Before attack on U.S. mission in Libya, State Dept. concluded risk of violence was high


Libyan followers of Ansar al-Shariah Brigades burn the U.S. flag during a protest in front of the Tibesti Hotel in Benghazi on Sept. 14, 2012. The State Department concluded that the risk of violence to diplomats and other Americans in Libya was high and that the U.S.-backed government in Tripoli could do little about it. (Mohammad Hannon/AP)
October 9, 2012

Less than two months before the fatal attack on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya, the State Department concluded that the risk of violence to diplomats and other Americans in Libya was high and that the weak U.S.-backed government in Tripoli could do little about it.

“The risk of U.S. Mission personnel, private U.S. citizens and businesspersons encountering an isolating event as a result of militia or political violence is HIGH,” a State Department security assessment from July 22 concludes.

The department approved a 30 percent “danger pay” bonus for Americans working in Libya during the summer, according to documents released by Congress on Tuesday.

The department’s former top security officer told the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform that he had recommended keeping U.S. military and additional State Department security forces on hand through October, documents released by the committee show.

“The [Libyan government] was overwhelmed and could not guarantee our protection,” former regional security officer Eric A. Nordstrom wrote Oct. 1. “Sadly, that point was reaffirmed Sept. 11 2012 in Benghazi.”

Security incidents in Libya since June 2011

“There was a clear disconnect between what security officials on the ground felt they needed and what officials in Washington would approve,” the committee chairman, Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), said Tuesday. “Reports that senior State Department officials told security personnel in Libya to not even make certain security requests are especially troubling.”

The Republican-led committee released the department’s compilation of more than 200 security-related threats of events ahead of a hearing on the Benghazi attack, scheduled for Wednesday.

“The government of Libya does not yet have the ability to effectively respond to and manage the rising criminal and militia violence, which could result in an isolating event,” the State Department Regional Security Office for Libya concluded, using jargon for a security threat.

Top State Department security and management officials are slated to answer questions Wednesday about what the agency knew about the threats to U.S. personnel ahead of the Sept. 11 attack that killed Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other Americans.

The Libya attack has increasingly become a political issue, with Republicans charging that President Obama and top administration officials misread the danger signs and tried to deflect questions about terrorism afterward.

“This latest assault cannot be blamed on a reprehensible video insulting Islam, despite the administration’s attempts to convince us of that for so long,” Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney said Monday.

Democrats are arguing that congressional Republicans blocked additional funding for diplomatic security earlier this year.

Anne Gearan is The Washington Post's diplomatic correspondent.
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