It was a sober and embarrassing day for the State Department at yesterday’s hearing in front of the House Government Reform and Oversight Committee. In the course of just a few hours, the hearing revealed numerous astonishing facts surrounding the tragic terrorist attack on the U.S. Embassy in Benghazi, Libya that killed four Americans, including Ambassador Chris Stevens. First, the hearing provided hard evidence that repeated requests for additional security had been rejected by the State Department. The Committee heard testimony from Eric Nordstrom, who was the Regional Security Officer in charge of security on the ground at the U.S. Embassy in Benghazi, and Lt. Col. Andrew Wood, who led a 16-member special forces team that was pulled from Libya a month before the attack. Both testified to having been acutely aware of serious threats to the Embassy, and to having repeatedly requested increased security personnel from the State Department. Those requests were denied.
The Committee also heard testimony from D.C.-based State Department officials, including Deputy Assistant Secretary Charlene Lamb and Undersecretary for Management, Ambassador Patrick Kennedy. Ms. Lamb, in response to questioning from the Committee, confirmed the decision to deny additional security personnel. Perhaps the most devastating testimony was given by Officer Nordstrom, who said that the most frustrating thing about his assignment was “dealing and fighting against the people, programs and personnel who are supposed to be supporting me.” He concluded: “For me, the Taliban is on the inside of the building.”
The other significant development from the hearing was testimony that there was never any reason to attribute the attack to a protest of an internet video. In fact, all evidence pointed clearly to a calculated, organized and methodical attack. In addition to reports that the streets around the Embassy were quiet before the attack, Lt. Col. Wood testified that it was “instantly recognizable” to him as a terrorist attack and that he “almost expected the attack to come.” He said “we were the last flag flying…it was only a matter of time.” And yet, it was a full eight days before the State Department reversed the message that had been voiced by Ambassador Rice, Secretary Clinton and President Obama that it was a YouTube video that motivated the attack.
In closing, Chairman Issa indicated a desire to question Ambassador Rice, as well as a desire to hold a classified hearing to obtain additional information. But much is already clear. An Ambassador and three other Americans were murdered. Their deaths were preceded by unheeded requests for additional security. Their deaths were followed by eight days of story-telling by the Administration.
The families of the slain deserve the truth about why the Embassy in Benghazi was vulnerable. Fortunately, yesterday’s hearing yielded numerous answers. Unfortunately, most of those answers are extremely disturbing and raise additional questions that demand honest answers from the State Department.