October 5th, 2012
04:14 PM ET

State Dept. denied plane request for security team in Libya

By Jamie Crawford and Jill Dougherty

The State Department earlier this year denied a request by the security team at the U.S. Embassy in Libya for continued use of a plane for security personnel and diplomatic business, according to an internal State Department email provided to CNN.

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While the presence of the plane in Libya would not have stopped the deadly September 11 attack on the American consulate in Benghazi, questions are emerging over whether the agency properly heeded security concerns and requests like this one from their diplomats in Libya.

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The email, provided to CNN by a U.S. government source, was signed by Miki Rankin of the Near East Bureau (NEA), which oversees State Department operations in the Middle East and North Africa. Ambassador Christopher Stevens, who was killed along with three other Americans in what U.S. intelligence believes was a terrorist assault on the Benghazi post, is copied on the May 3 email.
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The email was first reported by ABC News on Friday.

In the message, Rankin tells Stevens and other officials whose names were redacted, that Patrick Kennedy, under secretary for management, "has determined that support for Embassy Tripoli using the DC-3 will be terminated immediately."

The State Department considered the request of the Security Support Team at the embassy, however "it was decided that, if needed, NEA will charter a special flight for their final departure."

Security support teams are U.S. Special Forces deployed to high threat areas to protect American diplomats. The State Department works in cooperation with the Defense Department to determine deployments.

When asked about the denial spelled out in the email, the State Department said the decision was not extraordinary.

"This is a very common practice in places where there's no commercial airline service," Deputy State Department spokesman Mark Toner told reporters on Friday. "When commercial service was subsequently established, we then moved that asset back to other State Department business."

But he said the agency essentially uses its aircraft when there are no commercial flights available.

Toner said the aircraft had been moved to Libya from Iraq.

A senior administration official told CNN that a chartered aircraft was delivered to assist with the evacuation of American personnel on the evening of the Benghazi attack.

"So [the] assertion that it affected our real-time response doesn't really ring true," the official told CNN.

CNN reported previously that security at the diplomatic mission was enhanced due to concerns prompted by previous incidents in Benghazi.

After a U.N. convoy was attacked in Benghazi last April, a small team of U.S. Special Forces commandos was sent to the consulate to assess security, an Obama administration official told CNN's Barbara Starr last week.

The U.S. military team recommended a number of changes that included sandbag reinforcement of guard positions at the site. They also conducted training for local Libyan security personnel.

Analysts who follow the situation said the aircraft denial by the State Department likely springs from tension between a finite level of resources and budgetary constraints around the globe.

"It looks like someone made a funding decision just based on what I can read into this," Fred Burton, a former diplomatic security agent with the State Department, told CNN.

"At the end of the day, people don't like to realize this but it is a fact of life," Burton, now with Stratfor, a security research firm, said. "There are operational costs to these kinds of protection requirements that nobody really cares about until there is tragedy, and then someone says why wasn't there a plane there? Maybe at that moment in time they couldn't afford to have it there."

Such planes add to the operational capabilities for diplomatic missions. In the early days of the revolution that overthrew Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi, the planes were used to fly in cash from neighboring Tunisia to pay U.S. embassy staff in the absence of a formal banking structure in Libya.

Members of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee sent a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton earlier this week outlining 13 instances in the six months prior to the Benghazi attack that represented a "clear pattern of security threats" that justified increased security for U.S. personnel and facilities there, the letter said.

Clinton pledged full cooperation with committee's investigation. The Oversight panel is scheduled to hear from two State Department officials involved with security in Libya at a hearing next week.

Separately, the State Department has launched a review board led by former Ambassador Thomas Pickering to investigate the attack. The board has 90 days to deliver its findings to Congress.

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  12. Netmonger

    "While the presence of the plane in Libya would not have stopped the deadly September 11 attack on the American consulate in Benghaz" Then why the hell bother publishing this bit of news at all? All this does is fuel the fire of lunatics who desperately want something to criticize first Obama, and now that he won the election, Hilliary Clinton. Was it a mistake? Yes. The diplomats should of had more support. Was it incompetence? No. How many DEA agents were killed last year in duty? How many FBI agents were killed last year in duty? Wheres the outrage at that? 4489 serviceman killed in Iraq over utter nonsense - where is the Republican outrage at that?!?

    May 9, 2013 at 1:11 pm | Reply
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    October 16, 2012 at 4:25 pm | Reply
  14. liz

    If we can't afford to have an aircraft there-we can't afford to be there.

    October 7, 2012 at 8:10 am | Reply
    • Netmonger

      Too true!!

      May 9, 2013 at 1:12 pm | Reply
  15. wagnertinatlanta

    The aircraft the State Department denied to the Libyan Embassy was a DC-3. The last DC-3 was built in 1942, the last miiltary equivalent, the C-47, in 1945. Either way, the surviving planes are nearly 70 years old. Very few remain in regular service. If these geriatric crates are the best the State Department has, God help our diplomats. Washington may as well issue them roller skates and tell them in case of trouble, make for the nearest border.

    October 5, 2012 at 10:00 pm | Reply
  16. CaliforniaGirl

    Did it ever occur to the Obama's adminstration that it was the anniversary of 911? What incompetents! Their incompetency makes all the more sense when we saw the emperor with his clothes off in the debate. Who is running this country! Give us a leader!

    October 5, 2012 at 8:21 pm | Reply
    • luvUamerica

      Trust me, Obama is a lot better than any republicans out there. most are plain dufus. Romney cannot stop lying. He is another George Bush. Will most likely lie to get us into another war!!

      October 6, 2012 at 6:01 pm | Reply
  17. Pete

    How would an airplane have helped avert this tragedy? Oh yeah, it wouldn't have. This entire line of inquiry is completely irrelevant. It's tragic that the ambassador died, but Libya is a dangerous place right now and it's never possible to be 100% safe

    October 5, 2012 at 7:04 pm | Reply
  18. Ding

    For the life of me I can't understand why CNN and every other news agency isn't drilling down for the facts in this terrible tragedy. It's preposterous to me that with kernels of evidence that seems to lead to this situation as a complete and utter foreign relations catastrophe where American diplomats were murdered that this isn't worthy of assigning a news-SWAT team on the story.

    October 5, 2012 at 6:43 pm | Reply
  19. freedom

    This horrific tragedy could have been prevented, and in the aftermath, has been handled by this administration with the utmost of disrespect and disgrace – mainly to the maimed victims, but also to the citizens of this country. The fact that Obama was at a rally in Las Vegas the very night that the Ambassador was murdered is unconscionable and nauseating. And then – the lies to the American people and the families of the victims. Our national security is at risk. We need new leaders now!

    October 5, 2012 at 5:39 pm | Reply
    • robertsgt40

      You're right. This could have been avoided...by minding our own business.

      October 5, 2012 at 7:29 pm | Reply

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