State Dept memos show security guards were bugging out months before Benghazi attack

Hey, maybe this is why the embassy in Tripoli was so insistent on getting US Marines back for security in Benghazi. A FOIA request from Judicial Watch produced 130 pages of State Department documents regarding assessment of the use of local militias for security at the Benghazi consulate in the three months prior to the attack that killed four Americans, including the first US Ambassador killed in the line of duty in 33 years. The memos show that the contractor responsible for arranging local militias to guard the compound repeatedly warned State that the locals were unreliable and often left the facility undermanned:

Judicial Watch announced today that it has obtained 130 pages of new State Department documents revealing that local security guards working for Blue Mountain Group (BMG), the firm hired to protect the U.S. Special Mission in Benghazi, repeatedly abandoned their posts “out of fear of their safety” in the months leading up to the deadly terrorist attack on the special mission compound. …

According to the documents, on June 30, 2012, three months before the Benghazi terrorist attack, a Quality Assurance Compliance Report  from Blue Mountain Libya to Department of State Contract Specialist Neal Kern warned that the number of local security guards leaving their posts had put the U.S. Benghazi Mission at risk:

Due to the amount of local guard force members leaving out of fear of their safety and the long process to security check individuals, it makes it very difficult to quickly react to a large drop in staff in quick succession as has been occurring with all the incidents especially when additional staff are requested.

The same June 30 report advises that an explosion on the perimeter wall of June 6 had “promoted a fear factor” with a “lasting effect” on the security staff:

On the shift 2200-0600 hours on 11.06.2012 [Redacted] emergency staff did not attend for his shift and gave no prior warning of absence, a replacement was not able to be sourced due to the time of evening and the bank staff members not answering their phones. It is believed that the explosive device set off on the compound perimeter wall had a lasting effect on certain members of the staff; this promoted a fear factor when it came to working the nightshift.[Emphasis added]

Additional emails confirm that in the months leading up to the terrorist attack, State Department officials were repeatedly informed of the Benghazi security staffing problems. A July 2, 2012, memo from David Oliveria, the Temporary Duty Officer in Benghazi at the time, contained the following warning about “manpower issues”:

Per our conversation, the original A&E request for guard service was to run from June 6th to June 18th. Unfortunately, due to manpower issues and unforeseen last minute resignations of BMGs guard staff, US Mission Benghazi were only provided the below guards (see email) through the 12th (starting 11th at 2200).

An additional email from BMG to State Department official Kern reveals that not only was the undermanned Benghazi Mission security staff caused serious dissension among top security staffers there:

Between the 18th – 30th April a Guard Commander was not provided due to the current Guard Commander [REDACTED] being relieved of his position due to an altercation with the NTC/QRF at the US compound. A new Guard Commander has been selected and will begin on the 3rd of May.

On the 22nd April a guard for Shift Charlie [REDACTED] failed to turn up for duty at 2359 hours, we were unable to replace this guard due to [REDACTED] not giving any prior warning that he would not be working. Unfortunately the shift carried out their 8 hour shift with only 4 men.

The documents obtained by Judicial Watch cover the period from March 1 through August 31, 2012. Significantly, no documents were provided by State for the time period in September immediately leading up to the September 11 attack that took the lives of Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans.

Clearly, morale among the militia members was not high. If they were failing to show up for their shifts, it seems difficult to believe that anyone would have assumed they would have stuck to their posts if trouble arrived. These memos began shortly after the June bombing, which BMG blamed for their inability to staff the facility properly — and before State renewed the lease on the facility, even though it didn’t meet the Inman Standard for securing diplomatic facilities.

We have known that the State Department long ignored warnings from our allies and the CIA about the worsening security situation in Benghazi, even after the first attack on the consulate. State Department officials have claimed in the two years since the sacking of the facility that they thought they had adequate security for the mission. These memos challenge those claims, and once again bring up the question of who overrode State Department protocols for hardening facilities, especially in a terrorist hotbed like eastern Libya. Now it looks like they didn’t even listen to their own contractor about the risks they were running in keeping personnel in Benghazi without US military personnel to protect it — which Ambassador Chris Stevens had requested in early July, when these memos went out:

However, on July 13, State Department Undersecretary Patrick Kennedy refused the Defense Department offer and thus Chris’s July 9 request. His rationale was that Libyan guards would be hired to take over this responsibility. Because of Mr. Kennedy’s refusal, Chris had to use diplomatic language at the video conference, such as expressing “reservations” about the transfer of authority. …

Transferring authority would immediately strip the special forces team of its diplomatic immunity. Moreover, the U.S. had no status of forces agreement with Libya. He explained to Rear Adm. Charles J. Leidig that if a member of the special forces team used weapons to protect U.S. facilities, personnel or themselves, he would be subject to Libyan law. The law would be administered by judges appointed to the bench by Moammar Gadhafi or, worse, tribal judges. …

Chris understood the importance of the special forces team to the security of our embassy personnel. He believed that by explaining his concerns, the Defense Department would postpone the decision so he could have time to work with the Libyan government and get diplomatic immunity for the special forces.

According to the National Defense Authorization Act, the Defense Department needed Chris’s concurrence to change the special forces mission. But soon after the Aug. 1 meeting, and as a complete surprise to us at the embassy, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta signed the order without Chris’s concurrence.

Now we know why Stevens wanted the military detail to remain while he worked out the immunity deal. Instead, even with these memos in hand about the reliability of the Libyan guards, State rebuffed Stevens, and it cost him his life along with three other Americans.

Just to remind everyone, no one at the State Department has lost so much as a paycheck over these decisions. Maybe we should get a better answer as to why.