AP – WASHINGTON – Despite two explosions and dozens of other security threats, U.S. officials in Washington turned down repeated pleas from American diplomats in Libya to increase security at the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi where the U.S. ambassador was killed, Republican leaders of a House committee said Tuesday.
In a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, Chairman Darrell Issa and Rep. Jason Chaffetz of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee said their information came from “individuals with direct knowledge of events in Libya.”
Issa, R-Calif., and Chaffetz, R-Utah, said the attack three weeks ago in Benghazi that killed Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans was the latest in a long line of attacks on Western diplomats and officials in Libya in the months before the 11th anniversary of the Sept. 11 terror attacks on the U.S.
The letter listed 13 incidents, but Chaffetz said in an interview there were more than 50. Two of them involved explosive devices: a June 6 blast that blew a hole in the security perimeter. The explosion was described to the committee as “big enough for 40 men to go through”; and an April 6 incident where two Libyans who were fired by a security contractor threw a small explosive device over the consulate fence.
The lawmakers said they plan a hearing on Oct. 10. They asked Clinton whether the State Department was aware of the previous incidents, and whether the level of security that was provided to the U.S. mission met the security threat, and how the department responded to requests for more protection.
The State Department has declined to answer questions about whether extra security was sought by officials in Benghazi ahead of the attack.
Clinton responded in a letter to Issa on Tuesday that she has established an accountability review board that will determine “whether our security systems and procedures in Benghazi were adequate, whether those systems and procedures were properly implemented, and any lessons learned that may be relevant to our work around the world.”
She asked the committee to withhold any final conclusions about the Benghazi attack until the committee can review the findings of the board. The panel is led by retired State Department official Thomas Pickering and includes retired Adm. Mike Mullen, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Clinton also pledged to address the specific questions raised in the committee’s letter in addition to document requests.
Referring to the Benghazi attack, the letter said, “It was clearly never, as administration officials once insisted, the result of a popular protest.”
In the days immediately after the attack, the Obama administration said it believed it was a spontaneous reaction to an anti-Islamic video circulating on the Internet. Since then, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and White House press secretary Jay Carney have called the incident a terrorist attack. President Barack Obama has not used those precise words, though he has referred to the attack in the context of “acts of terror.”
Republicans have lashed out at Obama and senior administration officials over their evolving description of the deadly Sept. 11 attack, a late campaign-season broadside.