- U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens repeatedly pleaded with the State Department for additional security personnel
- Republicans say the Obama administration denied the request for political reasons
- The White House says it had no role in procuring security detail for Stevens
PUBLISHED:10:01 EST, 19 October 2012| UPDATED:12:49 EST, 20 October 2012
American drones were in the skies above the U.S. consulate in Benghazi as the deadly attack that killed ambassador Christopher Stevens unfolded, it has been revealed.
Defense department officials considered sending troops in to rescue the ambassador and staff, according to CBS News, but ultimately decided not to .
They would haven been able to watch the attack on-screen as it unfolded.
The revalations came a day after it emerged that U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens repeatedly pleaded with the State Department to ramp up his security team in Libya — requests that the Pentagon ultimately denied — in the weeks, days and hours leading up to the terrorist attack that killed him and three other Americans, newly released cables have revealed.
Stevens, who was killed in the 11 September attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, warned the State Department of a ‘security vacuum’ in Libya ‘that is being exploited by independent actors’ in one cable that described rapidly deteriorating security conditions.
‘Islamic extremists are able to attack the Red Cross with impunity,’ he wrote. ‘What we have seen are not random crimes of opportunity but rather targeted discriminate attacks.’
Stevens said the attackers would not be deterred ‘until authorities are at least as capable.’
Just hours before his death, he sent the Pentagon a cable describing ‘expanding Islamist influence in Dema,’ a town east of Benghazi, and said he was seeing a ‘troubling increase in violence and Islamist influence.’
Stevens recapped a meeting in which the commander of Benghazi’s Supreme Security Council told him there is ‘growing frustration with police and security forces.’
The cables were released by Republican Rep. Darrell Issa of California, the chairman of the U.S. House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, which is investigating the security matters surrounding Stevens’ death and questioning whether the State Department could have prevented the deadly attack.
Less than three weeks ahead of the presidential election, Republicans are using the cables to attack President Obama on his foreign policy, despite the State Department’s claim that it was solely responsible for the decisions to deny Stevens’ requests for more security in Libya.
‘These critical foreign policy decisions are not made by low or mid-level career officials — they are typically made through a structured and well-reasoned process that includes the National Security Council and the White House,’ Issa wrote in a letter to Obama on Friday.
The letter claims that Obama had a political motivation in rejecting Stevens’ security requests, since the president was eager to show improving conditions in Libya after the U.S.-led international operation that toppled Libya dictator Moamar Gadhafi.
On Aug. 2, six weeks before Stevens was killed, he requested ‘protective detail bodyguard’ positions, calling the security situation in Libya ‘unpredictable, volatile and violent.’
A month earlier, he requested that the State Department extend his tour of duty personnel, which is a 16-man temporary security team trained in combating terrorism. The request was denied and the security team left 8 August.
Stevens had asked for the security team to stay through mid-September.
Colonel Andrew Wood, the leader of the security team that left Libya in the weeks before the terror attack, told CBS News that Stevens fought hard against losing the team.
‘It was quite a degree of frustration on their part,’ he said. ‘They were — I guess you could say — clenched-fist over the whole issue.
The White House maintained publicly for a week that the attack on the U.S. consulate in Libya was a spontaneous mob upset about an anti-Islam video, even though it has now been revealed that they were informed within 24 hours of the attack that it was planned and carried out by militants.
‘Your administration has not been straightforward with the American people in the aftermath of the attack,’ Issa wrote in his letter to Obama.
In his Rose Garden address the morning after the killings, Obama said, ‘No acts of terror will ever shake the resolve of this great nation, alter that character or eclipse the light of the values that we stand for.’
But Republicans say he was speaking generally and didn’t specifically call the Benghazi attack a terror attack until weeks later, with the president and other key members of his administration referring at first to the anti-Muslim movie circulating on the Internet as a precipitating event.
Last week, the State Department said that it never believed the 11 September attack on the U.S. consulate was the result of a protest over an anti-Islam movie, contradicting previous statements.
The White House now says the attack probably was carried out by an al Qaida-linked group, with no public demonstration beforehand. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton blamed the ‘fog of war’ for the early conflicting accounts.
Issa’s committee questioned State Department officials for hours about what Republican lawmakers said was lax security at the consulate, given the growth of extremist Islamic militants in North Africa.
Congressional aides are hoping to use Stevens’ cables and information from State Department testimonies to build a timeline of what the intelligence community knew, compared to what the White House was telling the public about the attack. That could give Romney ammunition to use in his foreign policy debate with Obama on Monday night.
Reports have revealed that the CIA station chief in Libya compiled an intelligence briefing from eyewitnesses within 24 hours of the assault on the consulate that indicated militants launched the violence.
The briefing from the station chief was written late Wednesday, 12 September and reached intelligence agencies in Washington the next day, intelligence officials said.
Yet on Saturday of that week, briefing points sent by the CIA to Congress said ‘demonstrations in Benghazi were spontaneously inspired by the protests at the U.S. Embassy in Cairo and evolved into a direct assault.’
The briefing points, obtained by the AP, added: ‘There are indications that extremists participated in the violent demonstrations’ but did not mention eyewitness accounts that blamed militants alone.
Such raw intelligence reports by the CIA on the ground would normally be sent first to analysts at the headquarters in Langley, Virginia, for vetting and comparing against other intelligence derived from eavesdropping drones and satellite images.
Only then would such intelligence generally be shared with the White House and later, Congress, a process that can take hours, or days if the intelligence is coming only from one or two sources who may or may not be trusted.
U.S. intelligence officials say in this case the delay was due in part to the time it took to analyze various conflicting accounts.
One official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to discuss the incident publicly, explained that ‘it was clear a group of people gathered that evening’ in Benghazi, but that the early question was ‘whether extremists took over a crowd or they were the crowd.’
But that explanation has been met with concern in Congress.
‘The early sense from the intelligence community differs from what we are hearing now,’ Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff said. ‘It ended up being pretty far afield, so we want to figure out why … though we don’t want to deter the intelligence community from sharing their best first impressions’ after such events in the future.
‘The intelligence briefings we got a week to 10 days after were consistent with what the administration was saying,’said Rep. William Thornberry, a member of the House Intelligence and Armed Services committees.
Thornberry would not confirm the existence of the early CIA report but voiced skepticism over how sure intelligence officials, including CIA Director David Petraeus, seemed of their original account when they briefed lawmakers on Capitol Hill.
‘How could they be so certain immediately after such events, I just don’t know,’he said. ‘That raises suspicions that there was political motivation.
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