Two House Republican leaders said Tuesday that the State Department had refused several requests from diplomats in Libya for more security at the consulate in Benghazi before last month’s lethal attack, and they called for a hearing to probe the Sept. 11 terrorist assault that killed four Americans.
The lawmakers cited 13 security-related incidents in Benghazi, several of which were previously unreported, in the six months before the attack that killed U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three others. The incidents included a pro-Gadhafi Facebook page that noted Mr. Stevens’ habit of taking a morning run in Tripoli with members of his security detail and threatened him.
“Multiple U.S. federal government officials have confirmed … that, prior to the Sept. 11 attack, the U.S. mission in Libya made repeated requests for increased security in Benghazi. The mission in Libya, however, was denied these resources by officials in Washington,” Reps. Darrell E. Issa and Jason Chaffetz said in a letter Tuesday to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.
Mr. Issa, California Republican and chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, and Mr. Chaffetz, Utah Republican and chairman of the national security subcommittee, said they would hold a hearing Oct. 10. The State Department on Monday closed the consulate building in Benghazi and removed its staff from the city.
Meanwhile, The New York Times was reporting that the Pentagon’s Joint Special Operations Command was preparing data to help kill or capture militants suspected of conducting the Benghazi attack, citing military and counterterrorism officials.
State Department officials said Tuesday that Mrs. Clinton would respond immediately to Mr. Issa and Mr. Chaffetz and pledged the department’s cooperation with the congressional investigation, which will parallel four other probes into the attack.
“Her response back today will make clear that we are determined to work with the Congress, that we will send folks to their hearing … It is our intention to cooperate fully,” State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said.
“I’m not in a position from this podium today to answer the specific requests and the specific assertions in the letter,” Mrs. Nuland said. “We are currently amassing all of the documents, all of the information that we had before, during, [and] after [the attack], so that we can be responsive” to congressional inquiries.
Several former government officials have told The Washington Times that no reasonable security presence could have successfully defended the consulate against the sophisticated, multistage assault by extremists armed with automatic weapons, rocket-propelled grenade-launchers and mortars.
The attack came amid widespread protests directed against U.S. facilities throughout the Arab world, sparked by an Internet video denigrating Islam’s Prophet Muhammad.
For more than a week, administration officials hewed to talking points describing the attack as “spontaneous,” saying it had developed out of an angry demonstration outside the consulate. The U.S. director of national intelligence now says that information was the result of erroneous early analyses of the events and officials have linked it to terrorist groups.
Republicans have seized on the fact that it was eight days before officials used the words “terrorist attack” to describe the assault, and have accused the administration of trying to downplay the seriousness of the attack, because it contradicts President Obama’s election-campaign narrative about the success of his campaign against al Qaeda.
More hawkish conservatives have said the attack itself was provoked by “weakness” on the part of the administration in the Middle East.
Mr. Issa, whose committee has sweeping investigative powers, has just completed an aggressive probe of the Justice Department’s anti-gun-running operation Fast and Furious — an investigation which at times degenerated into partisan sniping.
At the least, the hearing on the Benghazi attack is sure to showcase the deep differences between the parties’ views on the best stance to take in the face of popular fury at the United States as a result of the anti-Muhammad film.