(WASHINGTON) — Eric Nordstrom, the former Regional Security Officer at the U.S. Embassy in Libya, told congressional investigators looking into the murder of four Americans in Benghazi, Libya, on Sept. 11, that the State Department was eager for the American diplomatic presence in Libya to reduce its American security footprint and to rely more on locals, sources tell ABC News. A senior State Department official denies the charge.
In an email from Nordstrom from earlier this month obtained by ABC News, the former Regional Security Officer referred to a list of 230 security incidents in Libya that took place between June 2011 and July 2012, writing that “(t)hese incidents paint a clear picture that the environment in Libya was fragile at best and could degrade quickly. Certainly, not an environment where post should be directed to ‘normalize’ operations and reduce security resources in accordance with an artificial time table.”
The list — which you can read here — concludes that the “risk of U.S. Mission personnel, private U.S. citizens, and businesspersons encountering an isolating event as a result of militia or political violence is HIGH. The Government of Libya does not yet have the ability to effectively respond to and manage the rising criminal and militia related violence, which could result in an isolating event.” It continues: “Local officials remain concerned with the chaos and radicalization that could result from protracted civil conflict in Libya. Neighboring countries fear extremist groups who could take advantage of the political violence and chaos should Libya become a failed state.”
In addition, Nordstrom has told investigators, they say, that State Department Deputy Assistant Director for International Programs Charlene Lamb told him she didn’t want to see the Embassy request another extension of the Security Support Team, the 16-member group of special operations soldiers who left the country in August. On Monday, ABC News reported that the commander of that group, Lieutenant Colonel Andrew Wood, wanted to stay in Libya, and that according to Wood, U.S. Ambassador to Libya Chris Stevens — one of the four Americans killed — wanted him to stay as well.
The State Department has noted that no Regional Security Officer ever requested for the SST to stay past August, and that there was no net loss of American security personnel after the SST left. A senior State Department official says that Lamb denies ever conveying such a message to Nordstrom.
Nordstrom in the Oct. 1, 2012, email, obtained by ABC News, wrote that the “number of incidents that targeted diplomatic missions and underscored the GoL’s ” — Government of Libya’s — “inability to secure and protect diplomatic missions. This was a significant part of Post’s and my argument for maintaining continued DS and DOD” — Diplomatic Security and Department of Defense — “security assets into Sept/Oct 2012; the GoL was overwhelmed and could not guarantee our protection. Sadly, that point was reaffirmed on Sept. 11, 2012 in Benghazi.”
House Republicans say that U.S. State Department officials were pushing diplomats in Libya to lessen their security and that these documents buttress that argument. The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee will hold hearings on the matter Wednesday.
“There was a clear disconnect between what security officials on the ground felt they needed and what officials in Washington would approve,” House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa, R-Calif., said in a statement. “Reports that senior State Department officials told security personnel in Libya to not even make certain security requests are especially troubling. Many American diplomats still serve in dangerous areas and it is important for the Committee to determine if the State Department is taking appropriate steps to address systemic deficiencies.”
Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio
Paul Cruickshank and Michael Pearson, CNN