The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing called by ranking member Elijah Cummings (left) and Chairman Darrell Issa to discuss the attack in Benghazi, Libya, revealed security gaps in the U.S. consulate attacked on Sept. 11.
“Accounts from security officials who were on the ground and documents indicate that they repeatedly warned Washington officials about the dangerous situation in Libya,” House Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) said in his opening statement. “Instead, however, of moving swiftly to respond to these concerns, Washington officials seemed preoccupied with the concept of ‘normalization,’” effectively downplaying security concerns.
But Democrats on the Hill and administration officials also emphasized the size and sophistication of the assault, which included rocket-propelled grenades and other heavy weaponry used to storm the compound and light it on fire.
“The Department of State regularly assesses risk and allocation of resources for security; a process which involved the considered judgments of experienced professionals on the ground and in Washington,” Undersecretary of State for Management Patrick Kennedy testified Wednesday. “The assault that occurred on the evening of Sept. 11, however, was an unprecedented attack by dozens of heavily armed men.”
Democrats also noted that House Republicans have proposed hundreds of millions of dollars in cuts to the State Department’s diplomatic security accounts in recent budgets. The committee’s ranking Democrat, Elijah Cummings of Maryland, called for Republican leaders to consider a supplemental funding bill to restore support for embassy security, paid for by eliminating tax breaks to oil companies.
The hearing — called for last week by Issa and Chaffetz — featured a release of several diplomatic cables, including one from Stevens on the day of the attack.
The documents confirmed the requests to extend the Defense Department’s 16-person security team, as well as general concerns about the security situation in the area. Charlene R. Lamb, the deputy assistant secretary of State for international programs, acknowledged that she had told Nordstrom she would not approve the request.
Democrats quickly pointed out that the security team had been based in Tripoli, not Benghazi. And Nordstrom also said that the State Department did provide the minimum diplomatic security force that had been recommended for Benghazi.
Even the nature of the information that the committee and its witnesses could share at the hearing became the subject for squabbling.
Kennedy and Lamb refused to disclose details on certain intelligence reports they had received in the immediate days after the attack. Chaffetz, meanwhile, repeatedly objected to their public airing of details of the attack he said were classified.
That exchange prompted pushback from Democrats. “This whole hearing is responding to allegations that there were not enough people on the ground at the Benghazi facility, accusations that you made publicly,” Rep. Stephen Lynch (Mass.) said.
“Now I’m trying to get an answer about how many people were there, and now that’s off the record?” Lynch exclaimed. “You’ve got to be kidding me.”
Steven T. Dennis contributed to this report.
Correction: Oct. 10, 2012
An earlier version of this story misattributed statements made at the hearing. The quotes were from Rep. Stephen Lynch (D-Mass.), not Rep. John Tierney (D-Mass.).