(CNSNews.com) - The State Department took two dramatically different approaches to dealing with the identities of the Diplomatic Security (DS) agents it sent to Benghazi, Libya, to protect Amb. Chris Stevens and the small number of other temporary U.S. diplomatic personnel the department rotated through what its own review board would later admit was a "lawless town."
Before the Sept. 11, 2012 terrorist attacks in Benghazi, the department undertook a calculated effort to publicize the agents’ names and faces--presenting them in a State Department promotional magazine posted on the Internet. After the Sept. 11, 2012 terrorist attacks, the State Department has treated the names and faces of the DS agents who survived those attacks as if they were classified information.
This remarkable about-face raises two questions: Why can’t the American people know the names--and hear the stories--of the heroic DS agents who fought the terrorists who attacked our mission in Benghazi? Why can’t these courageous survivors deliver their eyewitnesses accounts directly to the U.S. Congress?
So far, the Obama administration has publicly released only the names of the Americans whom the terrorists killed in Benghazi on Sept. 11, 2012. These were Amb. Chris Stevens and Information Management Officer Sean Smith, who worked for the State Department, and former Navy Seals Tyrone Woods and Glen Doherty, who worked for the Central Intelligence Agency.
The report that the State Department’s Accountability Review Board published on Dec. 19 refers to the five DS agents who survived only by acronyms: “RSO,” and “ARSO 1,” “ARSO 2,” “ARSO 3” and “ARSO 4.” RSO stands for regional security officer. ARSO stands for assistant regional security officer.
Last October, the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee held a hearing on the Benghazi attack. The committee took testimony from Charlene Lamb, who ran the department’s suburban-Virginia-based Bureau of Diplomatic Security. It also took testimony from Eric Nordstrom, who was the RSO at the U.S. Embassy in Tripoli until July 26, 2012--and was no longer in Libya at the time of the Benghazi terrorist attack. And it additionally took testimony from Amb. Patrick Kennedy, the undersecretary of state for management.
But the committee did not talk to the State Department Bureau of Diplomatic Security regional security officer (RSO) and the assistant regional security officers (ARSOs) who actually witnessed and resisted the terrorist attack on the department's Benghazi compound. “State has not given Oversight access to the DS agents,” a committee spokesperson told CNSNews.com this week.
The committee also asked for: “Video footage of the September 11, 2012, attack on the Benghazi compound.”
If the committee wanted the names of the DS agents who were in Benghazi with Chris Stevens during the 2011 rebellion—as opposed to those who were with Stevens in Benghazi during the Sept. 11, 2012 terrorist attack—all they would need to do is go to the State Department's website and look up the December 2011 issue of State Magazine.
The cover story of this official government publication is entitled: “Mission to a Revolution.” It was written by Mario Montoya, identified in the magazine as one of the DS agents who protected Stevens in Benghazi during the 2011 Libyan rebellion.
Early on, the story quotes directly from Stevens, using words that echo what Stevens said at an Aug. 2, 2011 State Department press briefing.
After noting that the U.S. State Department personnel arriving in Benghazi were greeted by Libyans waving American flags in a place called Freedom Square, DS agent Montoya explains how these personnel found a place to live. Then he names eight of his DS- agent colleagues who were with Stevens in Benghazi at that time.
“But the group’s members needed more than a warm welcome; they needed a place to bed down for the night,” wrote Montoya. “In expeditionary diplomacy, they [sic] key is to make do with what you have, so the mission’s first night was spent aboard ship while Diplomatic Security Service agents Brian Haggerty, Kent Anderson, Josh Vincent, Chris Deedy, James McAnelly, Jason Brierly and Ken Davis, Agent in Charge Keith Carter and Political Officer Nathan Tek scoured the city for rooms.
“They soon settled into a formerly government owned hotel where other foreign missions and international journalists were lodged, but had to move when a car bomb exploded in the hotel parking lot,” said the State Magazine article.
This State Department magazine went on to explain that the DS agents in Benghazi protected diplomatic personnel as they travelled in Libya during the rebellion, and that they worked to make security enhancements when Stevens’ diplomatic mission moved to a private compound. Once there, they trained “local guards” in things such as “marksmanship.”
“DS agents Jeremy Clarke, Chris Little and Mario Montoya [the author of the article], medic Jack Van Cleve, Regional Security Officer Mike Ranger and Security Protective Specialists Domingo Ruiz and Ronald Young protected mission staff travelling in Benghazi or in the rebel-controlled towns in eastern Libya,” said the State Magazine article. “Once the mission moved to a private compound, DS agents and security engineering officers ensured safety with a blend of physical barriers, cameras and other technical means.
“A local guard force was also assembled to provide early warning and a first line of defense,” said the article. “DS agents quickly established a training program that included internal defense planning, weapons safety, basic marksmanship and tactical combat casualty care, while DS medics handled everything from a dog bite to two medical evacuations.”
The State Department’s article includes numerous photographs. One shows the author, DS Special Agent Montoya, teaching marksmanship to Libyan local guards. Another shows RSO Mike Ranger protecting then-Special Envoy Stevens as he tours the ruins of an ancient Byzantine city in Libya. Another shows DS Special Agent Joshua Vincent using a laptop and telephone to test satellite data and voice communications onboard a ship steaming from Malta to Benghazi.
The Bureau of Diplomatic Security’s annual report for 2011 also features photographs of some of the DS agents in Benghazi with Stevens in 2011. Unlike the December 2011 State Magazine article, however, the annual report does not identify the DS agents by name.
