House Hearing on Attack on U.S. Consulate in Libya
The House is seeking answers in the Sept. 11, 2012, attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, which killed four Americans including Ambassador Chris Stevens. Live-blog of Wednesday’s hearing:
12:05 p.m. House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa, R-Calif., called the hearing to order. He expressed “our deepest sympathies for the loss of the lives in Libya” and for those who were hurt. He said he “deeply appreciates” Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s efforts to help the investigation.
12:15 p.m. There are hundreds of facilities around the world, some high risk like Libya and others low risk, Issa noted. The purpose of the committee hearing is to make sure security is approached differently than it was leading up to the events in Libya, he said.
12:22 p.m. Committee ranking Democrat Elijah Cummings, Md., said he is seeking answers to such questions of should there have been more than five diplomatic security agents in Benghazi. He also said the House has cut funding for embassy security far below the Obama administration’s request and the amounts enacted in 2010.
12:30 p.m. Committee member Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, co-author of a letter to the State Department detailing the attacks leading up to Sept. 11, said he was concerned over the lack of acknowledgement over the string of assaults, and with additional resources the ambassador might not have been killed. Any reasonable observer would have said the security situation in Libya was “tumultuous at best,” he added.
Photo of the burned out consulate in Benghazi by Gianluigi Guercia/AFP/Getty Images.
12:45 p.m. As commander of the site security team (SST) in Libya, Army Lt. Col. Andrew Wood said in his testimony that he regularly met with Ambassador Chris Stevens and other members of the security team.
“Ambassador Stevens was an avid runner and played tennis as well. The SST was heavily involved in performing his personnel security detail when he ran. I ran with him on several occasions,” said Wood.
The State Department decided not to extend the site security team’s work beyond Aug. 5, he said. “While the sound of gunfire in and around Tripoli subsided from February to April the situation remained unstable.”
Wood testified: “Some militias appeared to be degenerating into organizations resembling free lance criminal operations. Targeted attacks against Westerners were on the increase.”
He said in April, there was only one U.S. diplomatic security agent stationed in Benghazi.
(Read Wood’s full statement.)
12:55 p.m. Eric Nordstrom, regional security officer at the State Department, said of the Sept. 11 attack on the consulate in Benghazi: “The ferocity and intensity of the attack was nothing that we had seen in Libya, or that I had seen in my time in the Diplomatic Security Service.”
He continued: “I’m concerned that this attack will signal a new security-reality, just as the 1984 Beirut attack did for the Marines; the 1998 East Africa bombings did for the State Department, and 9/11 for the whole country.”
Since Libya had a new temporary government, the U.S. mission there was “extremely limited in our ability to call upon the host nation for security, intelligence, and law enforcement contacts” to identify threats.
After the revolution in Libya, much of the staff in Libya was short-term with high turnover rates, especially in Benghazi, which made it hard to have “continuity, oversight and leadership.”
In response to growing militia activity, the State Department supplemented security in Benghazi with personnel from Tripoli and hired local drivers — providing them with counter-threat driver training — so that the Benghazi security personnel would not have to serve as drivers, he said.
(Read Nordstrom’s full statement.)
1:06 p.m. Charlene Lamb, deputy assistant secretary of state for international programs, described the incidents of Sept. 11. She said there were five diplomatic security agents at the compound in Benghazi on Sept. 11.
“We consult regularly with our people on the ground, with security professionals in Washington, and with the intelligence community” before preparing security plans, she said.
Committee member Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, interrupted at one point saying a location map Lamb was using was classified, but State Department staff at the hearing said everything she presented was declassified.
(Read Lamb’s prepared statement.)
Photo of U.S. Capitol by Jewel Samad/AFP/Getty Images.
1:15 p.m. “Nobody will us hold us more accountable than we hold ourselves,” said Undersecretary of State for Management Patrick Kennedy. “The men we lost were our friends and colleagues, a cross section of the men and women who put their lives on the line every day.”
He said Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has appointed a review board led by retired Ambassador Thomas Pickering to determine whether security procedures matched the threat in the region.
Kennedy said “there was no doubt” the situation in Benghazi was dangerous, but Ambassador Chris Stevens wanted to be there and after his death, thousands marched in his honor.
1:30 p.m. Chairman Issa said the State Department contends the U.S. Embassy in Libya did not formally request a security upgrade, but he pointed to documents showing it asked for more security improvements.
