(CNSNews.com) - Secretary of State John Kerry took a larger detail of security agents on a trip to Arlington, Va., last week, when he went to visit—of all places—the headquarters of the department’s security bureau, than the State Department deployed to its compound in Benghazi, Libya, in the days leading up to the Sept. 11, 2012 terrorist attacks.
Kerry, as recorded by an official State Department publicity photograph, was "surrounded" in Arlington on Monday, Feb. 4, by at least four of the department’s Diplomatic Security (DS) agents. In the days leading up to the Benghazi attacks, the State Department deployed only three Dipomatic Security agents to the department's mission in Benghazi.
So, when Kerry emerged from his limousine in suburban Virginia last week he had one more agent protecting him there than the State Department had protecting its compound in Benghazi last summer.
When Amb. Chris Stevens travelled from Tripoli to Benghazi on Sept. 10, he brought another two Diplomatic Security agents with him on his journey. Those two agents, who accompanied Stevens on his Tripoli-to-Benghazi trip, were half the number pictured with Kerry last week on his trip across the Potomac River.
When Amb. Stevens arrived at the State Department's Benghazi mission, the two DS agents who had travelled with him from Tripoli boosted the number of DS agents at the State Department compound there to five.
The Bureau of Diplomatic Security is responsible for protecting U.S. diplomatic personnel, missions and communications around the world. It also protects the secretary of state, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and foreign diplomats working in the United States.
“DS agents stationed in Benghazi were always on temporary duty assignments, remaining there for relatively short periods, often no longer than a month,” said a report published in December by the Senate Homeland Security Committee.
“In July, Embassy officials in Tripoli requested a minimum of three DS agents for Benghazi,” said this Senate report.
That is all they got—except when Amb. Stevens arrived with his escort of two, bringing the total number of DS agents in Benghazi to five.
As the State Department Accountability Review Board said in its report, there were eight Americans total at the Benghazi compound when Amb. Stevens arrived on Sept. 10. But the total dropped to only seven the next day when the sole diplomat who had been on temporary duty there ended his 13-day tour and departed.
“With the Ambassador’s arrival, there were eight Americans at the Special Mission compound (SMC) on September 10-11, 2012, including the Ambassador; Information Management Officer (IMO) Sean Smith, who arrived in Benghazi one week earlier to provide TDY communications and management support; and five Diplomatic Security (DS) agents (three assigned on short-term TDY to Benghazi—‘TDY RSO’, ‘ARSO 1’ and ‘ARSO 2’--and the two who traveled from Tripoli to provide protection for the Ambassador during his visit—‘ARSO 3’ and ‘ARSO 4”),’ said the ARB report.
“The eighth American, the TDY Benghazi principal officer, completed his 13-day assignment and returned to his full-time job in Tripoli the morning of September 11, leaving seven Americans at the compound," said the report.
Monday, Feb. 4, was John Kerry’s first day as secretary of state. On that day, he made a very short trip across the Potomac River from the State Department’s main headquarters in Washington, D.C. to the headquarters of the Bureau of Diplomatic Security in the Rosslyn area of suburban Arlington, Va.
Both the Bureau of Diplomatic Security and the main State Department posted a photo of Kerry getting out of his limousine in Arlington. The caption on the photo as posted by BDS says: “U.S. Secretary of State John F. Kerry (second from right) is surrounded by four DS special agents as he steps out of his vehicle for a meeting at Diplomatic Security headquarters in suburban Washington, D.C., February 4, 2013.”
The photo depicts Kerry and four male security agents.
The State Department ARB report revealed that the department rotated junior DS agents with “relatively little or no” overseas experience through its Benghazi mission.
“For a time, more experienced RSOs were sent out on longer term TDYs, but even that appeared to diminish after June 2012, exactly at the time the security environment in Benghazi was deteriorating further," said the report. "It bears emphasizing, however, that the Board found the work done by these often junior DS agents to be exemplary. But given the threat environment and with very little operational oversight from more experienced, senior colleagues, combined with an under-resourced security platform, these agents were not well served by their leadership in Washington.”
The ARB report noted that at the time of the Sept. 11, 2012 attacks “Benghazi remained a lawless town.”
All five of the DS agents who were in Benghazi on Sept. 11 survived. However, one was severely wounded by the same mortar attack that killed former Navy SEAL Tyrone Woods and Glen Doherty, who worked for the CIA, and another suffered a severe laceration of his arm when trying to rescue Amb. Stevens and State Department Information Management Officer Sean Smith from a burning building at the State Department compound.
As CNSNews.com previously reported, as of Jan. 30, the State Department had not given the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee access to these DS agents.
On Friday, at 12:38 p.m.. CNSNews.com contacted the press office at the Bureau of Diplomatic Security to ask about the photograph of Kerry "surrounded" by four DS agents in Arlington, seeking to learn how many DS agents in total escorted Kerry on his trip to the BDS headquarters last Monday. At 5:45 p.m., the bureau told CNSNews.com to direct the question to the main State Department press office. On Monday afternoon, CNSNews.com made inquiries by email and phone to that office. So far, the State Department has not responded.