Lt. Col. Wood has told CBS News and congressional investigators that his 16-member team and a six-member State Department elite force called a Mobile Security Deployment team left Libya in August, just one month before the Benghazi assault. Wood says that's despite the fact that US officials in Libya wanted security increased, not decreased.Meanwhile ABC News is reporting on an internal State Department email from May in which the Department denied a request from the security team at the Embassy in Libya to retain an airplane to better conduct their job.
Wood says he met daily with Stevens and that security was a constant challenge. There were 13 threats or attacks on western diplomats and officials in Libya in the six months leading up to the September 11 attack.
A senior State Department official told CBS News that half of the 13 incidents before September 11 were fairly minor or routine in nature, and that the Benghazi attack was so lethal and overwhelming, that a diplomatic post would not be able to repel it.
Wood, whose team arrived in February, says he and fellow security officials were very worried about the chaos on the ground. He says they tried to communicate the danger to State Department officials in Washington, D.C., but that the officials denied requests to enhance security.
But the question – both for the State Department, which is conducting an internal investigation, and the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, which is holding hearings next week – is whether officials in Washington, D.C., specifically at the State Department, were as aware as they should have been about the deteriorating security situation in Libya, and whether officials were doing everything they could to protect Americans in that country.What was the thinking behind the State Department decision to withdraw Wood's team even though he told them of the dangerous security situation there? Why did they turn down a request from those on the ground for the plane if the security forces thought it was necessary?
Earlier this week, the chair of the House Oversight Committee, Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., and another member of the committee wrote to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton listing 13 incidents leading up to the attack, ranging from IED and RPG attacks to a “posting on a pro-Gaddafi Facebook page” publicizing early morning runs taken by the late Ambassador Stevens and his security detail around Tripoli.
“Was State Department headquarters in Washington aware of all the above incidents?” they asked Secretary Clinton, requesting written responses by Oct. 8. “If not, why not? If so, what measures did the State Department take to match the level of security provided to the U.S. Mission in Libya to the level of threat?”
The subject line of the email, from Miki Rankin, the post management officer for Libya and Saudi Arabia, reads “Termination of Tripoli DC-3 Support.”
Rankin informs Stevens and the others on the email, whose names have been redacted, that Undersecretary of State for Management Patrick Kennedy “has determined that support for Embassy Tripoli using the DC-3 will be terminated immediately. Post’s request to continue use of the plane in support of the SST was considered. However, it was decided that, if needed, NEA will charter a special flight for their departure.”
The U.S. government official who provided the email to ABC News – and wanted to remain anonymous because of the sensitivity of the matter – described the small DC-3 plane as an asset for a security team to more freely and safely move throughout the country, and to more easily transport arms and other security equipment. In short, having the plane allowed the security team to better perform its duties, the official said.Why shouldn't we have answers to those questions? Oh yeah. There is an election going on and they don't want anything to interfere with the Obama "I got Osama bin Laden" touchdown dance.
The State Department official acknowledged that the plane was used to get around Libya, not just to get in and out of the country. But once commercial air service was re-established, the State Department decided that the SST didn’t need the plane anymore. The security team, it would seem, disagreed.
Told of the State Department’s explanation, the House Oversight Committee spokesman said the “State Department’s naive determination to follow rigid bureaucratic policies, instead of making common sense decisions that took the serious threat of terrorism conveyed by those on the ground into account, appears to have been a significant factor in the Benghazi Consulate’s lack of preparedness.”
UPDATE: Eli Lake of The Daily Beast, who has done some of the best reporting on Libya, has another blockbuster of a story today.
Just two days before the 9/11 anniversary attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, two leaders of the Libyan militias responsible for keeping order in the city threatened to withdraw their men.The State Department may use this cable to defend itself because this cable, sent on the same day as the murderous attack that killed Ambassador Stevens, doesn't ask specically for more security or personnel and seems to think that most of the violence was aimed at other Libyans. However, there are still other requests that had been made and denied.
The brinksmanship is detailed in a cable approved by Ambassador Chris Stevens and sent on the day he died in the attack, the worst assault on a U.S. diplomatic mission since the 1979 hostage crisis in Iran. The dispatch, which was marked “sensitive” but not “classified,” contained a number of other updates on the chaotic situation on the ground in post-Gaddafi Libya.
The cable, reviewed by The Daily Beast, recounts how the two militia leaders, Wissam bin Ahmed and Muhammad al-Gharabi, accused the United States of supporting Mahmoud Jibril, the head of the Libyan transitional government, to be the country’s first elected prime minister. Jibril’s centrist National Forces Alliance won the popular vote in Libyan elections in July, but he lost the prime minister vote in the country’s Parliament on Sept. 12 by 94 to 92. Had he won, bin Ahmed and al-Gharabi warned they “would not continue to guarantee security in Benghazi, a critical function they asserted they were currently providing,” the cable reads. The man who beat Jibril, Mustafa Abushagur, lost a vote of no-confidence Sunday, throwing Libyan politics back into further uncertainty.
The threat from the militias underscores the dangers of relying on local Libyan forces for security in the run-up to the 9/11 military-style assault. The U.S. consulate in Benghazi employed a militia called the “February 17 Martyrs Brigade” for security of the four-building compound. In addition, there were five Americans serving as diplomatic security and a group of former special operations forces that acted as a quick reaction force on the day of the 9/11 attack. Members of the militias led by bin-Ahmed and al-Gharabi overlapped with the February 17 militia, the cable says.
Chaffetz, who visited Tripoli on Saturday, told The Daily Beast he has obtained documents and conducted interviews with whistle blowers that show the U.S. mission Libya did request more security from Washington in the run-up to the attack, but was denied. “Regional security officers were denied requests for more personnel and security upgrades to the four buildings and the perimeter security of the U.S. mission in Benghazi,” he told The Daily Beast on Sunday. More details on that negotiation will likely come out on Wednesday, when Chaffetz will hold his committee’s first hearing on the Benghazi attack.We'll see of the State Department will continue their stonewall on answering questions about what they did leading up to the attack. If the House committee does indeed have testimony from whistle blowers, it will be difficult for the State Department to try to obfuscate by claiming they can't answer while an investigation is ongoing. We are entitled to answers. Let's hope we get some.