Five guards from the State Department were protecting U.S. ambassador Chris Stevens when he was killed in the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi last week, according a top congressional Democrat briefed on the matter.
Rep. Adam Smith, D-Wash., the ranking member on the House Armed Services committee, dismissed concerns that Stevens did not have adequate security when he was killed, but he added that there was no actionable intelligence to suggest that a terrorist attack was imminent.
“The ambassador had five security guards with him,” Smith disclosed. “He had security guards around him when they came under fire, the building itself caught on fire. He was with his other aide and one other security guy and in the fire they got separated.”
Until now, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, President Obama and other U.S. officials had refused to comment on the precautions taken to protect Stevens.
“We obviously never talk publicly about security at any of our missions for obvious reasons,” Clinton said Tuesday. “But that said, let me assure you that our security in Benghazi included a unit of host government security forces, as well as a local guard force of the kind that we rely on in many places around the world. In addition to the security outside the compound, we relied on a wall and a robust security presence inside the compound.”
But following a classified briefing Thursday afternoon with Clinton, members of Congress seemed to contradict each other on many details emerging from a preliminary investigation into the attack.
Smith said that the investigation is still ongoing and so far inconclusive, but based on discussions he’s had about the attack, “it seems like it was obviously some element of pre-planning, but how far in advance, that’s hard to say and they didn’t really speculate on that.”
“Personally it seems like it was not something that simply happened spontaneous, but it wasn’t that well-planned,” Smith added. “One point that was made is that they didn’t bring up mortars until like six or seven hours into the fight, so it seems like an armed gang that seized an opportunity with at least some prior thought.”
Members of Congress seemed to disagree whether there was a demonstration at the consulate that preceded the attack. Smith’s Republican counterpart at the Armed Services committee, Rep. Buck McKeon, the chairman of the committee, said he believes the attack was not spontaneous and was planned ahead of time.
“They’re now saying that there was not a demonstration,” McKeon , R-Calif., said. “That story has been walked away from now. The first story was there was a demonstration and that grew into an attack. I think the story now is that there was not a demonstration. That this was a preplanned attack.”
Still, McKeon said he did not believe that Stevens had adequate protection, telling reporters that the consulate “really wasn’t prepared for what hit them,” and he questioned why the State Department had any personnel, including the ambassador, there.
“It’s pretty obvious he did not have adequate security. Otherwise he would probably be here today,” he said. “I’m really disappointed about that. I think when we put our people around the world at risk and don’t provide adequate security, shame on us.”
McKeon also told reporters that “there is information out there that there was a former detainee that was released from Guantanamo that may have been involved in the attack.”
Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger, D-Md., the top Democrat on the House Intelligence committee, said at this time the connection to the former detainee, Ben Qhuru, has not been established.
“There’s been a lot of speculation on what has occurred,” Ruppersberger warned. “We’ve got our best investigators on the ground working together with our intelligence community to find out the exact facts.”