In fact, the annual report features the same photo of Mario Montoya teaching Libyans marksmanship that is featured in the State Magazine article. It also features a photo of a DS agent protecting then-Special Envoy Stevens speaking to “local media” in Benghazi on April 11, 2011, six days after he had arrived on the Greek cargo ship.
The State Department ARB report--published in December 2012, a year after the State Magazine article—describes Stevens’ 2011 arrival in Benghazi virtually the same way the State Magazine article did. However, the ARB report does not use the actual names of the DS agents as the State Department’s magazine had—but does reveal that there were ten DS agents who went with Stevens into Benghazi that first time around.
The ARB report also revealed that even though Stevens had these 10 DS agents with him in 2011, a Benghazi hotel was still too dangerous a place for him to reside, so he and his 10 security agents had to move into the Annex, a facility operated by the CIA (which the ARB did not report).
Three weeks later, Stevens and his crew moved into a then-newly acquired State Department compound that on 9/11/12 would become the target of the terrorist attack that killed Stevens.
“On April 5, 2011, then-Special Envoy to the Libyan Transitional National Council (TNC) Chris Stevens arrived via a Greek cargo ship at the rebel-held city of Benghazi to re-establish a U.S. presence in Libya,” said the ARB report.
“Stevens initially operated from the Tibesti Hotel in downtown Benghazi,” said the report. “He was accompanied by a security contingent of 10 Diplomatic Security agents, whose primary responsibilities were to provide personal protective services.”
“Benghazi was still very much a conflict zone,” said the ARB report. “On June 1, 2011, a car bomb exploded outside the Tibesti Hotel, and shortly thereafter a credible threat against the Special Envoy mission prompted Stevens to move to the Annex. On June 21, 2011, he and his security contingent moved to what would become the Special Mission Benghazi compound (SMC).”
Stevens left Benghazi and Libya on Nov. 17, 2011. Then, in May 2012, President Obama sent him back to Tripoli, Libya as ambassador. But Stevens did not return to Benghazi until Sept. 10, 2012--the day before the terrorist attack.
After Stevens’ November 2011 departure from Benghazi, the State Department kept the Special Mission Compound he had opened there. But the department manned this facility with temporary duty personnel rotated through on very short stays. At times, according to the ARB, the only Americans there were three DS agents.
The department also did not officially notify the Libyan government of this under-manned U.S, outpost in Benghazi.
“Stevens was replaced by an experienced Civil Service employee who served for 73 days in what came to be called the ‘principal officer’ position in Benghazi,” said the ARB report. “After November 2011, the principal officer slot became a TDY [temporary duty] assignment for officers with varying levels of experience who served in Benghazi anywhere from 10 days to over two months, usually without transiting Tripoli.
The ARB report not only concluded that the staffing of this Benghazi facility was “woefully insufficient,” but that the State Department DS agents sent there had “little or no” overseas experience.
“DS reliance on volunteers for TDY positions meant that the ARSOs in Benghazi often had relatively little or no prior DS program management or overseas experience,” said the report.
“It bears emphasizing, however, that the Board found the work done by these often junior DS agents to be exemplary,” said the report. “But given the threat environment and the 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.”
When the terrorists attacked on 9/11/12, these DS agents deployed in Benghazi—disserved by their leadership in Washington—did tremendous and profoundly courageous service to their country.
“DS and Annex [CIA] personnel on the ground in Benghazi performed with courage and an overriding desire to protect and rescue their colleagues, in a near impossible situation,” said the ARB report.
“The multiple trips the DS agents and Annex [CIA] security team members made into a burning, smoke-filled building in attempts to rescue Sean Smith and Ambassador Stevens showed a readiness to risk life and limb to save others,” said the report.
“The Board members believe every possible effort was made to protect, rescue, and recover Ambassador Stevens and Sean Smith,” said the report, “and that the bravery of the DS agents present in Benghazi helped prevent a further loss of life, particularly given their assistance in defending the Annex.”
According to the ARB report, one of the five State Department DS agents suffered a “severe laceration to his arm” during the terrorist attack while trying to rescue Amb. Stevens from a burning building. Another DS agent, according to the report, was “severely injured by a mortar attack” at the CIA Annex. All five of surviving DS agents suffered from smoke inhalation.
However, testifying in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee last week, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton revealed that until then—four months after the attacks—she had only spoken with one of the DS agents who had survived the Benghazi attack. She also said, “I still have a DS agent at Walter Reed seriously injured.”
Her reason for not talking to the surviving DS agents to hear their version of what happened: “We did not think it was appropriate for us to talk to them before the FBI conducted their interviews.”
Clinton did not explain why it would not be appropriate for her to talk to her own State Department personnel deployed in Benghazi at the time of the 9/11/12 terrorist attack until they had been questioned by the FBI, but the Senate Homeland Security Committee revealed in its own report that the FBI had interviewed all of the Benghazi survivors at a U.S. airbase in Germany on Sept. 15-16.
Thus, more than four months had passed since the FBI had interviewed these five DS agents and Secretary Clinton had still only spoken to one of the five.
CNSNews.com repeatedly asked the State Department press office this week, by emails followed up by telephone calls followed up by emails, why the department believed it was okay to publicize the names and publish photographs of the DS agents who protected then-Special Envoy Stevens and other State Department personnel in Benghazi during the 2011 rebellion, but not to reveal the names of the heroes who protected Stevens and the department’s Benghazi compound against the 9/11/12 terrorists.
The State Department had no response.
CNSNews.com also asked the State Department if it would comment on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee’s statement that the department had not given the committee access to the DS agents who survived the terror attack in Benghazi.
The State Department had no response.
Today is Hillary Clinton’s last day as secretary of state.