US officer got no reply to cables asking more security for Benghazi

Tue Oct 9, 2012 1:44pm EDT

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* Original order had been for five agents at mission

* Congressional hearings on Wednesday

WASHINGTON Oct 9 (Reuters) - A U.S. security officer formerly stationed in Libya has told lawmakers he sent two cables to the State Department requesting more security agents for the American mission in Benghazi but received no response.

The officer, Eric Nordstrom, also said that a State Department official, Charlene Lamb, wanted to keep the number of U.S. security personnel in Benghazi "artificially low," according to a memo summarizing his comments that was obtained by Reuters.

The State Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Nordstrom's statements.

Nordstrom was interviewed by a congressional committee investigating the attack last month on the U.S. mission in Benghazi in which the U.S. ambassador and three other Americans were killed.

The top U.S. intelligence authority, the office of the Director of National Intelligence, says the four Americans were killed in an organized terrorist assault, but the attackers have not been identified.

A brief summary of Nordstrom's interview with the Republican-controlled House Oversight and Government Reform Committee was contained in a memo prepared by the committee's minority Democratic staff.

Nordstrom, a State Department regional security officer, was based in Tripoli until about two months before the Benghazi attack, the memo said.

Nordstrom told lawmakers that Patrick Kennedy, the under secretary of state for management, issued a "decision memo" in December 2011 requiring that the Benghazi post be manned with five diplomatic security agents, but that it usually had only three or four.

"He (Nordstrom) stated that he sent two cables to State Department headquarters in March and July 2012 requesting additional Diplomatic Security Agents for Benghazi, but that he received no responses," the memo said.

At some point, however, it appears Nordstrom learned the views of Lamb because he told the committee she "wanted to keep the number of U.S. security personnel in Benghazi artificially low," the memo said.

"He said that Deputy Assistant Secretary Lamb believed the Benghazi post did not need any Diplomatic Security Special Agents because there was a residential safe haven to fall back to in an emergency, but that she thought the best course of action was to assign three agents," the memo said.

The Oversight and Government Reform committee has been investigating the handling of security at the U.S. mission in Benghazi before the attack. House Republican aides also confirmed the account of the interview as presented in the Democratic memo.

Nordstrom is expected to testify at a hearing of the committee on Wednesday, along with Lamb, the deputy assistant secretary of state for international programs, and Lieutenant Colonel Andrew Wood, who headed a security support team at the U.S. Embassy in Tripoli.

The Democratic memo said that Kennedy was also invited to testify.

Ambassador Chris Stevens died of smoke inhalation when he was trapped alone inside the burning building in Benghazi in an attack that began on the evening of Sept. 11. Debate over whether the Obama administration was caught unprepared by an assault by militant groups has become U.S. election-year fodder.

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