State Department that Ignored Benghazi Warnings Learns Lessons of Past, Clinton Says

By Fred Lucas | November 30, 2012 | 3:27 PM EST

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (AP Photo)

( – Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the federal government is taking “immediate steps to bolster security” for diplomats, but said nothing about the State Department ignoring numerous warnings about security problems in Libya in the months leading to the Sept. 11 attack in Benghazi that killed four Americans.

“From Tehran and Beirut to East Africa and Saudi Arabia, and now in Benghazi and so many other places in between, we have seen diplomats and development experts devoted to peace who are targeted by terrorists devoted to death,” Clinton said Thursday night at the Newseum in Washington at an event sponsored by the Foreign Policy Group.

“That’s why we are taking immediate steps to bolster security and readiness at our missions across the globe. We’ve already dispatched joint teams from the Departments of State and Defense to review high-threat posts to determine whether there are improvements we need in light of the evolving security challenges we face,” she added.

“The men and women who serve our country overseas represent the best traditions of a bold and generous nation,” said Clinton. “They are no strangers to danger.”

Clinton, who will be leaving her position during the second administration of President Barack Obama, said the federal government has learned from past terrorist attacks on Americans and said “learn the lessons we must.”

The attack on the U.S. compound in Benghazi, Libya on Sept. 11, 2012 occurred after diplomats had requested more security for the compound. Terrorists killed four Americans in the attack, including U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens.

Before the attack, Stevens and Regional Security Officer Eric Nordstrom sent several requests to the State Department in Washington explaining the dangerous security situation and requesting more security. Security was actually decreased in August.

“And as we mourn fallen friends like Ambassador Chris Stevens, who was fearless in his dedication to diplomacy, we refuse to be intimidated,” Clinton continued during the Thursday speech. “Our people cannot live in bunkers and do their jobs. So we will do what we always have done: pull together, learn the lessons we must, and improve, because America always emerges stronger and more confident when we do that.”

In December 2011 Undersecretary of State for Management Patrick Kennedy issued a memo requiring five security agents to be assigned to the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, according to the October 2012 testimony of Regional Security Officer Eric Nordstrom to the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

In February 2012, the U.S. Embassy in Tripoli, Libya requested and received a four-month extension of a 16-member security team, according to a February memo obtained by the Associated Press and reported on in October. The AP reported that the memo referred to security in Libya as a whole, not just Tripoli.

“Overall security conditions continue to be unpredictable, with large numbers of armed groups and individuals not under control of the central government, and frequent clashes in Tripoli and other major population centers,” the memo said.

The memo added, “Until these militias are off the streets and a strong national police force is established, we will not have a reliable host government partner that is capable of responding to the embassy's security needs. It is likely that we will need to maintain a heightened security posture for the foreseeable future.”

In March, Nordstrom sent a cable in March requesting additional security agents for the Benghazi post, Nordstrom told the House oversight committee. He said he was ignored.

On April 6, an IED attack occurred on the U.S. compound in Benghazi when two Libyans employed as contract guards, one of whom had been fired, threw an improvised explosive device (IED) called a “fish bomb” over the compound wall. There were no casualties and only limited damage. The suspects were arrested but not prosecuted.

On April 10, an IED attack on a United Nations envoy in Benghazi took place when another “fish bomb” was thrown at a convoy carrying the UN special envoy to Libya. No one was hurt, and no arrests were made.

On April 11, a gun battle between an unidentified armed group and forces loyal to the Transitional National Council happened about 4 kilometers from the U.S. mission in Benghazi.

The unidentified armed group attacked a Ministry of Interior building in an attempt to seize fleet vehicles that belonged to former Libyan dictator Moammar Gaddafi’s regime.

On May 22, two RPG rounds were fired at the Benghazi office of the International Committee of the Red Cross about one kilometer from the U.S. Mission in Benghazi. The attack occurred during the early morning hours, and there were no casualties. The imprisoned Sheikh Omar Abdul-Rahman Brigades, a pro-al Qaeda group, claimed credit for the attack.

On June 6, the U.S. compound in Benghazi was the target of an IED attack. The compound’s local guards reported a suspicious male placed a device on the mission’s perimeter wall and sounded the mission’s imminent danger alarm. About six minutes after the alarm sounded, the device exploded, creating a large hole in the perimeter wall. The imprisoned Sheikh Omar Abdul-Rahman Brigades claimed credit.

That same day, a pro-Gaddafi Facebook page called for the assassination of Ambassador Stevens and provided details of his jogging route.

On June 11, a three-car convoy carrying the British Ambassador to Libya was en route to the British compound in Benghazi when it came under fire from RPGs and AK-47s. The attack happened about 500 meters from the entrance of the British compound and about two kilometers from the U.S. mission.

One RPG round struck the area of the lead armored vehicle, injuring two security personnel inside. The motorcade was not flying the British flag but displayed diplomatic license plates. No suspects were identified, and no groups had claimed credit.

On June 21, a former military prosecutor who reportedly ordered the arrest of the late General Abdul Fatah Youngish, a former Gaddafi-regime security official who defected to the Libyan opposition and was subsequently killed under mysterious circumstances, was shot and killed in Benghazi.

That same day, Nordstrom sent a memo to the State Department in Washington that warned, “the risk of U.S. Mission personnel, private U.S. citizens and businesspersons encountering an isolating event as a result of militia or political violence is HIGH. The Government of Libya does not yet have the ability to effectively respond to and manage the rising criminal and militia related.”

The next day, June 22, Ambassador Stevens sent a cable to the State Department in Washington after the assassination attempt on the British ambassador, writing, “the consensus of the [emergency action committee] is continuing presence of extremist groups and individuals in Libya, which warrant ongoing monitoring by the [emergency action committee].”

On June 25, a cable from Stevens was entitled, “Libya’s Fragile Security Deteriorates as Tribal Rivalries, Power Plays and Extremism Intensify.” Stevens wrote the government of Libya “national security official shared his private opinion that the attacks were the work of extremists who are opposed to western influence in Libya.”

He said some disagreed, but “a number of local contacts agreed, noting that Islamic extremism appears to be on the rise in eastern Libya and that the al Qaeda flag has been spotted several times flying over government buildings and training facilities in Derna.” He further noted, “the proliferation of militias and the absence of effective security and intelligence services have limited the [government of Libya’s] ability to respond.”

In July, Nordstrom said he asked for additional security for the consulate in Benghazi, he told the House oversight committee. Nordstrom said he was again ignored.

On July 1, the High National Electoral Commission Offices were stormed by 100 to 200 demonstrators who ransacked the office in Benghazi and burned election materials including ballots.

In August 2012, the deployment of the 16-member security team came to an end.