In Requests for Security in Libya, Focus Was on Tripoli
By ERIC SCHMITT and MARK LANDLER
October 12, 2012This is an interesting article. the WH may not have known about the request to extend the stay of security forces beyond August, possibility. The idea that the State Department has to repay the Pentagon for the use of these soldiers, are they for hire ? It sounds a little screwy to me.
I think that the State Department is owed more security for our embassies, and the thought of relying on the countries our embassies are in for protection bothers me, because that means trusting those we may not know who they are. Read this article and tell me if I am crazy, reading it wrong, or reading to much into it.
Esam Omran Al-Fetori/Reuters
WASHINGTON — In the weeks leading up to the attack last month on the American diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya, that killed Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other Americans, diplomats on the ground sounded increasingly urgent alarms.
- In a stream of diplomatic cables, embassy security officers warned their superiors at the State Department of a worsening threat from Islamic extremists, and requested that the teams of military personnel and State Department security guards who were already on duty be kept in service.
- The requests were denied, but they were largely focused on extending the tours of security guards at the American Embassy in Tripoli — not at the diplomatic compound in Benghazi, 400 miles away.
- And State Department officials testified this week during a hearing by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee that extending the tour of additional guards — a 16-member military security team — through mid-September would not have changed the bloody outcome because they were based in Tripoli, not Benghazi.
The handling of these requests has now been caught up in a sharply partisan debate over whether the Obama administration underestimated the terrorist threat in Libya. In a debate with Representative Paul D. Ryan on Thursday night, Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. said White House officials were not told about requests for any additional security.
“We weren’t told they wanted more security again,” Mr. Biden said.
The Romney campaign on Friday pounced on the conflicting statements, accusing Mr. Biden of continuing to deny the nature of the attack. The White House scrambled to explain the apparent contradiction between Mr. Biden’s statement and the testimony from State Department officials at the House hearing.
The White House spokesman, Jay Carney, said Friday that security issues related to diplomatic posts in Libya and other countries were dealt with at the State Department, not the White House. Based on interviews with administration officials, as well as in diplomatic cables, and Congressional testimony, those security decisions appear to have been made largely by midlevel State Department security officials, and did not involve Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton or her top aides.
While it is unclear what impact a handful of highly trained additional guards might have had in Benghazi were they able to deploy there, some State Department officials said it would probably not have made any difference in blunting the Sept. 11 assault from several dozen heavily armed militants.
“An attack of that kind of lethality, we’re never going to have enough guns,” Patrick F. Kennedy, under secretary of state for management, said at Wednesday’s hearing. “We are not an armed camp ready to fight it out.”
A senior administration official said that the military team, which was authorized by a directive from Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta, was never intended to have an open-ended or Libya-wide mission.
“This was not a SWAT team with a DC-3 on alert to jet them off to other cities in Libya to respond to security issues,” said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the delicacy of the matter.
Security in Benghazi had been a growing concern for American diplomats this year.
- In April, the convoy of the United Nations special envoy for Libya was attacked there.
- In early June, a two-vehicle convoy carrying the British ambassador came under attack by rocket-propelled grenades.
- Militants struck the American mission with a homemade bomb, but no one was hurt. In late June, the Red Cross was attacked and the organization pulled out.
“We were the last thing on their target list to remove from Benghazi,” Lt. Col. Andrew Wood of the Utah National Guard, who was deployed in Tripoli as the leader of the American military security unit, told the House committee.
But friends and colleagues of Ambassador Stevens said he was adamant about maintaining an American presence in Benghazi, the heart of the opposition to the Qaddafi government.
“Our people can’t live in bunkers and do their jobs,” Mrs. Clinton said Friday. “But it is our solemn responsibility to constantly improve, to reduce the risks our people face and make sure they have the resources they need to do their jobs.”
At American diplomatic facilities overseas, the host nation is primarily responsible for providing security outside the compound’s walls.
Inside the compound, the State Department is in charge, relying on a mix of diplomatic security officers, local contract guards and Marines.
The Marines are responsible for guarding classified documents, which they are instructed to destroy if there is a breach of the compound. Senior diplomats are protected by diplomatic security officers, not a detachment of Marines, as Mr. Ryan asserted in Thursday night’s debate.
In deciding whether to extend a military security team,
- The State Department often faces a difficult financial decision at a time when its security budget is under severe pressure.
- The department must reimburse the Pentagon for the cost of these soldiers, an expense that can quickly run into the millions of dollars.
- For that reason, the State Department typically pushes to make the transition to local contractors, who are much cheaper.
In their debate, Mr. Biden responded to Mr. Ryan’s attacks by accusing him and his fellow Republicans of cutting the administration’s request for embassy security and construction. House Republicans this year voted to cut back the administration’s request, but still approved more than was spent last year.
In an agreement between the Pentagon and the State Department, the military team was extended twice — December 2011 and March 2012 — but when it came to a third extension, Eric A. Nordstrom, the former chief security officer in Libya, said he was told he could not request another extension beyond August.
- Charlene Lamb, a deputy assistant secretary in the Bureau of Diplomatic Security, said at the hearing that a request from Mr. Nordstrom to extend the military team was only a recommendation and that the State Department had been right not to heed it.
- Ms. Lamb also testified that budget considerations played no part in considering additional security. Decisions on diplomatic security went no higher than Ms. Lamb and, in limited cases, Mr. Kennedy, officials said.
- The broader strategy, Ms. Lamb said, was to phase out the American military team and rely more on the Libyan militiamen who were protecting the compound along with a small number of American security officers.
- Ms. Lamb said this model of relying on locally hired guards had worked at the United States Embassy in Yemen.
In a July 9 cable signed by Ambassador Stevens, the embassy requested that the State Department extend the tours for a minimum of three security personnel in Benghazi. The department had earlier approved a request for five guards for the mission, which was still in effect at the time of the July 9 cable.