U.S. officials in Washington denied repeated requests from Americans in Libya for more security at the U.S. mission in Benghazi before last month’s attack that killed four Americans there, two Republican lawmakers said on Tuesday.
U.S. Representatives Darrell Issa and Jason Chaffetz wrote a letter to U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton demanding details of the requests for more security – which they said were made amid numerous attacks on Westerners in Libya in recent months.
They said the House of Representatives Oversight and Government Reform Committee would hold an Oct. 10 hearing on the security situation leading up to the Benghazi attack on Sept. 11.
Mr. Issa heads the oversight committee and Mr. Chaffetz oversees its subcommittee on national security, homeland defense, and foreign operations.
“Multiple U.S. federal government officials have confirmed to the committee that, prior to the September 11 attack, the U.S. mission in Libya made repeated requests for increased security in Benghazi,” Mr. Issa and Mr. Chaffetz wrote.
“The mission in Libya, however, was denied these resources by officials in Washington,” the Republican lawmakers said. Their letter did not include any details of the reported requests.
State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said Ms. Clinton would respond later on Tuesday to the lawmakers’ letter and tell them that she is willing to co-operate closely with Congress in investigating the attack in Benghazi.
“We share the same goal. We want to get to the bottom of precisely what happened and learn any lessons that we need to learn from it. We are taking this very, very seriously,” Ms. Nuland said at a regular daily news briefing.
But Ms. Nuland declined to provide any information about assertions in the letter that U.S. diplomats had sought additional security for their Benghazi mission. She also said she did not think Ms. Clinton would be able to answer those questions in her initial response.
Separately, four U.S. officials have told Reuters they were aware that in the months before the Benghazi attack, some U.S. personnel in Libya had sent complaints to the State Department expressing concern about security at U.S. diplomatic facilities in Benghazi, particularly the compound where Ambassador Christopher Stevens was killed.
Two of those officials said their understanding was that the department did not act on the complaints before the deadly attack in Benghazi.
Debate over whether the Obama administration was caught unprepared by an assault by militant groups has become U.S. election-year fodder.
Republicans have criticized initial statements by administration officials, including U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice, who suggested the attacks were precipitated by anger over an anti-Muslim online video.
Last Friday the top U.S. intelligence authority declared it believed this was a “deliberate and organized terrorist attack.”
Mr. Stevens died of smoke inhalation when he was trapped alone inside the burning building in Benghazi, Libya’s second city and the seat of last year’s Feb. 17 revolution against Moammar Gadhafi.
Another diplomat, Sean Smith, also died at the compound. Two U.S. security personnel were killed later when another U.S. diplomatic compound to which some personnel retreated came under mortar attack.
Mr. Issa and Mr. Chaffetz said the violence was the “latest in a long line of attacks on Western diplomats and officials in Libya in the months leading up to” the assault.
Unarmed Libyan guards employed at the U.S. Benghazi mission were warned by their family members to quit their jobs in the weeks before the assault, “because there were rumors in the community of an impending attack,” they said.
Back in April, two Libyans who had been fired from a contractor providing unarmed security for the Benghazi mission threw a small homemade bomb over the mission’s fence, the letter said. No one was hurt and the suspects were arrested but not prosecuted.
Ambassador Stevens had also faced threats in Tripoli, the letter said. It said he often took an early-morning run around the Libyan capital with his security detail, but that in June, “a posting on a pro-Gadhafi Facebook page trumpeted these runs and directed a threat against Ambassador Stevens along with a stock photo of him.”
Mr. Stevens stopped the runs for about a week, but then resumed them, the letter added.
It also mentioned some well-known attacks, including a June assault on a convoy in Benghazi carrying Britain’s ambassador to Libya. He was not hurt, but two of his bodyguards were.
The same month someone left an explosive device at the U.S. mission that damaged the gate in front of the building.
“Please detail any requests made by embassy Tripoli to the State Department headquarters for additional security, whether in general or in light of specific attacks,” as well as the department’s response, the lawmakers wrote to Ms. Clinton.