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.
It also may see some Democrats attempting to point a finger at Republicans. Last week, The Washington Times reported that the attack in Benghazi had followed two years of major cuts by Congress to State Department funding for embassy construction and diplomatic security.
Mr. Issa’s inquiry will join at least four others into the attack:
• As required by federal law, Mrs. Clinton has convened a special panel to report on security prior to the attack, choosing veteran diplomat Thomas Pickering to head it. The aim of the Accountability Review Board is to “determine whether there were deficiencies for which people should be held accountable,” said former State Department troubleshooter James Dobbins, and recommend “further [security] measures that need to be implemented.”
• The State Department’s acting Inspector General Harold W. Geisel, has said he is developing a "scope of work" plan for his own inquiry, launched at the urging of Sens. Joe Lieberman, Connecticut independent, and Susan M. Collins, Maine Republican.
• The FBI has launched a criminal inquiry and dispatched agents to Libya, but for security reasons the bureau is not disclosing how many or where they have been sent. Libyan officials have said the FBI team is still in Tripoli. A U.S. official told The Times on Tuesday that the bureau was working through security and protocol issues.
• Libyan criminal authorities have launched an investigation, Deputy Foreign Minister Mohammed Abdel Aziz said in Tripoli on Tuesday. But he said there was no final agreement with the United States about how Libyan investigators would work with their American counterparts. "Hopefully, in the coming days, we will reach an agreement as to how the [U.S.] team will work with the Libyan team," he said after meeting with U.S. officials.
• This article is based in part on wire service reports.
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