens of heavily-armed attackers swarmed the consulate, it’s unclear whether staffing an additional security agent would have made much of a difference in an attack with such “unprecedented” ferocity and intensity.

“The assault that occurred on the evening of September 11, however, was an unprecedented assault by dozens of heavily armed men,” said Under Secretary of State Patrick Kennedy. “An attack of that kind of lethality, we’re never going to have enough guns…We are not an armed camp ready to fight it out.”

Kennedy noted that there is an internal investigation underway to review whether the Benghazi consulate was allocated adequate security resources and what steps can be taken to reduce security risks in the future.

But Kennedy also pointed out that diplomacy cannot be conducted in “fortresses” – a viewpoint echoed by Eric Nordstrom, who served as the Regional Security Officer in Tripoli until July 26.

“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,” Nordstrom told the committee.

 

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