Thursday, January 18, 2018

Diplomats' security concerns in Libya ignored, officials say

WASHINGTON — Republicans on the House oversight committee Tuesday accused officials in Washington of turning down repeated requests for increased security in Benghazi, Libya, before the fatal attack on the diplomatic compound there last month.

In a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, committee leaders listed more than a dozen episodes, several of them violent, in the past six months that they said formed the basis for repeated requests by the diplomatic mission in Libya for more security resources.

Reps. Darrell Issa of California, the committee's chairman, and Jason Chaffetz of Utah, chairman of the subcommittee on foreign operations, said in the letter that officials, whose names they did not reveal, had told them of the requests. They asked for details and a briefing before a hearing that they have scheduled for Oct. 10.

The State Department spokeswoman, Victoria Nuland, said the administration would cooperate fully with the committee but was not yet ready to comment on its assertions.

"We want to get to the bottom of precisely what happened and learn any lessons that we need to learn from it," she said. "We're taking this very, very seriously."

The attack, on Sept. 11, killed Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans.

"Based on information provided to the committee by individuals with direct knowledge of events in Libya, the attack that claimed the ambassador's life was the latest in a long line of attacks on Western diplomats and officials in Libya in the months leading up to Sept. 11, 2012," the letter said.

"Multiple U.S. federal government officials have confirmed to the committee that, prior to the Sept. 11 attack, the U.S. mission in Libya made repeated requests for increased security in Benghazi," it said. "The mission in Libya, however, was denied these resources by officials in Washington."

In June, the letter asserted, Stevens was threatened in a posting on a Facebook page supporting the old government in Libya.

Other episodes it cited included harassment, beatings, unsuccessful bombing attempts, gunfights and attacks with rocket-propelled grenades, directed not only at Americans but also at other international representatives and the new Libyan authorities.

"Put together, these events indicated a clear pattern of security threats that could only be reasonably interpreted to justify increased security for U.S. personnel and facilities in Benghazi," the letter said.

The events in Benghazi have been seized upon by Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney and other critics of President Barack Obama as evidence of weakness in his foreign policy.

The administration, for its part, has varied its descriptions of the attack, first saying that it appeared to be a spontaneous or opportunistic escalation of a riotous protest, then that it seemed to be an act of terrorism.

The lawmakers' letter asserts that "it was clearly never, as administration officials once insisted, the result of a popular protest." Issa's inquiry, like others he has conducted on issues like the Solyndra solar energy loan and the Operation Fast and Furious gun-trafficking operation, is likely to fuel the political debate, this time on embassy security and, more generally, the handling of foreign policy, especially in the roiled Middle East.

Republicans on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, raising parallel concerns about security in Benghazi, have also asked Clinton for the relevant cables.

One episode cited by the House committee was the firing in May of rocket-propelled grenades at a Red Cross office less than a mile from the U.S. diplomatic office in Benghazi, an early-morning attack that caused no casualties. A Facebook posting that claimed responsibility said, "We announce that Libya is an Islamic state."

In early June, vehicles carrying the British ambassador came under rocket-propelled-grenade attack, which the letter called, "an important escalation."

In late June, the Red Cross was attacked again, and the organization pulled out, leaving the U.S. compound with "the last Western flag flying in Benghazi, making it an ideal target for militants," the letter said.

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