Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens, in a diplomatic cable from Libya last June, cited the apparent rise of “Islamic extremism” and the spotting of “the Al Qaeda flag” over buildings outside the city of Benghazi, where he and three other Americans were ultimately killed in an attack on Sept. 11.
The previously classified cable is among 166 pages of documents made public Friday by Rep. Darryl E. Issa, the Republican chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, who says they expose an egregious shortage of security around the U.S. diplomatic missions in Libya during the period leading up to last month’s attack.
Mr. Issa sent the documents to the White House Friday with a letter calling on the administration to explain why “repeated warnings about a worsening security situation appear to have been ignored” in Libya. The committee’s top Democrat, Rep. Elijah E. Cummings of Maryland, described the move as an “undeniably partisan” attempt to politicize the incident ahead of Monday’s foreign policy debate between Mitt Romney and President Obama.
The documents include a June 25 cable in which Mr. Stevens cited an uptick in attacks occurring in Libya “targeting international organizations and foreign interests.” He went on to point out a June attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, which involved the explosion of an improvised bomb.
Little has previously been reported about the incident, which occurred just three months before the attack that ultimately lead to Mr. Stevens‘ death. In the cable, he said responsibility for June’s attack had been claimed by “an Islamic extremist group, ‘the Imprisoned Sheikh Omar Abdul-Rahman Brigade.’ “
The infamous “Blind Sheikh,” Abdel-Rahman is presently serving a life sentence in the United States, convicted of plots to blow up the United Nations headquarters along with major bridges and tunnels in New York.
Mr. Stevens made no reference of any American attempt to investigate the June incident.
“Libyan security officials purport to have launched investigations,” he wrote, adding that a Libyan security official had “shared his private opinion that the attacks were the work of extremists who are opposed to western influence in Libya.”
“A number of local contacts agreed, noting that Islamic extremism appears to be on the rise in eastern Libya and that the Al Qaeda flag has been spotted several times flying over government buildings and training facilities” in a small Libyan city about 100 miles east of Benghazi, Mr. Stevens wrote. He added, however, that other contacts said the June attack could also have simply been the work of loyalists to ousted Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi.
Other cables cite ongoing concerns about security. In one on Aug. 8, under the title “The Guns of August: Security in eastern Libya,” Mr. Stevens asserted that the “absence of significant deterrence” had “contributed to a security vacuum.”
In another, on Sept. 11, just hours before he was killed, Mr. Stevens noted a local Libyan commander in Benghazi had “expressed growing frustration with police and security forces (who were too weak to keep the country secure) …”
Other documents shed light on ongoing exchanges between State Department personnel over security.
One from February 2012 features an email in which Foreign Service Officer Shawn P. Crowley wrote to others, including Eric A. Nordstrom, the then-chief security officer at the U.S. Embassy in Tripoli, about the “lack of security” at the consulate in Benghazi.
“Apologies for being a broken record, but beginning tomorrow, Benghazi will be down two agents,” Mr. Crowley wrote, noting that “we have no drivers and new local guard contract employees have no experience driving armored vehicles.”
The State Department declined to comment on the documents on Friday night. In an email to The Washington Times, Deputy State Department spokesman Mark Toner pointed to the department’s recent establishment of an Accountability Review Board to review last month’s attack.
“An independent board is conducting a thorough review of the assault on our post in Benghazi,” he said. “Once we have the board’s comprehensive account of what happened, findings and recommendations, we can fully address these matters.”
In a letter to the White House, meanwhile, Mr. Issa and Rep. Jason E. Chaffetz, Utah Republican, asserted that the administration has not only rejected repeated “requests for increased security despite escalating violence, but it also systematically decreased existing security to dangerous and ineffective levels.”
“We have been told repeatedly that the administration did this to effectuate a policy of ‘normalization’ in Libya after the conclusion of its civil war,” the congressmen wrote. “These actions not only resulted in extreme vulnerability, but also undermined Ambassador Stevens and the diplomatic mission.”
The letter triggered heated responses from other lawmakers.
Mr. Cummings, the ranking member on the Oversight and Government Reform Committee, said Mr. Issa was making allegations “with no evidence to substantiate them.”
The letter to the White House, said Mr. Cummings, “completely ignores sworn testimony provided to the committee, recklessly omits contradictory information from the very same documents it quotes, [and] irresponsibly promotes inaccurate information.”
“It seems obvious that your goal in sending a public letter at this time is to release the most negative and distorted view possible of the attack in Benghazi ahead of the presidential debate on Monday evening,” he added. “This is particularly disturbing given requests by Ambassador Stevens‘ family not to politicize his death as part of the campaign.”
On Friday night, Republican Sens. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and John McCain of Arizona appeared to come to the defense of Mr. Issa and Mr. Chaffetz.
“A number of our constituents are asking what could have been done to protect our fellow Americans during the almost eight-hour siege on our consulate in Benghazi on Sept. 11, 2012,” the senators said in a joint statement. “As a result, we contacted Department of Defense officials. To our dismay, we were informed that despite ample warning signs that the immediate region remained unstable and our people under threat, inadequate preparations were made to respond to what in retrospect seems a likely attack.”