Security Officer on State Department Blocking Requests: 'For Me the Taliban Is Inside the Building'
In a heated and dramatic congressional hearing today, witnesses who served with the U.S. diplomatic corps in Libya and pushed for a stronger security presence repeatedly faulted the State Department for standing in their way - one even referring to the State Department officials he described as obstructionist as if they were Taliban terrorists.
The former regional security officer in Libya, Eric Nordstrom, recalled talking to a regional director and asking for twelve security agents.
"His response to that was, 'You are asking for the sun, moon and the stars.' And my response to him - his name was Jim - 'Jim, you know what makes most frustrating about this assignment? It is not the hardships, it is not the gunfire, it is not the threats. It is dealing and fighting against the people, programs and personnel who are supposed to be supporting me. And I added (sic) it by saying, 'For me the Taliban is on the inside of the building.'"
Lieutenant Colonel Andrew Wood, the commander of a Security Support Team (SST) sent home in August - against his wishes and, he says, the wishes of the late Ambassador Chris Stevens - said "we were fighting a losing battle. We couldn't even keep what we had."
Nordstrom agreed, saying, "it was abundantly clear we were not going to get resources until the aftermath of an incident. And the question that we would ask is again, 'How thin does the ice need to get until someone falls through?'"
As an example, earlier Nordstrom had said he was "specifically told, 'You can't request an SST extension. How I interpreted that was there was going to be too much political cost."
But in another emotional moment, undersecretary of state for management Patrick Kennedy denied that politics played any role.
"I have been a career foreign service officer for 39 years," Kennedy said when asked if political considerations trumped protocol. "I have served every president since Richard Nixon, I have directly served six secretaries of State, Democratic and Republican. On my honor: no. None."
Wood said that when he heard of the attack on the Benghazi post on September 11, it was "instantly recognizable" that it had been a terrorist attack.
"Mainly because of my prior knowledge there," Wood said. "I almost expected the attack to come. We were the last flag flying. It was a matter of time."
-Jake Tapper and Mary Bruce