The U.S. mission in Libya where a U.S. ambassador and three other Americans were killed in a terrorist attack lacked special security barriers that the State Department’s inspector general recommended three years ago for diplomatic facilities in danger zones, the top Republican on the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee said Thursday.
The State Department inspector general recommended in 2009 that U.S. diplomatic facilities in danger zones have special holding areas for visitors called “man traps,” but the U.S. consular facility in Benghazi did not have them, Sen. Susan M. Collins of Maine told reporters after a four-hour, closed-door briefing from senior intelligence and defense officials on Capitol Hill.
“While there were improvements made for security, those specific recommendations for man traps were not built in Benghazi,” she said.
The “man traps” that the inspector general recommended were “an enclosed area for pedestrian and vehicular inspections a walled- or fenced-off area for pedestrian visitors, hence ‘man trap’,” an official in the inspector general’s office said.
The official, authorized to speak only on the condition of anonymity, would not comment on the report’s recommendations. He said the report had never been released publicly because it contained details about security measures at U.S. diplomatic posts.
Security at the facilities in Benghazi has come under scrutiny in the wake of the attack, which killed Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens, a foreign service officer and two former U.S. military personnel working as security contractors for the CIA.
Homeland security committee members have reviewed video from surveillance drones and security cameras that documented the sophisticated, two-stage military-style assault on the consular facility and an annex used as a CIA base. The assault unfolded over more than seven hours during the night of Sept. 11-12.
“It was very disconcerting to see how easily the terrorists broke through the gates and basically just walked in and set the facility on fire and began to fire at American personnel,” said Sen. Joe Lieberman, Connecticut independent and chairman of the homeland security committee.
Lawmakers in the House and Senate have questioned why State Department officials in Washington turned down repeated requests for additional security personnel at the Benghazi mission and at the U.S. Embassy in Tripoli. Some members of Congress also have said that officials should have heeded warnings of an attack. Terrorists blew a hole in the wall of the Benghazi compound in July, and other militants attacked a Red Cross building and a motorcade carrying the British ambassador earlier this year.
Mr. Lieberman later told MSNBC that Benghazi was “a kind of outlawed territory” after the overthrow last year of dictator Moammar Gadhafi. Libya’s second largest city and the flash point of the uprising against Gadhafi had become a popular hangout for al Qaeda-related groups and radical militias. The city “was just teeming with weapons” seized from the Gadhafi government, Mr. Liberman added.
“It was a very dangerous brew,” he said.
Other Western nations had pulled their diplomats out of Benghazi before the attack on the U.S. mission.
“We were the last flag flying,” Army National Guard Lt. Col. Andrew Wood said in testimony before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee before the U.S. presidential election.
Col. Wood commanded a detachment of 16 U.S. special operations forces troops assigned to the embassy in Tripoli that was withdrawn during the summer over the protests of local diplomatic security staff.
Only three State Department security personnel were stationed at the Benghazi consulate, which consisted of a villa and two outbuildings in a walled garden, although another two were there on the night of the attack accompanying Stevens on a visit from the capital.