The House panel looking to get to the bottom of the attack on the U.S. Consulate in Libya was instead confronted Wednesday with officials walking a fine line, as they delivered the State Department’s nuanced position on how the initial narrative of events — resulting in the murder of Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans — was so off-point.
Administration officials have already acknowledged that initial claims the attack was a spontaneous reaction to protests over an anti-Islam film were wrong, and that the strike was a coordinated act of terror.
But the explanation for why the incorrect narrative made its way to the public in the first place was proving difficult for lawmakers to follow, as they repeatedly pressed witnesses during a hearing Wednesday to explain what, by any objective measure, was a confusing account.
A State Department official had claimed Tuesday that the film link was “not our conclusion.”
Yet Under Secretary Patrick Kennedy on Wednesday stood by U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice, who famously asserted a link between the film and the Libya attack on the Sunday after the assault.
“No one in the administration has claimed to know for certain all the answers. … For example, if any administration official, including any career official, were on television on Sunday, Sept. 16, they would have said what Ambassador Rice said,” Kennedy testified before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. “The information she had at that point from the intelligence community is the same that I had at that point.”
This statement prompted a flurry of follow-up questions — since Kennedy himself had told lawmakers on Sept. 12 that he thought the strike was coordinated.
Kennedy, though, reiterated Wednesday that he and others were “drawing on the same intelligence information” that Rice used.
The ultimate explanation from Kennedy appeared to be that he and others — without drawing any conclusions of their own — were drawing on faulty intelligence information, and didn’t know it was faulty until days later.
Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., chairman of the oversight committee, said Wednesday that it appeared the department was beginning “the process of coming clean.”
White House Press Secretary Jay Carney, at a separate briefing, gave an explanation similar to Kennedy’s.
“Initial assessments in the immediate aftermath of the attack in Benghazi were made and it was a government-wide assessment that the foundation of what Ambassador Rice said, what I said, and what others said,” he said. “What we knew based on the limited facts we had available to us at that time.”
The rest of the House hearing, the first held to date on the Libya attack, was devoted to security in Libya in the run-up to the attack.
Lt. Col. Andrew Wood, former head of a 16-member U.S. military team in Libya, testified that “diplomatic security remained weak” through 2011.
“The (regional security officer) struggled to obtain additional personnel but … was never able to attain the numbers he felt comfortable with,” he said.
He told the panel that U.S. security was so weak that in April, only one U.S. diplomatic security agent was stationed in Benghazi.
Issa has alleged that the State Department turned aside pleas from its diplomats in Libya to increase security in the months and weeks before the attack in Benghazi. One witness Wednesday, Eric Nordstrom, is the former chief security officer for U.S. diplomats in Libya, who told the committee his pleas for more security were ignored.
Nordstrom addressed the diplomatic security issue in an Oct. 1 email to a congressional investigator. He said his requests for more security were blocked by a department policy to “normalize operations and reduce security resources.”
Nordstrom, though, also said in written testimony that he felt most of his resource requests were considered “seriously and fastidiously” by the State Department.
A memo Tuesday by the Oversight Committee’s Democratic staff provided details of Nordstrom’s interview with the panel’s investigators.
In that interview, Nordstrom said he sent two cables to State Department headquarters in March 2012 and July 2012 requesting additional diplomatic security agents for Benghazi, but he received no responses.
He stated that Charlene Lamb, the deputy assistant secretary for international programs, wanted to keep the number of U.S. security personnel in Benghazi artificially low. He said Lamb believed the Benghazi facilities did not need any diplomatic security special agents because there was a residential safe haven to fall back to in an emergency.
Lamb defended her assessment during the hearing, claiming that the team believed it had the “correct number of assets” in Benghazi at the time of the attack.
Issa took exception to this, saying that the statement “doesn’t seem to ring true to the American people” given how quickly the attackers were able to breach the compound on Sept. 11.
Democrats at times suggested the Republican majority on the panel was politicizing the attack. They complained that they were given short notice of a recent trip to Libya, and of conversations between Republicans and witnesses.
“No good is done to the security of the United States to politicize this tragedy,” said Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va.
Meanwhile, the White House said Wednesday that counterterrorism adviser John Brennan has met with Libya’s president on a visit to Tripoli.
The White House says Brennan reinforced U.S. support for Libya as it continues a transition to democracy.
Source: Fox News