In the final weeks before the deadly Benghazi attack in September 2012, State Department officials serving in the tumultuous Libyan city had increasing worries about safety, reaching out repeatedly to the CIA and Libyan government for extra security and dealing with landlord and guard issues that raised additional red flags, according to documents recovered from the burned-out compound.
The documents, given to The Washington Times by a U.S. official, provide contemporaneous accounts of career State Department officials coping with an increasingly unstable foreign city and grasping for security help from outsiders in the absence of more action from their own department.
“In response to threats of a planned attack posted on the Internet, U.S. Mission Benghazi is requesting assistance from the Supreme Security Council,” Jennifer Larson, the State Department’s principal officer for Benghazi, wrote in a May 29, 2012, letter to a top Libyan official.
“U.S. Mission Benghazi is requesting a mobile patrol outside the vicinity of the Mission during hours of darkness, from 2000 to 0700,” she added in the letter to Fawzi Wanis, the then-head of the Libyan Supreme Security Council.
Ms. Larson repeated the request in an urgent follow-up on June 6, 2012, the same day the Benghazi mission suffered a small bomb attack that became a prelude to the much bigger attack that killed Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other Americans just three months later.
With just a few diplomatic security officers on scene at the State Department compound in Benghazi, Ms. Larson sought a perimeter patrol by Libyan forces to “remain in place until further notice,” the memo shows.
‘They gave us nothing’
The need to seek security help from the Libyans was necessary because the State Department in Washington repeatedly turned down requests for more safety resources, according to the former head of the U.S. site security team in Libya at the time.
“They gave us nothing to work with. We had to resource everything we could with what we had in front of us, contracting with the locals, seeking the agency’s help and working with meager internal resources,” said Lt. Col. Andrew Wood, a special forces reserve officer who tried several times to fortify the weak security at Benghazi in 2012.
State Department officials in Washington “had their minds made up. They were not going to provide additional security there, period,” he said in an interview Monday with The Times.
State Department officials declined to discuss the memos, deferring to multiple investigations that have concluded there was inadequate security at the compound when it was attacked on Sept. 11, 2012.
Officials said, however, they have made numerous improvements at high-risk diplomatic compounds worldwide since.
“We cannot guarantee that attacks won’t happen again, but we can take steps to try to prevent them and mitigate risk. And that’s what we’re doing,” the State Department said in a statement to The Times.
Former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton is slated to testify Thursday before a special House committee chaired by Rep. Trey Gowdy empaneled to look at the security lapses that preceded Benghazi.
Landlords get nervous
The memos show that the deteriorating security at Benghazi not only concerned State Department officials working there, but also the Libyan landlords who rented the two villas comprising a large portion of the compound.
One of the landlords demanded more money for rent, while the other asked to be released from the rental agreement in the summer preceding the attacks, the memos show.
“The owner has requested to write to you to consider the termination of the lease contract on the end of the first term July 31, 2012,” a representative for one of the landlords wrote on June 18, 2012. “Regrettable due to family and personal reasons.”
That landlord owned the part of the complex known as Villa C, which constituted the main working place for the complex and the location where Stevens died in a blaze. The landlord expressed increased concerns for his family’s safety and the safety of his villa if Americans continued to occupy it, a U.S. official told The Times.
The owner of the second complex, Villa B, also began raising concerns around the same time. In a letter contained in the Benghazi compound staff files, the landlord demanded higher rent after discovering the other landlord was getting paid more for his complex.
“In addition to extra works of which we bear all expenses as you already know, and whereas the price of this property differs from that of the neighboring property and that this amount of rent does not cover the agreed upon charges, we look forward for good cooperation by suggesting to you either increasing the amount of rent or regretfully terminate the contract,” the landlord wrote in an April 7, 2012, letter.
Officials said that rent dispute carried through the summer unresolved and had become more intense shortly before the attack occurred. The amount of money in dispute reached $100,000 by late summer, and the landlord’s representatives warned State officials that they would “be sorry if you don’t pay rent and pay more,” according to a U.S. official directly familiar with the situation.
State Department officials confirmed the rental dispute and said it was going through a mitigation process aimed at settling the issues when the attack occurred.
Col. Wood, the security expert, said he became aware of the landlords’ concerns and considered them a red flag indicating local Libyans were worried about being affiliated with the U.S. He became even more alarmed when local Libyan security guards began expressing concerns about showing up for work for fear of their safety.
Read more: The Washington Times