By Jill Dougherty and Elise Labott
The State Department's top security official in Libya asked for extra security for the consulate in Benghazi in the months before the diplomatic post was overrun in a deadly attack but received no response from superiors, according to documents obtained by CNN.
The disclosure comes ahead of a congressional hearing on Wednesday on the armed assault that killed Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans on September 11. U.S. intelligence believes the incident was a terrorist act.
Eric Nordstrom, the regional security officer in Libya until this past July, had conveyed concerns about the Libyan government's ability overall to protect American diplomatic facilities.
Moreover, he sent two cables to State Department headquarters last March and again in July requesting additional security agents for the Benghazi post, but did not receive any response, according to a summary of his interview with House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Democrats that was obtained by CNN.
The Republican-led panel's hearing will be the first on the attack.
Nordstrom told the committee that Deputy Assistant Secretary Charlene Lamb wanted to keep the number of U.S. security personnel in Benghazi "artificially low." Nordstrom said she generally believed that extra security was unnecessary because there was a residential safe haven to fall back on in an emergency, according to the summary.
She thought the "best course of action was to assign three agents" to the Benghazi post, the summary quoted Nordstrom as saying.
Nordstrom said the facility usually had three or four agents. But he also told the committee that Undersecretary of State for Management Patrick Kennedy issued a memo last December requiring five agents be assigned to Benghazi.
Senior State Department officials have said security personnel in Benghazi were outmanned and outgunned during the attack and that no reasonable security presence could have successfully fended it off.
"The lethality and the number of armed people is unprecedented. There had been no attacks like that anywhere in Libya - Tripoli, Benghazi or anywhere - in the time that we had been there. And so it is unprecedented, in fact, it would be very, very hard to find precedent for an attack like in recent diplomatic history," a senior agency official said.
The Oversight Committee hearing has been criticized by Democrats as election-year political grandstanding rather than a serious effort to find answers about the attack.
Nordstrom, Lamb, Kennedy, and Army Lt. Col Andrew Wood, commander of a security support team in Tripoli, are expected to testify at the hearing.
Nordstrom also described in an email a list of specific security incidents that occurred in Libya from June 2011 to June 2012.
The email and the list of incidents provided to CNN by the Oversight Committee outlines examples common to conflict zones - like carjackings and grenade attacks - to more serious cases that include assassinations and an attack on the motorcade of the British ambassador.
The document describes a general increase in crime in Tripoli, the large numbers of armed civilians, clashes between rival militias, widespread unemployment, random violence and revenge killings.
One incident refers to a June 6, 2012, bomb attack on the consulate in Benghazi and notes that an al Qaeda-affiliated group had claimed credit.
The list concludes that "the risk of U.S. mission personnel, private U.S. citizens, and businesspersons encountering an isolating event as a result of militia or political violence is 'HIGH.' 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."
Democratic staff allege that Oversight Chairman Darrell Issa and his staff have failed to consult them, refused to make witness available to Democratic staff and withheld documents.
Democrats also assert that Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), chairman of the Oversight panel's security, homeland and foreign operations subcommittee, effectively excluded them from joining his delegation on a trip to Libya last weekend. But Chaffetz denied that was the case.