Congressman Mike Turner, a senior member of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, submitted the following statement for the record today as the Committee began its hearing: “The Security Failures of Benghazi.”
House Oversight and Government Reform Hearing: “The Security Failures in Benghazi”
I would like to thank Chairman Issa for holding this important hearing to investigate the events surrounding the September 11th attack on the United States consulate in Benghazi that led to the murder of Ambassador Stevens and a number of embassy staff. The attack was performed on the anniversary of the worst terrorist attack in our nation’s history and is the first time a U.S ambassador has been killed since Adolf Dubs, the former ambassador to Afghanistan, was murdered in 1979. It is a stark reminder that terrorist groups continue to actively plan attacks against the United States and will exploit any opportunity when our guard is down.
The concern for terrorist activity has been particularly prevalent in Libya, which has a history of harboring known terrorist groups and top leaders of terrorist activity against the United States. Libya is reported to be the source of numerous terrorist training grounds and has produced such top ranked Al Qaeda commanders as Abu Yahya Al Libi.
Anti-American sentiment is a prevalent theme in the region and requires a careful diplomatic and military strategic engagement plan to ensure the promotion of a healthy democratic state. Achieving this goal places a great onus on the American diplomats and field agents operating in these dangerous environments, and our government has a responsibility to enact and adhere to safety policies that protect the lives of our agents. However, in the case of the September 11th attacks in Benghazi, it appears that State Department officials not only ignored security policies but, on numerous occasions, directed their agents not to file reports that would trigger the very safety measures that could have prevented the tragic loss of life.
Witnesses at today’s hearing, including the Regional Security Officer (RSO) of the U.S. Mission in Libya, Eric Nordstrom, shared with the committee evidence to suggest that the State Department intentionally kept the number of security agents assigned to Libya artificially low in order to give the appearance that the situation in Libya had “normalized.” This conclusion is consistent with an internal Embassy document from February 2012 that refers to an effort underway to “transition from emergency to normalized security operations,” including the “transition to a more locally based security team.”
It appears that the State Department’s goal to achieve this false perception took priority over the safety of the Ambassador and embassy staff. Evidence collected by the committee paints a chaotic and violent picture of Libya that starkly contrasts the “normalized” environment the State Department intended to project. According to this information, in the 13 month period preceding Ambassador Stevens’ death, the Embassy’s RSO, Mr. Nordstrom, reported over 230 security incidents in Libya and made numerous requests for additional security personnel. These incidents included IED attacks, kidnappings and gun battles. Despite these circumstances and repeated embassy requests for additional security personnel, the State Department systemically reduced security forces to dangerously low levels.
The evidence provided to the committee raises serious questions as about the Administration’s policy in Libya and whether their strategic plan places a premium on promoting a false perception of the region at the expense of American citizens. However, there are many reasons to believe that the situation in Libya is disintegrating. The country remains dangerously splintered and infested with extremist groups.
Authorities in Egypt, Niger, Algeria, Israel, and Tunisia, have repeatedly expressed concerns about weapons smuggling across their borders and into the hands of terrorist groups. These weapons could include the innumerous shoulder fired anti-aircraft missiles (MANPADS) that are known to exist in Libya. While it is estimated that Gadafi had an estimated 20,000 MANPADS before the collapse of his regime, only 5,000 have been recovered. These weapon systems pose a real threat to the United States military and civilian aircraft, and our inability to account for them in this extreme, terrorist diaspora is reason for great concern. Of equal concern is the Administration’s apparent attempt to hide these realities from the American public despite the grave threat they pose.
If September 11th, 2012 and September 11th, 2001 have demonstrated anything, it is that the terrorist threat to our nation is real and we cannot let down our guard. Our government has a constitutional responsibility to protect its citizens and must adopt policies that achieve that end. I hope this hearing will aid in ensuring that safety of American’s at home and abroad and will influence a policy shift that better serves that objective.