Roughly a month after U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans were killed on September 11th in an assault on the American Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee is meeting to determine the exact security situation leading up to the attack.
Immediately after the tragedy, the administration blamed a YouTube video for what they described as a "spontaneous assault." Soon after, however, it was admitted that the assault was a pre-planned terrorist attack. Now, it is unclear whether the White House denied extra security requested by the diplomats in Libya.
At Wednesday's hearing, Under Secretary of State for Management Patrick Kennedy will provide the first direct rebuttal of allegations by Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa, R-California, and others that the State Department denied requests for additional security in Libya.
Others scheduled to testify include Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for International Programs Charlene Lamb; Regional Security Officer Eric Nordstrom, who was stationed in Libya before the attacks; and Lt. Col. Andrew Wood, a Utah National Guardsman who was leading a security team in Libya until August.
Issa's committee had asked Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to take part, and she sent Kennedy and Lamb to appear. [Emphasis added]
Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Cali.) began by honoring the Americans killed in Libya, detailing the families they leave behind and their contributions to the country. In the end, he explained, they want to determine what went wrong prevent such attacks from ever happening again, and where our preparations failed in Libya.
Specifically, the committee hopes to determine whether or not "repeated" requests for increased security ahead of the attack were denied by Washington, as has been reported. Issa added that sources have said Washington hoped to "normalize" the area, so they may have even told the diplomats to stop asking.
"The history of these panels is that they get results, and that they pull no punches," he warned, but spoke respectfully of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and her cooperation with the investigation.
Here is a clip of his opening remarks:
Soon after, Rep. Jason Chaffetz gave a scathing review of the security situation in Libya, and the previous attacks that we pretended "didn't happen." During his recent trip to Libya, he added that no one mentioned a YouTube video.
Witness Lt. Col. Andrew Wood testified not long after to provide "ground truth information" about the situation in Libya, adding that his statements do not represent the Department of Defense or any other government agency.
Wood said he traveled to Benghazi on several occasions, and spoke frequently with Ambassador Stevens in his professional capacity. He then described the situation after the revolution in Libya, saying it was volatile and "targeted attacks against Westerners were on the increase." He added that Stevens' running habits and route were posted on Facebook over the summer, but his efforts to get the security detail extended were in vain.
Here is video of his testimony:
Former Regional Security Officer (RSO) Eric Nordstrom served in Tripoli until July, and said he had never seen an attack of such "ferocity" previously in Libya. While it is vital to keep Americans overseas safe, he added that "the answer cannot be to operate from a bunker." Nordstrom also said they implemented a number of changes after seeing how attacks were on the rise, like reviewing and practicing emergency preparedness drills, and reiterating their request for armed host-nation security force, but they also made several requests for an extension of the Department of Defense support team, or a sort of "bodyguard unit."
Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for International Programs Charlene Lamb then began her testimony with a description of the actual building in Benghazi, and the physical alterations they made to make it safer. She then delved into a description of what happened on September 11, and how the previously-made changes were utilized. As Lamb delved into specific information, Chaffetz interrupted with the concern that she was getting into classified information. He also strongly objected to a large photo she was showing.
"I was told while I was in Libya I could not, and should not, ever show what you're showing here today," Chaffetz said, but the State Department official insisted the information was acceptable. Congressman Cummings added: "You can Google this."
Here is video of the exchange:
After Chairman Issa concluded that, whether or not something is commercially available, it would be unwise to point out such information in the current forum, Under Secretary of State for Management Patrick Kennedy began speaking. Sent by Hillary Clinton, he cautioned that the picture is still "incomplete" and the answers will therefore be "incomplete." He added that the administration is simply giving the best information they have as they acquire it, defending Ambassador Rice's assertion that the attack was a "spontaneous" response to a Youtube video. He also said the September 11 attack was "unprecedented."
When Chairman Issa asked for unclassified information that was apparently supposed to be circulated, Kennedy said he would provide it after for security purposes. Issa said he wanted it now, as was previously understood, regardless of whether it was "embarrassing." Issa then proceeded to circulate a number of the documents himself, saying a whistleblower provided them in real time. He also delivered a stern lecture to Kennedy about the folly of claiming something is essentially classified when, he says, it is not.
Here is a clip:
Issa once again tangled with Ms. Lamb, who was also sent by Hillary Clinton, over whether the diplomatic outpost in Libya requested increased security.
"Yesterday you told us under penalty of perjury," he remarked, that it wasn't a "request." Identifying a July 9 cable, Issa pointed to the word "request." He asked whether "request" indeed means "request."
Lamb was also asked why, after describing the rockets and overwhelming force that toppled the consulate's defenses almost immediately, she never refers to it as a "terrorist" attack. In her response, she claimed she was refraining from "any judgements."
Congresswoman Eleanor Norton (D-DC) then cited the Director of National Security to clarify how Ambassador Rice came to her conclusion that the "disturbance" (her word) in Benghazi was the spontaneous result of an offensive movie trailer. She also asked Kennedy how the diplomats in Cairo reacted to Mitt Romney's criticism of their preemptive apology. He said he wasn't sure, but that he knows they are opposed to terrorism.
Issa then skeptically asked whether one statement was the basis for their premise for at least five days after the attack, and that they had no information to the contrary? They claim they didn't.
Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH) then attempted to elicit more information on who exactly makes the decision about whether requests for increased security are granted, but got few clear answers. He did, however, learn that Ms. Lamb hasn't actually been to Libya, though she claims to know that the consulate was adequately secured.
Here is video:
Rep. Dennis Kucinich then asked whether any of the witnesses knew how many American missiles are unaccounted for since our intervention in Libya, and while no one knew exactly, Lt. Col. Wood said the rough approximation is between ten and twenty thousand. He also said al-Qaeda is growing stronger every day, and that they're certainly more established than we are in the region.
Rep. Chaffetz then gave a cutting analysis of what had happened so far, expressing frustration that the State Department officials were squabbling over whether there were five or two officials in Libya, when Americans are dead and the experts who have actually been to Libya didn't get the assistance they requested.
Here is video of Chaffetz's remarks:
Rep. James Lankford (R-OK) then systematically went over Ms. Lamb's communication with the diplomats in Libya during the attack, which she said in her statement happened nearly in real time. His point of contention, he says, is that five days later the State Department was still allegedly unaware of what happened-- that it was a coordinated, overwhelming terrorist attack, and not a protest. Kennedy stepped in to say there were "multiple reports" identifying the attack as a protest.
Rep. Issa then expressed his desire to have a 50-minute videotape of the attack before the press obtains it, saying they should have had it already.
Soon after, Lt. Col. Wood said, based on his knowledge of the area, he was not not surprised by the Benghazi attack.
"We were the last flag flying," he remarked. "It was just a matter of time."
This is a breaking story. Updates will be added.