The Cable

Lamb to the slaughter

In an often heated congressional hearing Wednesday, lawmakers and witnesses alike pointed to State Department official Charlene Lamb as the person most directly responsible for rejecting multiple requests for increased security at the U.S. diplomatic missions in Libya prior to the Sept. 11 attack.

House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-CA) excoriated the State Department for rejecting requests from the U.S. Embassy in Libya for an extension of temporary security forces that were withdrawn in the months prior to the attack that killed Amb. Chris Stevens and three other Americans.

In a dramatic moment at the hearing, Issa released unclassified cables from March and July that the State Department had refused to release, detailing those requests.

One cable, written by then Amb. Gene Cretz, noted that three Mobile Security Detachments [MSD], consisting of 18 personnel, and the Site Security Team [SST], consisting of 16 personnel, were about to leave their temporary assignments. He said that the Libya mission needed both an extension of those forces and an increase in the number of permanent security officials in Libya.

The SST is a team of U.S. military personnel that was deployed to assist the embassy staff on a temporary basis for 60 days and then extended for another 60 days, but not extended for a third 60-day tour.

During the hearing, the top regional security officer in Libya over the summer, Eric Nordstrom, and Lt. Col. Andrew Wood, a Utah National Guardsman who was leading a security team in Libya until August, placed the blame squarely on Lamb, the deputy assistant secretary of state for international programs, whom they said was the official who denied those requests.

"All of us at post were in sync that we wanted these resources," Nordstrom testified, adding that Lamb had directly told him over the phone not to make the requests, but that Cretz decided to do it anyway.

"In those conversations, I was specifically told [by Lamb] ‘You cannot request an SST extension.' I determined I was told that because there would be too much political cost. We went ahead and requested it anyway," Nordstrom said.

Nordstrom, who said in his opening statement that he understood the balance needed to manage risk at high-threat posts to allow diplomats to do their work, criticized the State Department for failing to plan for security in Libya after the team's departure.

"Once the first team of [temporary personnel] expired, there was a complete and total lack of planning for what was going to happen next," he said. "There was no plan, there was just hope that everything would get better."

Nordstrom also said that he received a danger pay increase after the U.S. security teams left because the official assessment of the danger for U.S. personnel in Libya had increased.

Lamb defended her decision not to extend the missions of the MSD and SST teams, arguing that the mission of those teams had changed and that in any case they were replaced by local Libyan security personnel. The post had agreed that having only three diplomatic security agents in Benghazi was sufficient, she claimed.

""We had the correct number of assets in Benghazi on the night of 9/11," Lamb testified.

"That doesn't ring true to the American people," Issa responded.

Nordstrom said that Lamb never responded to the Tripoli embassy's request for continued security resources in what he considered a rejection, even if Lamb never issued a written objection. Lamb said that the U.S. mission in Libya had not been specific enough in its requests for forces, but Nordstrom pointed to the cables as evidence that was simply not true.

Lamb said that the specialized skills contained in the forces were being acquired by Libyan forces.

"We had been training local Libyans and arming them for almost a year," Lamb said. She also said that the extension of the SST in Tripoli "would not have made any difference in Benghazi."

Wood pointed out that the SST had traveled to Benghazi at least twice to help protect the top U.S. official at that mission, dismissing the idea that local Libya forces could have the same specialized skills as by the U.S. security personnel that were removed.

"We felt great frustration that those requests were ignored or just never met," Wood testified.

Under Secretary of State for Management Patrick Kennedy said he disagreed with Lamb and was inclined to support an extension of the SST mission in Libya -- before he was cut off by Issa because time had expired.

Kennedy and Lamb were also pressed several times to explain why senior officials including U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice made statements in the days after the attack describing it as a reaction to an anti-Islam video, considering that the State Department was monitoring the events that night in real time.

Kennedy suggested that another government agency was to blame.

"There were reports that we received that there were protests, and I would not go any further than that," Kennedy said, citing a reluctance to go into detail in open session. Other officials, including Rice, have said that they based their comments on the intelligence community's initial, albeit caveated, assessment.

But Wood testified that there was no way anyone who was following the events in real time could conclude the attacks were anything but a terrorist attack.

