October 10th, 2012
04:43 PM ET

State Department defends U.S. response to consulate attack in Libya

At a contentious congressional hearing Wednesday, two State Department officials defended the Obama administration's handling of the terrorist attack in Libya that killed U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans on the 11th anniversary of 9/11.

Speaking before the Republican-controlled House Oversight Committee, Under Secretary of State for Management Patrick Kennedy responded to insinuations that the State Department was responsible for a lack of preparedness ahead of the Benghazi consulate attack.

"We regularly assess risk and resource allocation, a process involving the considered judgments of experienced professionals on the ground and in Washington, using the best available information," Kennedy said.

The assault on the U.S. compound was "an unprecedented attack by dozens of heavily armed men," Kennedy said.

His colleague, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for International Programs Charlene Lamb, added that the state department "had the correct number of assets in Benghazi at the time," drawing a sharp rebuke from committee chairman Rep. Darrell Issa, R-California.

"To start off by saying you had the correct number, and our ambassador and three other individuals are dead, and people are in the hospital recovering because it only took moments to breach that facility somehow doesn't seem to ring true to the American people," Issa said.

Republican committee members and the State Department officials went back and forth about the appropriate number of people needed to provide security at the vulnerable Benghazi location.

Various communications dating back nearly a year asked for anywhere from three to five diplomatic security special agents. Regional Security Officer Eric Nordstrom, who was stationed in Libya before the attacks, referenced one July cable asking for a minimum of three, but added that the State Department committed to five, and he never had the opportunity to comment on that number.

Five special agents were in Benghazi at the time of the attack, Issa said. But two of them happened to be there only because they had traveled with Stevens from Tripoli, Lamb said.

"The post had agreed that three was a sufficient number to have on the ground." Lamb said.

But Lt. Col. Andrew Wood, a Utah National Guardsman who was a site security commander in Libya from February through August, testified that the regional security officer - it was unclear if he was talking about Nordstrom - tried to obtain additional personnel, but "was never able to attain the numbers he felt comfortable with."

"The security in Benghazi was a struggle and remained a struggle throughout my time there," Wood said. "Diplomatic security remained weak. In April, there was only one U.S. diplomatic security agent there."

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