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Mrs. Collins said the barriers recommended by the inspector general might have helped slow down the attackers.

“We can’t be certain they would have protected the compound completely, but they certainly would have slowed the ability of the compound to be overrun,” she said.

Email traffic released by the House oversight committee reveals that the diplomatic security officer on the ground, and other U.S. State Department staff in Libya, repeatedly asked for Col. Wood’s team to be kept in Tripoli. They also asked for more personnel in Benghazi.

It remains unclear whether any reasonable level of security might have protected the consular buildings from dozens of heavily armed terrorists carrying automatic weapons and rocket-propelled grenade launchers that officials have said attacked in the first wave of the assault.

To make such an assessment, one would need to know much more than just the number of attackers, retired Col. Thomas F. Lynch III told The Times recently.

“Tactical details” – such as lines of fire, setback distance between the U.S. buildings and the street, and other buildings or geography that can provide cover for attackers – “are just as important as the numbers” in determining the outcome of any firefight, he said.

Col. Lynch, formerly a special adviser on counterterrorism to then-Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen, has worked in the Middle East and south/central Asia for the past decade, including being responsible for the security of military facilities in the Gulf.

Diplomatic security personnel “are paid to be risk-averse. They are paid to come back with a platinum-plated solution,” he said of the local security staff’s pleas for more resources.

“Then a decision has to be made [higher up the management chain] bearing in mind that budgeting is a zero-sum game” and that granting one request always means refusing another from somewhere else, he said.

Mr. Lieberman said his committee also is looking at what assets the U.S. military might have been able to deploy to the town during the night. After the initial attack on the consulate, there was a period of several hours of quiet before the second wave, in which the CIA annex was also attacked, and eventually targeted with mortars that killed the two contractors who were stationed on the roof.

“Obviously the Department of Defense did not have personnel or assets close enough to Benghazi to bring them to the scene of the terrorist attack in timely way so they could protect American personnel there. Particularly, protect the two [former] SEALs who were killed [at the annex] seven hours after the initial attack started,” he said.

The U.S. Africa Command, which has military command in the region including Libya, had no rapid-response capability, and no AC-130 gunships, but critics have said that U.S. air and naval assets in the Mediterranean and southern Europe could have been scrambled.

Susan E. Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, became a lightning rod for Republican criticism after she appeared on television news shows five days after the attack and claimed the assault was the result of a mob angered over a video that insulted Islam’s Prophet Muhammad.

U.S. officials now acknowledge that it was an organized attack, staged by supporters of local terrorists groups and of al Qaeda’s North African affiliate.

Mrs. Rice has met this week with several senators, including Mrs. Collins and Mr. Lieberman, apparently in an effort to smooth her path if she is picked as the next secretary of state.

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