Sen. Graham demands answers on prior attacks on US Consulate in Libya

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) is demanding to know why security measures at the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, were not increased after two previous attacks against the diplomatic outpost earlier this year. 

In separate letters sent to President Obama, CIA Director David Petraeus, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, White House counterterrorism czar John Brennan and National Security Adviser Tom Donilon on Tuesday, Graham identified earlier attacks at the consulate in Benghazi.

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The strikes took place roughly three months before the deadly Sept. 11 assault on the compound that ended with four Americans dead, including Ambassador Christopher Stevens.

Unknown "assailants" planted bombs at the consulate in April and June, with the bomb in June blowing a hole in the facility's outer defenses "big enough for forty men to go through," Graham wrote. 

In the letters, Graham pressed the intelligence chiefs on whether they had informed the White House about those attacks. 

"If so, what action was taken to protect our Consulate? If you did not inform the President, why not?” the South Carolina Republican asked. 

If the administration was informed about the attacks, Graham wants the White House to explain what security measures were put into place to prevent such strikes from happening again.

The letter is the latest move from congressional Republicans pressuring the administration to provide more answers about the September strike in Benghazi.

However, Graham's letter on Tuesday is the first request to mention specific attacks against the consulate prior to the Sept. 11 assault.

The letter follows Secretary of State Hillary Clinton taking the blame for the apparent security gaps at the consulate in the run-up to the attack. 

“I take responsibility,” Clinton told CNN’s Elise Labott on Monday night.

Clinton added that she didn’t want the investigation to be mired in a political blame game so close to the election. "I want to avoid some kind of political gotcha," she said.

The State Department and White House have been under intense scrutiny over security measures at the consulate, ever since administration officials initially claimed the attack was the result of an anti-American protest that spun out of control. 

Earlier this month, Graham one of four GOP lawmakers who sent letters to the intelligence community requesting information on the Benghazi raid that left Stevens and others dead. 

Specifically, the senators wanted information on whether any intelligence on potential threats to the Benghazi facility had been available to the Pentagon or State Department prior to the deadly assault.

The lawmakers also want details on the analysis that led White House officials initially to determine the raid was the result of a protest and not a terrorist attack.

U.S. defense and intelligence officials have since acknowledged the strike was a well-coordinated terrorist attack by militants. 

For their part, the Pentagon and the State and Justice departments are launching an overall review of the security situation in Libya prior to the final attack.

Defense Department officials are assembling a team of experts to participate in the interagency review, Pentagon press secretary George Little said last Tuesday.

"We're forming a team of experts who will look into this over the coming months," Little told reporters at the Pentagon. "It's important that we get to the facts here."

Lt. Col. Andy Wood, the former head of a special forces "site security team," testified before Congress last Wednesday that Stevens and other U.S. Embassy officials in Tripoli wanted his security team to remain in Libya and continue providing protection.

“You know what’s the most frustrating [thing] about this assignment. ... It’s dealing and fighting against the people, programmers, and personnel who are supposed to be supporting me,” he told members of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

“For me, the Taliban is on the inside of the building," he added.

American special operations forces have been sent to Libya and neighboring countries, collecting intelligence on terror cells tied to the Sept. 11 raid.

The Pentagon's elite Joint Special Operations Command, in conjunction with the CIA and other U.S. intelligence agencies, is assembling "target packages" on suspected militants associated with the attack.

That work is part of a White House counterstrike plan being drafted to target those responsible for the assault. 

Counterstrike operations could run the gamut from armed drone strikes to covert kill or capture raids similar to the Osama bin Laden mission in Abottabad, Pakistan, that ended with the al Qaeda leader's death.

The Pentagon has already deployed two Arleigh Burke-class destroyers, the USS Laboon and USS McFaul, armed with Tomahawk cruise missiles to the coastal waters near Libya.

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