When asked about the number of agents in Benghazi at the time of the attack: Lamb said she asked for an assessment of security agents in Benghazi and learned that one was being used to drive a vehicle and another to watch classified communications equipment, which were not normal duties of security agents. So the department decided three agents were enough for Benghazi. The two additional agents in Benghazi at the time of the attack were from Tripoli, and were accompanying Ambassador Chris Stevens to the compound on Sept. 11.
1:43 p.m. Committee member Eleanor Holmes Norton, delegate from Washington, D.C., asked about the initial reports saying the attack in Benghazi was tied to protests over an anti-Muslim video. It was later attributed to a pre-planned terrorist attack.
“We know much more now than we knew then,” said Undersecretary of State for Management Patrick Kennedy. He said the department was gathering information including from the intelligence community, which was why it took five days to come out with the real reason. “We wanted to know more than anyone else.”
2:05 p.m. When Rep. Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio, asked about al-Qaida’s presence in Libya, Lt. Col. Andrew Wood said: “Their presence grows everyday. They are certainly more established than we are.”
Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, asked whether the embassy buildings in Libya met “Inman standards” (read about the Inman code here), Eric Nordstrom, regional security officer at the State Department, said none of them did. That was “a major security issue that we continued to raise,” he said.
2:22 p.m. Committee Chairman Darrell Issa, R-Calif., spoke of video of the consulate from a surveillance camera: “I would like the committee to have the 50-minute tape before the press has it.” He said the FBI told him they don’t have it and don’t need it.
2:47 p.m. Lt. Col. Andrew Wood said based on having been there, he was not surprised the Benghazi siege took place. “We were the last flag flying,” after other Western facilities had been attacked, he said. “It was just a matter of time.”
2:50 p.m. On the U.S. diplomatic mission: “We have to go where the action is” and do everything possible to mitigate the danger, said Undersecretary of State for Management Patrick Kennedy.
3:19 p.m. The committee released new photos of the consulate before and after the attack, along with memos from the U.S. Embassy requesting more bodyguards and describing increasing violent incidents in Libya: March 28, July 9, Aug. 2, Aug. 20, and Sept. 11.
4:08 p.m. “There was no actionable intelligence available indicating there was a plan … of a massive attack,” said Undersecretary of State for Management Patrick Kennedy.
Regional security officer Eric Nordstrom: “It was abundantly clear we were not going to get resources until after” an attack occurred.
4:12 p.m. The hearing wrapped up four hours after it began.
Original Story Posted at 9:30 a.m. ET:
A flag flies at half mast at the State Department in Washington, D.C., on Sept. 12. Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images.
The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee called its members back from recess to address allegations that the State Department turned down repeated requests from the U.S. mission in Libya for more security in light of a spate of attacks this year.
In a letter sent to the State Department, Committee Chairman Darrell Issa, R-Calif., and Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, outlined the attacks, including gun battles and carjackings, and blamed the administration for allegedly rejecting the security requests. (Read the congressmen’s letter.)
The Obama administration initially blamed the attack on protests over an amateurish anti-Islam video, but Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta later said it was the work of terrorists. Senior White House counterterrorism adviser John Brennan met with Libyan officials in Tripoli on Tuesday and Wednesday to discuss the ongoing investigation.
Three senior State Department staff are scheduled to testify Wednesday: Charlene Lamb, deputy assistant secretary for International Programs, Bureau of Diplomatic Security at the State Department; Eric Nordstrom, regional security officer at the State Department; and Army Lt. Col. Andrew Wood of the Utah National Guard.
Wood said in a CBS News interview that he met with Stevens daily and the ambassador was worried about security. “He was constantly concerned about the threats to not just himself but the entire staff there,” said Wood.
Despite increasing attacks in Benghazi and the capital Tripoli, Wood said the security detail in Libya was reduced.
The State Department told CBS News that the reduction of the security support team had “no impact whatsoever on the total number of fully trained American security personnel in Libya overall or in Benghazi specifically.”
The Wall Street Journal’s Siobhan Gorman and Greg Miller of the Washington Post discuss the state of security in Libya and the search for suspects in this Oct. 2 NewsHour report:
- Slain U.S. Ambassador Stevens in Video: ‘I’m Excited to Return to Libya’
- What Makes Embassies Secure?
View more of our World coverage.