In December of 2011, Washington set a timeline for Libyan diplomatic security to "normalize” to a smaller force, which they completed August 5, 2012. The downgrade of security forces came even though the facility in Benghazi did not meet the minimum physical security standards for an outpost in Western Europe, much less an outpost in war-torn Libya. Based on conditions on the ground, multiple times during the spring and summer of 2012, the security team in Libya requested that their force not be reduced. But, their request was denied, and the additional security force was eliminated.
Last week, I joined my colleagues in questioning a panel of military and State Department witnesses to investigate the security failures surrounding the September 11 attack. I planned to question Charlene Lamb, the deputy assistant secretary of State for International Programs of the Bureau of Diplomatic Security, on the reason for the lack of security at the facility, despite clear indications terrorist threats were increasing in frequency and intensity. But, as I listened to the testimony, I was struck by the obvious inconsistencies on the timeline for that horrific day.
Ms. Lamb detailed in her written and oral testimony the events of that evening beginning with a 9:40 p.m. (Libyan time) call to the State Department’s command center, where she tracked the attack of around two dozen heavily armed men, "almost in real time." After our brave Diplomatic Security fought through the night and finally evacuated around 4 a.m. the next day with our fallen and the injured, they reported in from Tripoli to the State Department the events of that horrific night.
There were only brief moments when we lost contact with our security forces on the ground throughout the ordeal and in the days that followed. But, even after the injured and fallen returned to the United States on September 14, the administration continued to publicly propagate the story that this was a spontaneous protest gone wrong, not a highly organized terrorist attack.
Either no one talked to Charlene Lamb, no one from State Department spoke with any survivor or all of the survivors were simultaneously struck with group amnesia. Barring any of the above, multiple people in the Administration must have known the facts surrounding the attack when Jay Carney spoke to the press September 14, or the morning Ambassador Susan Rice spoke to the networks on September 16, or when President Obama told David Letterman that it was a result of "the offensive video" on September 18.
All of this begs the question: why hide the truth from the American people? We have faced the harsh realities of terrorism before as a nation. We understand that some people around the world profoundly hate our values, our freedom and our culture.
The State Department was forthcoming in the past week with briefings, committee-staff access to documents, requested witnesses and practical cooperation with the investigation (a far cry from the recalcitrant response of the attorney general's office after the botched Fast and Furious program). In the days ahead, more facts will come to light. A set of recommendations may be needed to address embassy security, similar to the congressional response after the East Africa attacks in 1998. It is fair to assume a certain amount of confusion after the attack, but there is absolutely no plausible reason eight days after the attack the administration’s story would still center around non-existent street protests and an obscure YouTube video. The real facts will come out in time, they always do.
Lankford is a member of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.