On Tuesday the State Department denied that it ever said it ever concluded that the deadly consulate attack Sept. 11 in Libya was an unplanned outburst prompted by an anti-Islam movie, despite public statements early on by some in the Obama administration suggesting that was the case.
Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., reacting Wednesday to the latest claims, said he’s just “at a loss” for why administration officials ever tried to connect the attack to the film in the first place.
“From the very beginning, everyone knew this was a terrorist attack. I mean, there’s no question, and that’s why this has been totally bizarre,” said Corker, who recently returned from Libya.
The Administration used the video as an explanation for more than a week after assailants killed the U.S. ambassador to Libya and three other Americans.
But the US Ambassador, Susan Rice, said in several TV interviews five days after the attack that it appeared to be “spontaneous” violence spinning out of protests of the
And White House Press Secretary Jay Carney, as late as a week after the attack, said that based on initial information, “we saw no evidence to back up claims by others that this was a preplanned or premeditated attack.”
Carney then went on to suggest the violence was related to the film: “Based on the information that we have now, it was — there was a reaction to the video — there was protests in Cairo, then followed by protests elsewhere, including Benghazi, and that was what led to the original unrest.”
There are new documents that also state an internal disagreement over appropriate levels of security before the attack, which occurred on the 11th anniversary of the Sept. 11 terror attacks on the U.S.
Now the attack has become a major issue in the presidential campaign, featuring prominently in Republican candidate Mitt Romney’s latest foreign policy address on Monday. He called it an example of President Obama’s weakness in foreign policy matters, noting: “As the administration has finally conceded, these attacks were the deliberate work of terrorists.”
But the Administration is countering that it has provided its best intelligence on the attack, and that it refined its explanation as more information came to light.
Yet 5 days after the attack, Ambassador Rice gave a series of interviews saying the
administration believed the violence was unplanned and that extremists with heavier weapons “hijacked” the protest and turned it into an outright attack.
Since then she has denied that she misled Congress. Also, besides looking into the attack, Congress is looking into whether adequate security was in place.
Regional security officer in Libya, Eric Nordstrom, also referenced a State Department document detailing 230 security incidents in Libya between June 2011 and July 2012 that demonstrated the danger there to Americans. Nordstrom is scheduled to testify before congress on Wednesday. Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., and the head of a subcommittee, Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, the State Department refused repeated requests to provide more security for U.S. diplomats in Libya.
Already Norstrom has admitted that security in Libya was fragile and could degrade quickly. He added that Libya was “certainly not an environment where (the diplomatic) post would be directed to `normalize’ operations and reduce security resources in accordance with an artificial time table.”
Nordstrom also added that diplomats were told not to request an extension of a 16-member special operations military team that left in August, according to an official of the Oversight panel. The official was not authorized to discuss the matter publicly and thus spoke only on the condition of anonymity.
To counter, the State Department said it never received a request to extend the military team beyond August, and added that its members were replaced with a security team that had the same skills.
Democrats are critical of Issa and replied that “The chairman and his staff failed to
consult with Democratic members prior to issuing public letters with unverified
allegations, concealed witnesses and refused to make one hearing witness available to Democratic staff, withheld documents obtained by the committee during the investigation, and effectively excluded Democratic committee members from joining a poorly-planned congressional delegation to Libya,” a Democratic memo said.
It said in the previous two years, House Republicans voted to cut the Obama administration’s requests for embassy security by some $459 million.
The memo also said Nordstrom told committee investigators that he sent two cables to State Department headquarters in March and July 2012 requesting additional diplomatic security agents for Benghazi, but that he received no responses.
He said that Charlene Lamb the deputy assistant secretary for international programs, wanted to keep the number of U.S. security personnel in Benghazi artificially low and that Lamb believed the Benghazi facilities did not need any diplomatic security special agents because there was a residential safe haven to fall back to in an emergency.
Meanwhile, the FBI is continuing the investigation.