Republicans on the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform have released new documents backing up claims by security personnel previously station in Libya that there was a shortage of security personnel in Benghazi.
The documents contain previously unreleased cables from Ambassador Stevens and his staff reflecting concerns about safety in the country.
The U.S. State Department did not have an immediate comment.
One signed by Stevens and titled “LIBYA’S FRAGILE SECURITY DETERIORIATES AS TRIBAL RIVALRIES, POWER PLAYS AND EXTREMISM INTENSIFY,” dated June 25, 2012, assess the increase in violence. ”From April to June, Libya also witnesses an increase in attacks targeting international organizations and foreign interests,” Stevens wrote, describing attacks on a United Nations official in Benghazi, International Committee for the Red Cross buildings in Benghazi and Misrata, and IED at the mission in Benghazi, and RPG fired at the British Ambassador’s convoy, and an attack on the consulate of Tunisia.
A Libyan government national security official told Stevens “that the attacks were the work of extremists who are opposed to western influence in Libya. A number of local contacts agreed, noting that Islamic extremism appears to be on the rise in eastern Libya and that the Al-Qaeda flag has been spotted several times flying over government buildings and training facilities in Derna,” a village to the east in Benghazi. Other contacts disagreed with that assessment, however.
Another cable from Stevens, titled “The Guns of August; security in eastern Libya” and dated August 8, 2012, states “Since the eve of the (July) elections, Benghazi has moved from trepidation to euphoria and back as a series of violent incidents has dominated the political landscape during the Ramadan holiday.” Stevens describes the incidents as “organized, but this is not an organized campaign.” The Supreme Security Council, the interim security force, he says, “has not coalesced into a stabilizing force and provides little deterrence.”
Stevens wrote that the people of Benghazi want a security apparatus but “inherently fear abuse by the same authorities. This debate, playing out daily in Benghazi, has created the security vacuum that a diverse group of independent actors are exploiting for their own purposes.”
A cable signed by Stevens on the day of his murder, September 11, described a meeting with the Acting Principal Officer of the Supreme Security Council in Benghazi, commander Fawzi Younis, who “expressed growing frustration with police and security forces (who were too weak to keep the country secure)…”
The documents also included an “ACTION MEMO” for Under Secretary of State for Management Patrick Kennedy dated December 27, 2011, and written by US Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Jeffrey Feltman. With the subject line: “Future of Operations in Benghazi, Libya,” the memo states: “With the full complement of five Special Agents, our permanent presence would include eight U.S. direct hire employees.”
This would seem to suggest that Undersecretary Kennedy had approved a plan for five permanent security agents in Benghazi, but that never happened. It should be noted that there were ultimately a total of five Diplomatic Security Agents in Benghazi that night since there were two stationed at the Benghazi compound, and three escorted Ambassador Chris Stevens to the compound.
In a letter to President Obama, House Oversight Committee chairman Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., and Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, chair of the Subcommittee on National Security, Homeland Defense, and Foreign Operations, note the Obama administration response that “two extra DS agents would have made no difference. This misses the point. These agents would have provided the added cover to fully evacuate all personnel from the compound – not just those who survived.”
One of the key conversations in the documents begins on February 11, at 5:29 pm, when Shawn Crowley, a foreign service officer at the U.S. Mission in Benghazi, writes: “Apologies for being a broken record, but beginning tomorrow Benghazi will be down to two agents…We have no drivers and new local guard contract employees have no experience driving armored vehicles…”
On February 11, 1:13 pm, Regional Security Officer of the Libyan Embassy Eric Nordstrom emails State Department officials, cc-ing then-Ambassador Gene Cretz, saying he’ll try to send personnel from the Security Support Team to Benghazi. “I’ll speak with our SST personnel to se if they can free up 1 or 2 bodies for Benghazi….While the status of Benghazi remains undefined, DS” – Diplomatic Security – “is hesitant to devout (sic) resources and as I indicated previously, this has severely hampered operations in Benghazi. That often means that DS agents are there guarding a compound with 2 other DOS personnel present. That often means that outreach and reporting is non-existent.”
Norstrom notes that the British have “a 5 person team assigned to just their head of mission, so they have made a commitment to maintain a larger presence in Benghazi than the USG,” the U.S. government.
At 8:53 pm. James Bacigalupo, the Regional Director Near East Asia Bureau of Diplomatic Security DSS for the State Department, emails Nordstrom, “Call me, I am surprised at your statement that ‘DS is hesitant to devote resources as I (you) have indicated previously that has severely limited operations in Benghazi.’”
Norstrom responds on Sunday, February 12: 8:58 pm “we have had multiple times previously had no movements in Benghazi because we had only 2 DS agents on the ground. Havingno movements for upwards for 10 days severely limits operations in Benghazi. I’ve been placed in a very difficult spot when the Ambassador tells me that I need to support Benghazi but can’t direct MSD” – Mobile Security Detachment – ” there and been advised that DS isn’t going to provide more than 3 DS agents over the long term.”
Nordstrom adds at 9:00 pm: “the last time we had only 2 agents at post, suspending outside movements for approximately 10 days.”
Meanwhile, security on the ground became increasingly precarious.
A March 2012 memo (mistakenly cited as 2011) from the Research & Information Support Center titled “Progress Elusive in Libya,” based on open-source reporting, states that in late December 2011 “reports indicated that al-Qa’ida leadership in Pakistan had sent ‘experienced jihadists to Libya to build a new base of operations in the country. Between May and December 2011, one of these jihadists had recruited 200 fighters in the eastern part of the country. Documents seized in Iraq indicate that many foreign fighters who participated in the Iraqi insurgency hailed from eastern Libya. This small batch of fighters would have been dealt with quickly by a central authority, were it in place. Until a stronger national army or guard force is developed, rural Libya will remain fertile territory for terrorist groups such as al-Qai’da in the Islamic Maghreb.”
The committee also released some photographs of the Benghazi compound, before and after the attack.
Issa and Chaffetz say they’ve “been told repeatedly” that the Obama administration not only “repeatedly reject(ed) requests for increased security despite escalating violence, but it also systematically decreased existing security to dangerous and ineffective levels,” and did so “to effectuate a policy of ‘normalization’ in Libya after the conclusion of its civil war.”
This “normalization,” the GOP congressman write, “appeared to have been aimed at conveying the impression that the situation in Libya was getting better, not worse. The administration’s decision to normalize was the basis for systematically withdrawing security personnel and equipment – including a much-needed DC-3 aircraft – without taking into account the reality on the ground. In an interview with Mr. Nordstrom, he maintained that the State Department routinely made decisions about security in early 2012 without first consulting him.” The congressmen submit ten questions for the president to answer.