In case this recent development wasn't egregious enough, another shoe has dropped in the Benghazi scandal -- adding more fuel to the speculative fire about why the administration seemed so motivated to coordinate a dishonest cover-up (read that link) after the fact. CBS News takes the lead on this outrageous story:
The former head of a Special Forces "Site Security Team" in Libya tells CBS News that in spite of multiple pleas from himself and other U.S. security officials on the ground for "more, not less" security personnel, the State Department removed as many as 34 people from the country in the six months before a terrorist attack in Benghazi that killed Ambassador Chris Stevens and three others. Lt. Col. Andy Wood will appear this week at a House Oversight Committee hearing that will examine security decisions leading up to the Sept. 11 terrorist attack on the U.S. compound in Benghazi. Speaking to CBS News correspondent Sharyl Attkisson, Wood said when he found out that his own 16-member team and a six-member State Department elite force were being pulled from Tripoli in August - about a month before the assault in Benghazi - he felt, "like we were being asked to play the piano with two fingers. There was concern amongst the entire embassy staff.""They asked if we were safe," he told Attkisson. "They asked... what was going to happen, and I could only answer that what we were being told is that they're working on it - they'll get us more (security personnel), but I never saw that." Wood insists that senior staff in Libya, including Ambassador Stevens, State Department Regional Security Officer Eric Nordstrom, and himself, all wanted and had requested enhanced security. "We felt we needed more, not less," he tells Attkisson. Asked what response their repeated pleas got from the State Department in Washington, Wood says they were simply told "to do with less. For what reasons, I don't know."
ABC News has more:
U.S. Ambassador to Libya Chris Stevens wanted a Security Support Team, made up of 16 special operations soldiers, to stay with him in Libya after their deployment was scheduled to end in August, the commander of that security team told ABC News. The embassy staff’s “first choice was for us to stay,” Lt. Col. Andrew Wood, 55, told ABC News in an interview. “That would have been the choice of the embassy people in Tripoli.” But a senior State Department official told ABC News that the embassy’s Regional Security Officer never specifically requested that the SST’s tour be extended past August, and the official maintained there was no net loss of security personnel...
When confronted with this damning report, a State Department official blames the lack of security on insufficient paperwork (security preferences were never "specifically requested") and suggests that Washington believed there would be no "net" security loss on the ground. If you believe either of those excuses, re-watch the CBS News interview above -- or read this story from ABC News, which obtained a memo showing State rejecting specific security requests in Libya. Essentially, the administration told our diplomats to do more with less and trust Libyan forces to replace the elite American security personnel. Reporting from Newsweek's Eli Lake highlights the problems with this strategy, which Amb. Stevens recognized and addressed in a diplomatic cable sent the very day he was assassinated:
Just two days before the 9/11 anniversary attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, two leaders of the Libyan militias responsible for keeping order in the city threatened to withdraw their men. The brinksmanship is detailed in a cable approved by Ambassador Chris Stevens and sent on the day he died in the attack, the worst assault on a U.S. diplomatic mission since the 1979 hostage crisis in Iran. The dispatch, which was marked “sensitive” but not “classified,” contained a number of other updates on the chaotic situation on the ground in post-Gaddafi Libya. The cable, reviewed by The Daily Beast, recounts how the two militia leaders, Wissam bin Ahmed and Muhammad al-Gharabi, accused the United States of supporting Mahmoud Jibril, the head of the Libyan transitional government, to be the country’s first elected prime minister. Jibril’s centrist National Forces Alliance won the popular vote in Libyan elections in July, but he lost the prime minister vote in the country’s Parliament on Sept. 12 by 94 to 92. Had he won, bin Ahmed and al-Gharabi warned they “would not continue to guarantee security in Benghazi, a critical function they asserted they were currently providing,” the cable reads. The man who beat Jibril, Mustafa Abushagur, lost a vote of no-confidence Sunday, throwing Libyan politics back into further uncertainty. The threat from the militias underscores the dangers of relying on local Libyan forces for security in the run-up to the 9/11 military-style assault.
Americans must ask themselves how these appalling failures were allowed to occur, and who is responsible. The administration peddled several false tales to the public for many days after the attack, even though intelligence reports indicate that they knew better from day one. Why? Not only were requests for reinforcements declined, existing defenses were scaled back, in spite of numerous threats and attacks leading up to the 9/11 massacre. Why? I've pondered whether the White House wanted to maintain a "light footprint" perception in Libya at all costs, rooted in political considerations. If so, those costs were quite high, indeed. I'll leave you with a devastating video of the cover-up timeline, produced by Heritage. This is slowly growing into a national scandal, but here's why it should already be A1, above the fold every day:
UPDATE - In his wide-ranging foreign policy address in Virginia late this morning, Mitt Romney criticized the Obama administration for their serial opacity and misdirection regarding the Benghazi raid:
Last month, our nation was attacked again. A U.S. Ambassador and three of our fellow Americans are dead—murdered in Benghazi, Libya. Among the dead were three veterans. All of them were fine men, on a mission of peace and friendship to a nation that dearly longs for both. President Obama has said that Ambassador Chris Stevens and his colleagues represented the best of America. And he is right. We all mourn their loss. The attacks against us in Libya were not an isolated incident. They were accompanied by anti-American riots in nearly two dozen other countries, mostly in the Middle East, but also in Africa and Asia. Our embassies have been attacked. Our flag has been burned. Many of our citizens have been threatened and driven from their overseas homes by vicious mobs, shouting “Death to America.” These mobs hoisted the black banner of Islamic extremism over American embassies on the anniversary of the September 11th attacks.
As the dust settles, as the murdered are buried, Americans are asking how this happened, how the threats we face have grown so much worse, and what this calls on America to do. These are the right questions. And I have come here today to offer a larger perspective on these tragic recent events—and to share with you, and all Americans, my vision for a freer, more prosperous, and more peaceful world. The attacks on America last month should not be seen as random acts. They are expressions of a larger struggle that is playing out across the broader Middle East—a region that is now in the midst of the most profound upheaval in a century. And the fault lines of this struggle can be seen clearly in Benghazi itself. The attack on our Consulate in Benghazi on September 11th, 2012 was likely the work of forces affiliated with those that attacked our homeland on September 11th, 2001. This latest assault cannot be blamed on a reprehensible video insulting Islam, despite the Administration’s attempts to convince us of that for so long. No, as the Administration has finally conceded, these attacks were the deliberate work of terrorists who use violence to impose their dark ideology on others, especially women and girls; who are fighting to control much of the Middle East today; and who seek to wage perpetual war on the West.
This is some of Romney's strongest rhetoric yet on this subject. One wonders if he'll challenge the president even more forcefully during the final foreign policy themed presidential debate. More on Romney's speech later.