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Official says he sought more security at U.S. Consulate in Libya

Eric Nordstrom tells Congress he got no reply from the State Department to his concern about the dangers in Benghazi, where 4 Americans were killed.

October 09, 2012|By Ken Dilanian, Los Angeles Times
  • The U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, was attacked and set afire on Sept. 11.
The U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, was attacked and set afire on Sept.… (Mustafa el Shridi / European…)

WASHINGTON — A State Department officer who worked in Libya has told congressional investigators that he requested more security for the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi months before it came under terrorist attack but that he received no reply from Washington, according to documents and interviews.

Eric Nordstrom, a regional security official at the U.S. Embassy in Tripoli until July, told investigators that he sent two cables to the State Department in March and July and asked that more diplomatic security agents be assigned to the lightly guarded compound in Benghazi.

Nordstrom said he received no response. He said the State Department was seeking to replace most U.S. security officers in Libya with a local guard force after the armed uprising that toppled and killed longtime ruler Moammar Kadafi last year.

Nordstrom is scheduled to testify Wednesday before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. The panel is investigating security before and during the attack that killed U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other Americans on Sept. 11 at the diplomatic mission in Benghazi.

The anti-American violence, and a shifting response from the Obama administration, has put the White House on the defensive at the height of the presidential race.

"There was a clear disconnect between what security officials on the ground felt they needed and what officials in Washington would approve," the committee chairman, Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Vista), said in a statement. "Reports that senior State Department officials told security personnel in Libya to not even make certain security requests are especially troubling."

Also scheduled to testify is Lt. Col. Andrew Wood, a former Army Green Beret who was part of a special embassy security team in Libya. Wood told CBS News that he met daily with Stevens and that the ambassador was worried about potential risks in the postwar turmoil.

Wood said he and Stevens raised the issue with Washington but that there was "pressure to reduce the number of security people there."

Wood said his 16 team members and a separate six-member State Department security force were withdrawn from Tripoli in August.

"I felt like we were being asked to play the piano with two fingers," Wood said. "There was concern among the entire embassy staff.... We felt we needed more, not less."

Nordstrom made a similar argument in an embassy report in July.

"The risk of U.S. Mission personnel, private U.S. citizens and business persons encountering an isolating event as a result of militia or political violence is HIGH," he wrote. "The Government of Libya does not yet have the ability to effectively respond to and manage the rising criminal and militia related violence, which could result in an isolating event."

The report outlines 230 "security incidents" in Libya between June 2011 and July 2012, including a June 6 attack involving a small bomb outside the facility in Benghazi. An Al Qaeda-affiliated group claimed responsibility for that incident.

"Local officials remain concerned with the chaos and radicalization that could result from protracted civil conflict in Libya," Nordstrom's report said. "Neighboring countries fear extremist groups who could take advantage of the political violence and chaos should Libya become a failed state."

State Department officials have said they reviewed the security arrangements in Libya before the September attack and believed that they were adequate. An accountability review board, headed by veteran diplomat Thomas Pickering, is now examining the matter.

ken.dilanian@latimes.com

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