Requests for additional security at the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, before the Sept. 11 attack were rejected by the State Department because of a desire to convey “normalization,” the Republican chairman of a House panel said today.
Representative Darrell Issa of California said U.S. officials in Libya made repeated requests for additional security in the weeks before the attack that killed U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans.
“They repeatedly warned Washington officials of the dangerous situation” in Libya, Issa said at a House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing examining the attack. “Washington officials seemed preoccupied with the concept of normalization” after the rebellion that ousted Muammar Qaddafi.
The committee’s Republican majority blamed the Obama administration for providing too little security before the attack and for initially saying the assault grew out of a spontaneous protest against a video ridiculing the Prophet Muhammad.
The panel’s senior Democrat, Representative Elijah Cummings of Maryland, accused Issa of conducting a partisan investigation, preventing Democrats from getting access to a witness and from obtaining documents.
“My goal is to put this toxic partisanship behind us,” Cummings said today.
Cummings also blamed the Republican-led House for cutting funding for embassy security by hundreds of millions of dollars from the levels requested by President Barack Obama in the last two fiscal years. Issa said Democrats supported the cuts.
In testimony prepared for today’s hearing, the State Department official who oversees diplomatic security said the department monitored the attack on the consulate in Benghazi, “in almost real time.”
Charlene Lamb, deputy assistant secretary of state for international programs in the Bureau of Diplomatic Security, said a security agent activated a danger-notification system as the attack began shortly before 10 p.m. local time on Sept. 11.
“From that point on, I could follow what was happening in almost real time,” Lamb said.
State Department officials said yesterday they had never concluded the attack grew out of a protest over a video depicting the Prophet Muhammad, contradicting what some Obama administration officials had said last month. The State Department officials, who briefed reporters on condition of anonymity, said there had been no protest at the U.S. consulate that day and the attack came suddenly.
Representative Jason Chaffetz, a Utah Republican, credited the impending House hearing for prodding the State Department to give its first detailed account of the attack.
“Mysteriously, the State Department decided to give a press briefing last night,” he said today.
Patrick Kennedy, undersecretary of state for management, today defended the initial accounts from the administration that the attack resulted from a protest that spiraled out of control.
“No one in the administration has claimed to know all the answers,” Kennedy said in his written testimony for the hearing. “We have always made clear that we are giving the best information we have at the time. And that information has evolved.”
Kennedy in particular defended U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice, who said on Sept. 16 that the attack started as a “spontaneous, not premeditated response” to demonstrations in Egypt over a “very offensive video.”
Referring to Rice’s comments at the time, Kennedy said, “The information she had at that point from the intelligence community is the same that I had at that point. As time went on, additional information became available.”