The State Department document dump of declassified cables expands on the testimony of Regional Security Officer Eric Nordstrom with emails and communiques tracing a deteriorating security situation in Benghazi. The emails make it clear once again that the danger that the consulate was in and its lack of security was well known and what happened could come as no surprise to anyone.
In his emails, Nordstrom describes being put into a difficult position, caught between Ambassador Stevens’ determination to maintain a presence in Benghazi and the refusal of the State Department to provide adequate security.
In one email, Nordstrom dismissed a proposal to take a Congressional delegation to a prison or refugee camp in Benghazi. He also stated that the UK, despite making cutbacks in its diplomatic service, had a 5 person team assigned to just their head of mission. Meanwhile he described having to get by with only 2 agents for the entire facility.
Other emails sent out by Shawn P. Crowley repeated the same warnings that the Benghazi mission was down to two agents and forced to function as a bunker with no possibility of leaving the compound. Meanwhile the State Department appeared to be stripping away the consulate’s security, pulling some of its armored vehicles to support operations in Tripoli.
While the State Department’s budget had increased nearly fivefold under Obama, much of it was not going to diplomatic security, but to various Muslim outreach efforts.
Furthermore the Libyan government was doing its best to obstruct the US diplomatic presence by making visas as hard to obtain as possible. That limited the number of security personnel who could be assigned there. While the Obama Administration could have easily applied pressure to end the visa problems, clearly that was not a priority for Hillary Clinton or any of the higher ups in the State Department. Indeed even after the attack, visas remained a problem and kept the FBI investigators who were supposed to investigate the attack out of the country for weeks.
In one email, Nordstrom bluntly asks if there’s a plan for the closure of the Benghazi consulate or “will we be at this level for some time.” We already know the answer to that.
Nordstrom’s memorandum on the crime situation was relentlessly bleak, discouraging Americans from visiting and warning that crime of all kinds was ubiquitous. Under Regional Terrorism and Organized Crime he warned of the proliferation of Islamist militias and of the likelihood that Al Qaeda would exploit the situation. Roving militias and gangs, his report states, possess military grade automatic weapons and RPGs, AA weapons and vehicle mounted, crew-served machine guns.
US diplomatic vehicles were repeatedly vandalized, damaged and stolen. Firefights took place outside the consulate and on one occasion, an armed gang attempted to break into the consulate’s warehouse.
The Libyan police are described as “unprofessional, ill-trained, generally inept, susceptible to bribery… unresponsive to alarms and investigation of incidents in (diplomatic) Post official neighborhoods.”
A June cable discussed the growing number of attacks against Western interests “limited to the east” carried out due to “religious extremism, xenophobia and power politics.” It focused in on an earlier attack on Benghazi, along with two other attacks on non-US diplomatic facilities, by a brigade dedicated to freeing the Blind Sheik behind the original World Trade Center attack.
An August bulletin titled, “The Guns of August” claimed that Islamist militias were able to attack the Red Cross with impunity. By September 4, seven days before the attack, another informational bulletin put together by Eric V. Gaudiosi wrote that Libyan authorities had issued a state of Maximum Alert for Benghazi on an immediate and indefinite basis after multiple attacks had taken place, including a car bombing.
The next attack would come seven days later and clear out the Benghazi consulate for good.