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State Department creates own board to look at Libya security query

- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 9, 2012

The State Department's top security officer is coming under scrutiny for playing a role in creating a special board that is investigating last month's fatal attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya.

One of the State Department's accountability review board's key tasks will be to probe why the office of Patrick Kennedy, undersecretary of state for management, rejected requests for more diplomatic security in Libya in the weeks leading up to the Sept. 11 terrorist attack.

Mr. Kennedy, a career diplomat whose portfolio includes being the top security officer, signed the memo Oct. 1 that set up the review board.

In addition, the State Department said Tuesday that Mr. Kennedy played a role in selecting members of the board, which will be led by former Ambassador Thomas Pickering. And later Tuesday, the State Department put out a revised timeline that abandoned all claims, which the Obama administration had been making since the earliest days, that the attack was related to protests against a film that mocks Muhammad, Islam's prophet.

Since the review board was set up, information has surfaced in the news media on crucial decisions Mr. Kennedy made before the attack that killed U.S. Ambassador to Libya J. Christopher Stevens and three other Americans.

"There's documentary evidence that requests came back to diplomatic security and Undersecretary Kennedy rejected them," Larry Johnson, a former CIA officer and State Department counterterrorism official, told The Washington Times.

"What is at issue here, this board is set up to review all of the decisions that were made prior to the attack on 9/11 that reduced security for the U.S. mission in Libya. Kennedy shouldn't have had anything to do with this," Mr. Johnson said. "He should have completely recused himself from the process."

Mr. Kennedy is slated to testify Wednesday before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, which is holding hearings to investigate the State Department's response to threats before the attack, among other issues.

John R. Bolton, a former ambassador to the U.N. who is advising Mitt Romney's presidential campaign, told The Times that the undersecretary for management typically handles the creation of special boards.

In this case, Mr. Bolton said, with so many officials facing scrutiny, including Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, it would have been better to hand the job to the independent inspector general for the State Department.

"It isn't different than what they've done before," he said. "Maybe the lesson here in the future, it ought to be the [inspector general] that takes this board to guarantee the independence of the members."

Army Lt. Col. Andy Wood, a Green Beret who led a site security team in Libya, told CBS News that he and others had requested more security, but State Department officials in Washington turned them down and pulled them out of the country, along with a six-member force of elite security guards.

"We tried to illustrate to show them how dangerous and how volatile and just unpredictable that whole environment was over there. So to decrease security in the face of that really is it's just unbelievable," Col. Wood said.

Col. Wood said team members could have accompanied Mr. Stevens to Benghazi, the site of the well-coordinated assault by al Qaeda-linked extremists.

Last week, ABC News unearthed a May 3 memo telling the U.S. Embassy in Tripoli that Mr. Kennedy had turned down a request to keep a DC-3 aircraft in Libya to ferry arms and diplomatic security forces in a security support team around the country.

"Undersecretary for Management has determined that support for Embassy Tripoli using the DC3 will be terminated," the email said. "Post's request to continue use of the plane in support of the [security support team] was considered."

Col. Wood also is slated to testify Wednesday before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

Rep. Darrell E. Issa, California Republican and committee chairman, has sent a letter to the State Department listing 16 attacks on Western targets in Libya before the fatal consulate assault.

A committee spokesman told ABC News that the May 3 email "is consistent with what the oversight committee has been told by individuals who worked in Libya."

"Ambassador Stevens and the diplomatic mission in Libya made multiple security-related requests that were turned down by Washington-based officials. Security-related transportation has been identified as one of the particular items where embassy personnel did not receive the support they sought," the spokesman said.

At the State Department briefing Tuesday, The Times asked spokeswoman Victoria Nuland what role Mr. Kennedy has played in putting together the accountability review board.

"It's the secretary's ultimate decision. He may well play a role, or his — the person in his position may suggest individuals, but it's the secretary's decision who to nominate on the State side," Mrs. Nuland said.

Guy Taylor contributed to this report.

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