By Tabassum Zakaria and Susan Cornwell
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - State Department officials in May denied a request from the U.S. Embassy in Tripoli to allow a security team to continue using an official U.S. DC-3 aircraft, suggesting they could charter a plane instead, an unclassified email obtained by Reuters shows.
The email dated May 3, carrying the subject line "Termination of Tripoli DC-3 Support," was copied to Christopher Stevens, the U.S. ambassador to Libya who was killed with three other Americans in an attack on the Benghazi mission on September 11 this year.
The email is among documents U.S. investigators are examining to determine whether requests before the Benghazi attack for security improvements at U.S. diplomatic posts in Libya were denied by State Department headquarters.
The email says Under Secretary of State for Management Patrick Kennedy "has determined that support for Embassy Tripoli using the DC-3 will be terminated immediately."
The diplomatic post's request "to continue use of the plane in support of the SST was considered. However, it was decided that, if needed, NEA will charter a special flight for their final departure." NEA refers to the State Department's Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs which covers Libya and other countries in that region.
SST stands for Security Support Team, and according to the State Department's website such a team's job is to enhance security at U.S. embassies and consulates that face civil unrest, hostile hosts or any other threat.
It was not immediately clear whether the lack of the plane played any role in security problems at U.S. facilities in Libya, culminating with the September 11 attack.
The plane in question was officially assigned to the State Department's international narcotics and law enforcement bureau, which provides foreign governments with assistance fighting organized crime and drug trafficking.
The email ends with "Regards!" and was signed by the State Department's post management officer for Libya and Saudi Arabia based in Washington.
State Department spokesman Mark Toner described the decision to move the plane as standard practice.
"This plane was in Iraq at the time and moved to support Libya early on when there was no commercial airline service into Libya. This is a very common practice in places where there is no commercial airline service. When commercial service was subsequently established we then moved that asset back to other State Department business," he told a news briefing.
Toner said he did not have information on the plane's operational schedule while in Libya, or on the specific date when it was moved out of the country.
(Additional reporting by Andrew Quinn and Mark Hosenball; Editing by Warren Strobel and Vicki Allen)