The embassy in Libya where a U.S. ambassador was killed by terrorists Sept. 11 was left underprotected by the State Department's "cookie-cutter approach" to embassy security, a former top senior security officer told lawmakers on Wednesday.
The House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform spent the afternoon grilling three State Department officials and an Army lieutenant colonel who once ran a U.S. security team in Libya about the situation on the ground in Benghazi prior to the Sept. 11 assault.
On that night, Libyan attackers set fire to the consulate in Benghazi and killed Ambassador to Libya Chris Stevens and three other Americans, including two former Navy SEALS.
The testimony came as White House spokesman Jay Carney acknowledged that the security in Benghazi "was not adequate" to protect Stevens and the others.
Army National Guard Lt. Col. Andrew Wood, who from February until August headed a 16-member security team in Libya, told members of the House committee that the State Department had refused a request to keep his security team there, even as the country was becoming more dangerous for Americans.
"An increase in targeted attacks toward Americans spelled out to me that the county was far from secure," Wood testified, citing shots fired during an armed carjacking as one example. Wood added that he believed the security team he ran, which was highly trained and carried larger caliber weapons, "was still in need" in Libya and could have made a difference in what he called an inevitable attack.
Another official stationed in Libya, Regional Security Officer Eric Nordstrom, said he became so frustrated with the State Department's refusal to provide more security that he once told them, "For me, the Taliban is on the inside of the building."
Republican lawmakers harshly questioned the State Department official largely responsible for denying officials the additional security they requested before the attack took place.
Charlene Lamb, the Bureau of Diplomatic Security's deputy assistant secretary for international programs, said she felt there was no need to send extra security, despite the requests from officials on the ground there.
"I said that I personally would not support it," Lamb recalled. "We had been training local Libyans and arming them for almost a year."
The Obama administration contended for days after the fatal attack that the melee arose from a spontaneous demonstration prompted by an anti-Muslim film. That explanation has now largely been discounted by the State Department, which acknowledges the attack was planned and carried out by terrorists.
Republicans on the panel suggested political reasons were behind the administration's initial denial that terrorism played a role.
Rep. Dan Burton, R-Ind., noted that even throughout the hearing, Lamb had not faulted terrorists for the attack.
"I am just presenting the facts as they come across," Lamb said. "I am not making any judgments of my own."
The State Department's undersecretary for management, Patrick Kennedy, who has served under both Republican and Democratic presidents, told the panel that "no political pressure was applied" by the Obama administration to try to make it appear like the attacks were spontaneous.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has appointed a panel to examine what went wrong in Libya and to make recommendations to improve embassy security.