WASHINGTON – A State Department officer who worked in Libya has told congressional investigators that he requested more security for the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi months before it came under terrorist attack but that he received no reply from Washington, according to documents and interviews.
Eric Nordstrom, a regional security official at the U.S. Embassy in Tripoli until July, told investigators that he sent two cables to the State Department in March and July 2012 asking for more diplomatic security agents to be assigned to the lightly guarded compound in Benghazi.
Nordstrom said he received no response. He said the State Department was seeking to replace most U.S. security officers in Libya with a local guard force in the aftermath of the armed uprising that toppled and killed longtime ruler Moammar Gadhafi last year.
Nordstrom is scheduled to testify today before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. The panel is investigating security before and during the attack that killed U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans at the diplomatic mission in Benghazi on Sept. 11.
The anti-American violence, and a shifting response from the Obama administration, has put the White House on the defensive at the height of the presidential race.
“There was a clear disconnect between what security officials on the ground felt they needed and what officials in Washington would approve,” the committee chairman, Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., said in a statement. “Reports that senior State Department officials told security personnel in Libya to not even make certain security requests are especially troubling.”
Also slated to testify is Lt. Col. Andrew Wood, a former Army Green Beret who was part of a special embassy security team in Libya. Wood told CBS News that he met daily with Stevens and that the ambassador was worried about potential risks in the postwar turmoil.
Wood said he and Stevens raised the issue with Washington but there was “pressure to reduce the number of security people there.”
Wood said his 16 team members and a separate six-member State Department security force were withdrawn from Tripoli in August.
“I felt like we were being asked to play the piano with two fingers,” Wood said. “There was concern among the entire embassy staff. We felt we needed more, not less.”
Nordstrom made a similar argument in an embassy report last July.
“The risk of U.S. Mission personnel, private U.S. citizens, and business persons encountering an isolating event as a result of militia or political violence is HIGH,” he wrote. “The Government of Libya does not yet have the ability to effectively respond to and manage the rising criminal and militia related violence, which could result in an isolating event.”