In a May 3, 2012, email, the State Department denied a request by a group of Special Forces assigned to protect the U.S. embassy in Libya to continue their use of a DC- 3 airplane for security operations throughout the country.
The subject line of the email, on which slain Ambassador Chris Stevens was copied, read: “Termination of Tripoli DC-3 Support.”
Four days later, on May 7, the State Department authorized the U.S. embassy in Vienna to purchase a $108,000 electric vehicle charging station for the embassy motor pool’s new Chevrolet Volts. The purchase was a part of the State Department’s “Energy Efficiency Sweep of Europe” initiative, which included hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars on green program expenditures at various U.S. Embassies.
In fact, at a May 10 gala held at the U.S. embassy in Vienna, the ambassador showcased his new Volts and other green investments as part of the U.S. government’s commitment to “climate change solutions.”
The event posting on the embassy website read: “Celebrating the Greening of the Embassy.”
While the embassy in Vienna was going green, the consulate in Benghazi was getting bombed, and little was done to stop it.
Before the terrorist attack that took the lives of Ambassador Chris Stevens, Sean Smith, Glen Doherty and Tyrone Woods, there were more than 230 security incidents in Libya between June 2011 and July 2012.
Of those attacks, 48 took place in Benghazi, two at the U.S. diplomatic compound and scene of the September 11, 2012, terrorist attacks.
This first attack on the Benghazi compound occurred on April 6, 2012, when two Libyans threw a crude improvised explosive device over the compound wall. Two months later, another IED exploded at the compound, wounding one person and leaving a hole in the perimeter wall large enough for 40 people to run through.
The second attack was linked to the “Brigades of the Imprisoned Sheikh Omar Abdul Rahman,” a jihadist, pro-al Qaeda group named after the mastermind of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. The same group was responsible for subsequent attacks on the British ambassador to Libya and the International Committee of the Red Cross, both of which took place in Benghazi just months before the September attack.
While these steady and increasingly violent attacks on western interests mounted, the U.S. State Department repeatedly rejected requests for additional protection measures for our security teams in Libya.
According to Eric Nordstrom, a regional security officer of the U.S. Mission to Libya from September 2011 to July 2012, the State Department not only refused his requests for greater security, but actually reduced the number of Diplomatic Security Service (DSS) agents assigned to foreign service officers based in Libya. Ironically, as the State Department withdrew security resources, it increased hazard pay for its employees based in Libya by 5 percent.
Mr. Nordstrom’s concerns regarding the escalating violence and inadequate security provisions, especially at the Benghazi compound, were shared by Lt. Col. Andrew Wood, commander of the 16-member Security Support Team (SST) in Libya from February to August 2012. Lt. Col. Wood, who left Libya shortly before Ambassador Stevens was assassinated, believed that the SST presence needed to be extended, an idea Mr. Nordstrom said was shot down by the State Department in early July.
When Lt. Col. Wood and Mr. Nordstrom surveyed the Benghazi compound’s physical security in March 2012, they said the security provisions were “inappropriately low,” with just one DSS agent available to supervise the 24-hour security. In addition to the DSS agent, the compound was protected by four armed members of the 17th of February Martyrs Brigade and unarmed Libyan contractors employed by the British-based Blue Mountain Group.
According to an employment contract recovered at the Benghazi compound by the Washington Post shortly after the September attacks, those unarmed Libyan contractors were making roughly $4 dollars an hour.
If that was indeed the case, the State Department, using the funds provided to the U.S. embassy in Austria for an electric vehicle charger, could have provided Ambassador Stevens with three additional guards, 24 hours a day, for 365 days, with some money left over.
This is not to argue that having more guards, extending the SST presence, or authorizing the continued use of the DC-3 plane would have prevented Ambassador Stevens’ death, which marked the first assassination of a U.S. ambassador since the 1970s. It does, however, raise a question about the State Department’s spending priorities.
Should the money directed toward other State Department initiatives, such as the “Energy Efficiency Sweep of Europe,” have gone toward efforts to secure highly vulnerable State Department personnel in areas like Libya?
In terms of securing the U.S. mission in Libya, it’s hard to argue that the money wasn’t there.
What seemed to be lacking was the common sense to know where to spend it.
Europe’s green energy sweep should have been Libya’s security sweep. Instead, the very real threats to the U.S. mission in Libya were swept under the rug.
Rep. Mike Kelly is a Pennsylvania Republican.