The Corner

Top Revelations from Libya Hearing

At today’s House Oversight Committee hearings on Libya, there were plenty of revelations. Here are some of them — in no particular order:

1. Charlene Lamb is uncomfortable with the word terrorist. “You don’t mention terrorist at all,” commented Representative Dan Burton (R., Ind.) “Why is that?…Why would you call this stuff anything but a terrorist attack?”

“I have just presented the facts as they come across,” responded Lamb, who is the deputy assistant secretary for international programs at the State Department’s Bureau of Diplomatic Security. “I am not making any judgments on my own, and I’m leaving that to –”

Later on, Representative Sandy Adams (R., Fla.) said to Lamb, “As a former law enforcement officer, I recognize there are certain dates that law enforcement that across our great nation prepare for because we believe they are significant to certain groups, one of which is September 11, and it is significant to which group, Miss Lamb? Which group would make that significant?”

Lamb said she wasn’t following Adams, and then this exchange occurred:

Adams: “Which terrorist group finds September 11 significant?”

Lamb: “I’m sure all terrorist groups –

Adams: “But mostly al-Qaeda, would you not agree?”

[Long pause]

Adams: “Yes or no. If you don’t agree, say you don’t agree.”

Lamb: “Yes, I’m sure they do.”

2. Contra the Democrat narrative, the security flaws in Benghazi were not due to the budget. From Representative Elijah Cummings (D., Maryland) prepared statement for the hearing (emphasis in original):

The fact is that, since 2011, the House has cut embassy security by hundreds of millions of dollars below the amounts requested by the President.  The Senate restored some of these funds, but the final amounts were still far below the Administration’s requests.  And they were far below the levels we enacted in 2010.

We can do better, and I would like to ask the Chairman to join me in doing so.  Mr. Chairman, I ask you to join me in calling on our leaders in the House to immediately consider a supplemental funding bill to restore funding for embassy security that was cut by the House over the past two years.

According to the Joint Committee on Taxation, we could save $2.5 billion per year just by eliminating the tax break for oil companies.  Even Republicans now agree that we should do this, including Governor Romney.  We could fully replenish these embassy security accounts with just a fraction of that amount.

But when questioned, Lamb denied that budgetary concerns had influenced her decision. committee “It has been suggested that budget cuts are responsible for a lack of security in Benghazi, and I’d like to ask Miss Lamb,” said Representative Dana Rohrabacher (R., Calif.). “You made this decision personally. Was there any budget consideration and lack of budget which lead you not to increase the number of people in the security force there?”

“No, sir,” said Lamb.

3. Charlene Lamb denies the State Department didn’t secure the Benghazi diplomatic post sufficiently. “We had the correct number of assets in Benghazi at the time of 9/11 for what had been agreed upon.” House oversight committee chair Darrell Issa (R., Calif.) didn’t care for that answer, retorting that her beginning of “saying the correct number, and our ambassador and three other [Americans]… left for dead, and people are in the hospital recovering, because it only took moments to breach that facility somehow doesn’t seem to ring true to the American people.”


4. The State Department viewed the situation in Libya as growing more dangerous, yet denied Eric Nordstrom’s request to keep certain security at then-current levels.  Representative Jason Chaffetz (R., Utah) asked Nordstrom, a regional security officer at the State Department who had been stationed in Libya for several months recently, about his pay.  “What I think you’re referring to is the increase in danger pay for a post,” responded Nordstrom.  “To clarify,” Chaffetz cut in, “you were asking for more assets, more resources, more personnel. That was denied, but the State Department went back and re-classified it as more dangerous. The danger pay, therefore, increased. They didn’t tell you that we didn’t have resources, they the Congress just cut your budget. They gave you an increase because the danger was rising. Correct?

“That’s correct,” responded Nordstrom, “we received a danger increase.”

5. Nordstrom and Lieutenant Colonel Andrew Wood, a Utah National Guard member who had led a security team in Libya , were both frustrated by the lack of support from the State Department on granting security requests. “Mr. Nordstrom, do you think they were ever going to give you what you wanted?” asked Representative Jim Jordan (R., Ohio). “What do you think would warrant them saying “You know what, these guys know what they’re talking about and we’re going to meet their request?”

“Thank you for asking that question,” responded Nordstrom. “I actually had that conversation when I came back on leave and for training in February. I was told by the Regional Director for Near Eastern Affairs that there had ‘only been one incident involving an American’ where he was struck by celebratory fire, it was one of Colonel Wood’s employees. The takeaway from that, for me and my staff, it was abundantly clear, we were not going to get resources until the aftermath of an incident. And the question that we would ask is, again, ‘How thin does the ice have to get before someone falls through?’”

And then there was this exchange:

Jordan: “Lt. Col Wood and Mr. Nordstrom- were you pulling your hair out? Were you just flabbergasted- ‘What can we do? What can we say? What can we put in writing? What can we say on the phone? What else can we do? Was that your sense and attitude when you got the answers from Washington that you did?”

Wood: “We were fighting a losing battle, we couldn’t even keep what we had. We were not even allowed to even keep what we had.”

Nordstrom: “If I could add to that, I told the same Regional Director in a telephone call in Benghazi after he contacted me when I asked for 12 agents, his response to that was ‘You’re asking for the sun, moon, and the stars.’  And my response to him- his name’s Jim- ‘Jim, you know what is the most frustrating about this assignment, it’s not the hardships, it’s not the gunfire, it’s not the threats. It’s dealing, and fighting, against the people, programs, and personnel who are supposed to be supporting me.’ And I added it by saying ‘For me, the Taliban is on the inside of the building.’”

6. Al-Qaeda has more of a presence in Libya than the United States. “Is al-Qaeda more or less established in Libya since our involvement?” asked Representative Dennis Kucinich (D., Ohio) “Yes, sir,” responded Wood, “their presence grows every day, they are certainly more established than we are.” 

7. Nordstrom faced pressure from the State Department to not request additional security. Asked about his discussion with Lamb, Nordstrom said,  “In those conversations, I recall I was specifically told you cannot request a SST [Site Security Team] extension. How I interpreted that was that there was going to be too much political costs, or for some reason, there was hesitancy on that.” In February, he and others requested the team anyway.

8. Ambassador Patrick Kennedy told congressional aides on September 12 that he thought it was on a terrorist attack. Kennedy, an under secretary for management at the State Department, also defended U.N. ambassador Susan Rice’s comments on the Sunday morning shows, when she stressed the attack, per the information at the time, was spontaneous. Any other official, Kennedy stressed, would have given the same answers as Rice. Asked by Representative Raul Labrador how he could reconcile Rice’s comments with the fact that he himself had talked about it being terrorism days before, Kennedy responded, “Ambassador Rice was asked certain questions about information that she had in her possession, and that was the same information I had in my position.” And while Kennedy said there had ultimately been multiple reports, he didn’t answer when the first report suggesting it wasn’t a spontaneous attack had arrived, saying it was classified. He did deny, however, that any report contradicting the intelligence talking points, which stressed the attack appeared to be spontaneous, had been released before September 16.

Katrina TrinkoKatrina Trinko is a political reporter for National Review. Trinko is also a member of USA TODAY’S Board of Contributors, and her work has been published in various media outlets ...


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