Former regional security officer Eric Nordstrom told a politically charged congressional hearing: ‘The question was how thin does the ice have to get before someone falls through.’
Published: Wednesday, October 10, 2012, 10:15 AM
The U.S. Consulate in Benghazi in flames during the Sept. 11 attack that killed four, including Ambassador Chris Stevens (below right).
A diplomatic security official vented frustration Wednesday that requests for more protection were rebuffed before the Sept. 11 attack on the consulate in Libya.
“It was clear to us that we were not going to get assets until the aftermath of an incident,” former regional security officer Eric Nordstrom told a politically charged congressional hearing.
“The question was how thin does the ice have to get before someone falls through.”
The comment came in response to pointed questions from Republicans who accused the Obama Administration of failing to protect Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans killed in the Benghazi attack.
Rep. Darrell Issa, chairman of the House Oversight Committee, grilled Nordstrom about a pay hike to compensate for his dangerous assignment after the request for personnel was denied.
“You don’t decrease security at the same time you increase hazardous duty pay,” Issa said.
Nordstrom complained of a “total absence of planning” for future security of the diplomatic complex in Libya.
“When I requested resources … I was criticized,” he said. “Somehow it was my responsibility to come up with a plan on the ground.”
The whistle-blowing ex-head of a military team that protected the embassy in Tripoli until it was yanked in August painted an even grimmer picture, calling security “weak.”
“The security in Benghazi was a struggle and remained a struggle throughout my time there,” said Lt. Col. Andrew Wood.
But Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Charlene Lamb defended her decision not to dispatch more agents.
“We had the correct number of assets in Benghazi on 9/11 based on what had been agreed upon,” she insisted.
And in written testimony, Nordstrom said that while he wanted more help, the Sept. 11 onslaught was so fierce that a few more bodies would not have repelled it.
“Having an extra foot of wall, or an extra-half dozen guards or agents would not have enabled us to respond to that kind of assault,” he wrote.
There were five diplomatic security agents and three Libyan bodyguards at the consulate during what Lamb said was a “full-scale assault that was unprecedented in size and intensity.”
It began with loud voices, followed by gunfire and an explosion. The attackers breached the gate and fanned out, setting fires that trapped Stevens.
In the days after, top administration diplomat Susan Rice declared the violence was sparked by a spontaneous protest over the anti-Islam film, “Innocence of Muslims.”
The GOP accused the White House of trying to cover up an Al Qaeda link, and the administration later said it was a preplanned terror attack.
Undersecretary of State Patrick Kennedy staunchly defended Rice on Wednesday, saying intelligence “evolved” after her initial account.
“The information she had at that point from the intelligence community is the same that I had at that point,” he said.
He said that when he told congressional aides Sept. 12 that he believed it was a terrorist event that was his “personal opinion.”
Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) said he wants to question Rice under oath.
“Was it negligence? Was it just a reckless disregard for the truth? Or was it more nefarious than that?” he asked.