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House Defense Bill Aims to Implement Lessons From Benghazi Attack

Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo
Issa’s House Oversight and Government Reform Committee held an attention-grabbing hearing last week on the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya.

The aide stressed that the military was on high alert on the 11th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, “but they weren’t on strip alert with forces ready to deploy in an offensive manner. So we’re asking that question: If that is the new norm, how are you going to do it going forward?”

Examinations of the attack that killed the U.S. ambassador to Libya and three other Americans found significant problems in planning, particularly between State, the CIA — which had an annex nearby — and the U.S. military, and a failure by State officials to respond to security concerns in Libya.

The State Department on Monday released a fact sheet detailing its own steps to address some of those failures, based on recommendations made by a congressionally mandated panel that Foggy Bottom appointed to investigate the attack and the response.

State has elevated the bureaucrats responsible for diplomatic security and streamlined how and to whom security concerns at various overseas posts are reported. And it established a panel of outside experts, including members of the military, to evaluate how to best to secure high-risk, high-threat diplomatic missions. That review is due by the end of the summer, the fact sheet said.

The State Department has also hired more than 100 additional diplomatic security personnel, with the goal of hiring a total of 151 new security staffers by the close of fiscal 2014.

“We’re working more closely with the Defense Department, with our partners, linking our embassies with various military commands to make emergency extradition more central to our military mission,” Secretary of State John Kerry said Monday.

The U.S. military already has forces deployed in southern Europe and elsewhere in the region to quickly respond to developments across the sprawling African continent. With the rise of al-Qaida-related terrorist groups in North Africa and elsewhere on the continent, more U.S. diplomatic officials face potential dangers and the U.S. military will be called on to respond.

Political Complications

Discussions of these security issues have, up to now, been overshadowed completely by the flurry of accusations from some Republicans that the president either failed to act out of incompetence, insufficient concern, or for some as yet unexplained political motive. Many of these allegations have surfaced as part of an investigation led by House Oversight Chairman Darrell Issa, R-Calif.

Senior GOP aides pointed out that many of the accusations involving security and military forces turned out to be unfounded. One recent example involved a supposed whistle-blower who reported that an armed Predator drone was operating in the area, but was not called upon to respond to the Benghazi attack, an assertion labeled erroneous by Pentagon officials and Hill staffers.

“There are some real issues there and then there is just some crazy stuff,” the senior House GOP aide said. “The crazy stuff is, you know, the airman in Ramstein [Air Base, Germany,] that knew that the Predator [drone] was armed. There are no armed Predators in the region there. The [status of forces agreement] does not allow us to fly them armed, and everybody knows it.”

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