CAPITOL HILL - According to testimony given by former Tripoli Regional Officer Eric Nordstrom Wednesday in front of the House Oversight Committee, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton waived security requirements for the U.S. consulate in Benghazi despite extremely high risk levels. The security of the U.S. consulate in Benghazi and diplomats occupying the building on September 11, 2012 are at the center of questioning by lawmakers.
In written testimony, Nordstrom detailed that the Benghazi consulate was one of the rare locations with high and critical threats in all categories at the time of the terrorist attack on September 11, 2012 which left four Americans, including U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens, dead.
Security standards for diplomatic facilities are established by the Overseas Security Policy Board [OSPB] and the Secure Embassy Construction and Counterterrorism Act of 1999 [SECCA]. As a result of critical threats in all categories, the Benghazi consulate met none of the standards. The only person who has the authority to waive security standards and approve occupancy with such high threat levels is the Secretary of State, who was Hillary Clinton at the time. This responsibility cannot be delegated to anybody else in the State Department.
According to the Government Accountability Office (GAO), six threat categories inform the SETL: international terrorism, indigenous terrorism, political violence, crime, human intelligence, and technical threat. A rating is then assigned for each category, on a four-level scale.
•Critical: grave impact on American diplomats
•High: serious impact on American diplomats
•Medium: moderate impact on American diplomats
•Low: minor impact on American diplomats
The protective measures for each post are dictated by the post’s overall threat level. At the time of the Benghazi attack, only a small number of the 264 overseas diplomatic posts were rated either HIGH or CRITICAL in all of the threat categories. Our posts in Benghazi and Tripoli were 2 of the 14 posts rated either HIGH or CRITICAL in all of the threat categories on SETL and the only two facilities that met no OSPB or SECCA standards.
"If the Secretary of State did not waive these requirements, who did so by ordering occupancy of the facilities in Benghazi and Tripoli?" Nordstrom wrote.
The Obama administration has argued that the United States was depending on the Libyan government for security, despite knowing about high threat levels, waving security standards and approving diplomat occupancy.
"Benghazi and Tripoli were not located in a country where the Department of State could count on effective support or response from the host nation -- a fact that was clearly and repeatedly reported to policy makers in Washington, DC," Nordstrom wrote.
In addition to contradicting Obama administration accounts about security, Nordstrom revealed people at the top of the ranks in the State Department are being protected as the Benghazi scandal continues to unfold.
Nordstrom charged in his opening statement that the State Department's Accountability Review Board [ARB] has failed to focus attention on Department employees above the Assistant Secretary level, leaving those at the top unaccountable for what happened in Libya on September 11, 2012.
"I found the ARB process that I was involved in to be professional and the unclassified recommendations reasonable and positive. However, it is not what is contained within the report that I take exception to but what is left unexamined," Nordstrom wrote. "Specifically, I’m concerned with the ARB’s decision to focus its attention at the Assistant Secretary level and below, where the ARB felt that “the decision-making in fact takes place.” 1 Based on my personal knowledge of the situation in Libya prior to the attack, I received and reviewed several documents, which included planning documents for operations in both Tripoli and Benghazi, drafted and approved at the Under Secretary of Management level or above."
Nordstrom's description of the ARB's review process are all too familiar in Washington D.C. Those at the lower levels of government are often blamed for mistakes and bad decisions made by those at the top.
"These decisions included the type and quantity of physical security upgrades to be implemented; types and locations of properties to be leased for the facilities in Benghazi and Tripoli; approval of occupancy of facilities that did not meet required Overseas Security Policy Board standards and provisions of Secure Embassy Construction and Counterterrorism Act of 1999; approval for the usage of commercial aircraft into and out of Libya in lieu of a Department of State aircraft; approval of all visitors, temporary duty, and permanent staff at post, as well decisions on all funding and resource needs," Nordstrom wrote.
UPDATE: Near the end of the hearing, Nordstrom said a political decision was made to keep the consulate open despite the risks.