Memo: U.S. knew Benghazi danger was high

Oct. 10, 2012 at 4:24 PM
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WASHINGTON, Oct. 10 (UPI) -- A top U.S. counter-terrorism official met with officials in Libya Tuesday as a House committee opened a hearing on the attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi.

The White House said John Brennan, President Barack Obama's top counter-terrorism adviser, met with senior Libyan officials, including President Mohammed Magarief, to discuss "the continuing investigation into the Benghazi attacks, including specific additional steps Libya can take to better assist the U.S. in ensuring that the perpetrators are brought to justice."

National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor said Brennan "urged Libya to take full and timely advantage of specific offers of assistance from the United States and other international partners."

The announcement came as the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee opened a hearing into security at the consulate, where U.S. Ambassador to Libya Christopher Stevens and three other Americans were killed in an attack Sept. 11.

Utah National Guard Lt. Col. Andrew Wood, who was deployed in Libya for six months before leaving in August, testified at the hearing security in Benghazi "was a struggle and remained a struggle throughout my time there."

"The situation remained uncertain and reports from some Libyans indicated it was getting worse," Wood testified.

Eric Nordstrom, the State Department official responsible for security for U.S. diplomatic personnel in Libya, testified department officials "conducted themselves professionally" in Benghazi prior to the Sept. 11 attack, The New York Times reported.

Nordstrom, who served in Libya from September 2011 to July 2012 -- six weeks before the attack in Benghazi -- said the consulate's security plan "was regularly tested and appeared to work as planned" and said he hoped the Sept. 11 attack does not lead U.S. officials to overreact, the Times reported.

Republicans accused the State Department of spinning the record in an effort to emphasize improvements in security in Libya, the Post said.

The ranking Democrat on the committee, Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland, accused House Republicans of cutting hundreds of millions of dollars from Obama administration requests for diplomatic security funding. He said some of the funding was restored in the Senate but the final amount fell well short of the White House's request.

In an appearance Wednesday on CNN, committee member Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, acknowledged he voted to cut funding for embassy security but called the issue a "red herring."

The State Department knew two months before the fatal attack the danger threat was high, a department memo released Tuesday by House Republicans indicated.

"The risk of U.S. Mission personnel, private U.S. citizens and businesspersons encountering an isolating event as a result of militia or political violence is HIGH," a State Department security assessment dated July 22 said.

An isolating incident is jargon for a security threat.

The State Department withdrew U.S. security staff from Libya in the weeks before suspected Islamist extremists killed Stevens.

Nordstrom wrote in an Oct. 1 email released by a congressional committee, "The government of Libya does not yet have the ability to effectively respond to and manage the rising criminal and militia violence, which could result in an isolating event."

Nordstrom's email added the Libyan government "was overwhelmed and could not guarantee our protection."

The email and State Department security assessment were two of 230 alleged security threats between June 2011 and July 2012 Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa, R-Calif., made public ahead of the hearing.

Wood told CBS News Monday he and Stevens feared for the diplomatic corps' safety several months before the Benghazi attack.

But he said they were rebuffed by the Defense and State departments when he and Stevens requested tighter security.

"The requests were being modified to say, 'Don't even request for DoD support,'" Woods told the network, referring to the Department of Defense.

"There was a clear disconnect between what security officials on the ground felt they needed and what officials in Washington would approve," Issa said Tuesday.

"Reports that senior State Department officials told security personnel in Libya to not even make certain security requests are especially troubling," Issa said.

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