As information continues to emerge about the Sept. 11 terrorist attack in Libya, evidence has grown stronger that the Obama administration’s response, both before and after the assault, was inadequate at best.
Recently revealed e-mail records indicate that the White House knew within two hours that the attack on the consulate in Benghazi was the work of organized and well-armed terrorists. Ansar al-Sharia, a Libyan militant group with links to al Qaeda, claimed responsibility for the attack right away. Yet President Obama and his advisers continued to blame the attack on spontaneous protests.
There seems little remaining doubt that the Obama administration deliberately misled the American people about the nature of the attack. This fact alone is worthy of investigation, but even more relevant and troubling than the administration’s words are its actions, or lack thereof, to protect our diplomatic personnel.
Documents released by the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform show growing concern on the part of Ambassador Stevens and his staff regarding the worsening security situation. In a cable from June 25 titled “Libya’s Fragile Security Deteriorates,” Ambassador Stevens wrote, ”From April to June, Libya also witnesses an increase in attacks targeting international organizations and foreign interests.” Stevens goes on to list six of the multiple attacks that had already occurred, including an attack on a U.N. official in Benghazi, an IED explosion at the consulate compound, and a rocket-propelled grenade attack on the British ambassador’s convoy. Stevens stated that his contacts in the area informed him 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.”
Another cable from Aug. 8 mentions “a series of violent incidents” and warns that the local security forces the Obama administration was to rely on to protect our diplomats “has not coalesced into a stabilizing force and provides little deterrence.” On the day of his murder, Stevens reiterated the warning, citing a commander with Benghazi’s Supreme Security Council who “expressed growing frustration with police and security forces (who were too weak to keep the country secure).”
These warnings were accompanied by repeated requests for increased security. Multiple witnesses informed the Oversight Committee that these requests were rejected, and existing security was actually systematically decreased in the interests of “normalization.” State Department Regional Security Officer Eric Nordstrom testified that officials in Washington routinely made decisions to decrease security without consulting him. Another State Department official, Charlene Lamb, makes it clear that the cutbacks had nothing to do with budgetary concerns. In fact, the State Department actually increased “danger pay” for its personnel as it removed security resources.
Based on documents and extensive testimony from Nordstrom, Lamb and other officials, the Oversight Committee concluded that the inadequate security was the result of a “normalization” process initiated by the Obama administration in November 2011 “aimed at conveying the situation in Libya was getting better, not worse” and designed to avoid “the appearance of boots on the ground.”
When President Obama chose to ignore the Constitution and launch military operations in Libya without congressional approval, it was with the assurance that American presence on the ground would be minimal. Were security decisions in Libya affected by the desire to justify this promise and create the impression that the Libyan intervention was more successful and less dangerous to Americans than it actually was? The House Oversight Committee, as well as Speaker of the House John Boehner, have sent letters to President Obama seeking explanations for these troubling questions. It is imperative that the president and his administration be forthcoming and cooperative to ensure we learn the truth about the terrorist attack in Libya and take appropriate actions to safeguard American personnel and strategic interests.
Tom Cole is the 4th District U.S. congressman