By Chris Casteel
The U.S. State Department should have pulled its people out of a diplomatic outpost in Libya last month or authorized more security personnel before a U.S. ambassador and three other government employees were killed in a terrorist attack, Rep. James Lankford said Thursday.
"One of those should have been done -- you can't do neither,'' Lankford, R-Oklahoma City, said a day after he participated in House hearing on the Sept. 11 attack in Benghazi.
Lankford said U.S. State Department officials in Washington "made the decision not to give the security people on the ground the security they requested" even though they knew the situation was increasingly dangerous and other organizations had left the area because of the threat.
Eric Nordstrom, who was the top security official in Libya earlier this year, testified at the hearing on Wednesday that he was criticized for seeking more security.
"There was no plan and it was hoped it would get better," he told the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.
Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other Americans, including two former U.S. Navy SEALs, were killed in the attack that Lankford said represents a new kind of terrorist threat to the United States.
Lankford, a member of the committee, which held the hearing, said the details given at the hearing revealed a carefully planned attack by heavily armed terrorists and that the United States needs to learn lessons from it.
Lankford said he had a series of questions ready for the State Department witnesses about the security concerns before the attack but wound up devoting his allotted time to why the administration initially reported that the attack grew out of a protest over an anti-Islam video on the web.
At the hearing on Wednesday, Lankford pressed Charlene Lamb, a deputy assistant secretary in the State Department's Bureau of Diplomatic Security, about what she heard from diplomatic security agents while she was monitoring the attack in real time from a command center.
Lankford wanted to know whether there was any talk from the agents about a protest preceding the attack. Lamb said everything happened so fast that it wasn't clear.
"They were all fighting for their lives in that compound," Lamb told Lankford.
Lankford said he understood that but couldn't understand how the story about the protest was still being told days after the attack even though there had been no mention of it from the scene during the events.
"And I'm struggling with just the basic facts in this," he said. "Now this is irrelevant to what we're going to do in the future and what happened in the past. But I can't seem to put the pieces together when I'm getting conflicting stories from people who were listening to it firsthand from what's happening on the ground."
Patrick Kennedy, the State Department's undersecretary for management, told Lankford that there were "multiple reports coming out."
"There were reports that we received that there were protests, and I will not go any further than that," Kennedy said. "And then things evolved -- period."
Kennedy then told the committee chairman that he could discuss it in a closed hearing.
In an interview on ABC on Wednesday, President Barack Obama said information was put out as it came in.
"The information may not have always been right the first time," the president said in the interview. "But the bottom line is that my job is to let everybody know I want to know what happened, I want us to get the folks who did it, and I want us to figure out what are the lessons learned and ask the tough questions to make sure it doesn't happen again."
Lankford said Thursday that the House committee should follow up its investigation of the attack with a hearing after the election about why people in the administration were still talking about a protest days later.
"I can't figure out why the administration chose to do that," he said. "That will come out eventually."