"It was instantly recognizable as a terrorist attack. We almost expected the attack to come. It was a matter of time," Wood said. "[Al Qaeda's] presence grows there every day. They are certainly more established there than we are."

Brendan Hoffman/Getty Images

The Cable

State Department: Our understanding of Benghazi attack 'has evolved'

State Department officials will testify Wednesday that statements made in the immediate aftermath of the Sept. 11 attack on the U.S. mission in Benghazi have now been overtaken by new information, and they will give new details about the harrowing assault that resulted in the death of four Americans.

The message: We don't have all the answers just yet, but we do know that the Benghazi consulate faced an "unprecedented" assault despite the State Department's best efforts to provide security in a challenging and fast-changing environment.

"No one in the Administration has claimed to know all the answers," Under Secretary of State for Management Patrick Kennedy will testify at the House Oversight Committee's hearing Wednesday chaired by Rep. Darrel Issa (R-CA), according to his prepared statement. "We have always made clear that we are giving the best information we have at the time. And that information has evolved."

Kennedy will defend U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice, who said Sunday after the attack that, based on the best information at the time, it appeared to be a spontaneous and opportunistic assault by those taking advantage of protests about an anti-Islam video. On Tuesday, the State Department confirmed that there was no protest, but Kennedy sought to absolve Rice of responsibility for the mistaken comments.

"If any administration official, including any career official, were on television on Sunday, September 16th, they would have said what Ambassador Rice said. The information she had at that point from the intelligence community is the same that I had at that point," Kennedy will testify. "As time went on, additional information became available. Clearly, we know more today than we did on the Sunday after the attack."

Kennedy will tout Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's Accountability Review Board (ARB), which he has been involved in setting up. The board is led by Ambassador Thomas Pickering and includes former Joint Chiefs Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen, Hugh Turner, Richard Shinnick, and Catherine Bertini.

Kennedy will also emphasize that the State Department can't provide full answers on the attack because the ARB and a separate FBI investigation into the attack is still underway.

"Until these investigations conclude, we are dealing with an incomplete picture. And, as a result, our answers today will also be incomplete," Kennedy will say.

Also testifying at the hearing, entitled, "The Security Failures of Benghazi," will be 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.

According to prepared remarks obtained by The Cable, Lamb will give a detailed account of the events on the night of the attack and she will defend the security posture at the Benghazi mission at the time of the attack.

"I work closely with 275 diplomatic facilities around the world. Determining the right level of security for each one is an intensive, ongoing, constantly evolving process -- one that I appreciate and understand from my own time on the ground as a Diplomatic Security officer," she will say.

"We consult regularly with our people on the ground, with security professionals in Washington, and with the intelligence community. We use the most up-to-date information available. Together with the Regional Security Officer, we develop a comprehensive security plan, which we constantly revise and update as situations change."

Nordstrom, who was the lead security consultant for the State Department in Libya until July, will defend the security posture in Benghazi, testify on the need to balance security at diplomatic posts overseas with the need for diplomats to do their jobs, and he will speak broadly about how the State Department manages risk in dangerous parts of the world.

"The ferocity and intensity of the attack was nothing that we had seen in Libya, or that I had seen in my time in the Diplomatic Security Service. Having an extra foot of wall, or an extra-half dozen guards or agents would not have enabled us to respond to that kind of assault. I'm concerned that this attack will signal a new security-reality, just as the 1984 Beirut attack did for the Marines; the 1998 East Africa bombings did for the State Department, and 9/11 for the whole country. It is critical that we balance the risk-mitigation with the needs of our diplomats to do their job, in dangerous and uncertain places. The answer cannot be to operate from a bunker," he will say, according to his prepared testimony

"While I'd love to have had a large secured building and tons of security personnel in Benghazi, the fact is that the system we had in place was regularly tested and appeared to work as planned despite high turnover of DS[Diplomatic Security] agents on the ground."

Kennedy will begin his testimony by quoting Stevens's own testimony at his own Senate confirmation hearing last spring.

"Libyans face significant challenges as they make the transition from an oppressive dictatorship to a stable and prosperous democracy," but, "it is clearly in the U.S. interest," and "it will be an extraordinary honor to represent the United States during this historic period of transition in Libya," Kennedy will quote Stevens as saying.