State Dept. to take hot seat over Libya security

In this photo taken April 11, 2011, then U.S. envoy Chris Stevens attends meetings at the Tibesty Hotel where an African Union delegation was meeting with opposition leaders in Benghazi, Libya. AP Photo/Ben Curtis

Updated at 4:19 p.m. ET

WASHINGTON The first Congressional hearing to focus on the fatal attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi will be held by the House Oversight Committee this Wednesday. Under Secretary of State for Management Patrick Kennedy will be the most senior U.S. official to testify before Congress's highest ranking investigative body.

He will appear at the State Department's behest alongside two individuals who were specifically requested by the Committee; Deputy Assistant Director for International Programs Charlene Lamb, and Eric Nordstrom, the former State Department Regional Security Officer for Libya. All three have been asked to testify by the Committee which is chaired by Representative Darrell Issa (R-Calif.).

Congress will begin to piece together the timeline of events that led up to the Sept. 11 attack on the U.S. mission, which left U.S. Ambassador to Libya Christopher Stevens and three other American personnel dead. The testimony by  Kennedy will be the first direct rebuttal of recent allegations made by House Oversight Committee Chairman Issa and other officials that the State Department ignored and denied requests for additional security in Libya.

The most recent accusations come from Lt. Col. Andy Wood, the former head of a U.S. Special Forces "Site Security Team" in Libya, who tells CBS News correspondent Sharyl Attkisson he and many other senior staff at the U.S. Embassy in Tripoli, "felt we needed more, not less" security personnel in the country, but were told "to do with less. For what reasons, I don't know."

State Department officials tell CBS News that Wood was not part of the security assessment in Benghazi and that he was stationed in Tripoli, and thus unfamiliar with the local situation in the east of the country. Wood, however, says some of the members of his own team and additional personnel from the State Department's elite security detail - two teams which left Libya in August - would have traveled to Benghazi with Ambassador Stevens had they still been in the country. He did not say how many additional security agents might have been deployed for the Ambassador's trip to the city, but he tells Attkisson that he has wondered if it might have made a difference on the night of the attack.

A key question that lawmakers will ask is whether the U.S. mission in Benghazi should even have been allowed to exist in a country where the central government does not have full control over internal security. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has addressed the security in Benghazi only twice in public remarks. When asked by CBS News whether the consulate had adequate security levels at the time of the attack, the secretary described the security detail as "robust."

She detailed the external security as consisting of a wall, and "a unit of host government security forces, as well as a local guard force."

While that description appears to be technically correct, media organizations including CBS News have reported that the host government security forces were not the typical government-provided army or presidential guard. Instead, the force in Libya was made up of members of a local militia known as the 17th of February Brigade. The relatively new, untested Libyan government entrusted security to the Brigade, and a handful of others like it in Benghazi, as the Qaddafi-era military and intelligence services had been disbanded and the well-armed groups had become the de facto police forces in the region.

In addition to the local militia, State contracted additional security services from a British firm called Blue Mountain, which employed Libyans to conduct procedural security measures inside the compound, including x-rays of equipment.

CBS News has learned that five Diplomatic Security agents were present at the Benghazi compound during the night of the attack. That included two agents who traveled with the Ambassador and three who were based in Benghazi. A State Department official tells CBS News that those numbers are "consistent" with the number of agents that were being requested by the mission leading up to the Sept 11, 2012 attack.

What remains unclear is how the five Diplomatic Security agents all became separated from Ambassador Stevens during the attack. A preliminary report shown to a senior government official suggests that some of the agents left the ambassador inside the compound in order to get heavier weaponry instead of the light arms that they were carrying.

The State Department has remained tight-lipped about what happened in Benghazi during the three weeks since the attack on the consulate, and has continued to cite the threat assessment conducted by the Director of National Intelligence which stated that there was, "no actionable intelligence that an attack on our post in Benghazi was planned or imminent."

The department says that it will not officially comment until the investigation conducted by the Accountability Review Board (ARB) is complete. The panel has met twice so far. In the interim, certain diplomatic security agents and other federal officials have come forward with accounts of requests for additional security that they claim were denied, including Lt. Col. Woods' assertions that he and Ambassador Stevens directly requested additional personnel to no avail.

A senior State Department official confirmed to CBS News that there were attacks in the Benghazi area in the months leading up to the Sept. 11 attack, but the official says six of those incidents - about half of those CBS News has been informed of - were of the "level and caliber" typical to a war zone in a place like Libya.

The official, who requested anonymity to speak on background, said the attack on the Benghazi Consulate was of a level of lethality the likes of which "no one can remember" happening at a U.S. mission since the attack on the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi, Kenya in 1998.

Senior State Department aides have been working throughout the holiday weekend to sort through emails, cables and other communications before handing them over to congressional investigators. Thousands of documents will be sent to the Hill for review to determine who knew about the security situation in Benghazi.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton says the State Department is cooperating fully with the investigation. The Oversight Committee does hold the powers of subpoena, but State's agreement to comply means that those powers will not be invoked at this stage.

CBS News has learned that cameras mounted inside of the Benghazi compound recorded the assault. What isn't clear is whether the copy of that video remains in the possession of the U.S. State Department's Diplomatic Security team or in the hands of local Libyans who retrieved some of the cameras. That video, along with thousands of documents collected from senior aides to Clinton, will be reviewed by the congressional investigators.

  • Margaret Brennan

    Principally assigned to the State Department, Margaret Brennan also serves as a CBS News general assignment correspondent based in Washington, D.C.

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