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House hearings on Benghazi marked by partisan digs, confusion and bombshell

(Left to Right) LTC Andrew Wood, Eric Nordstrom, Charlene Lamb and Patrick Kennedy testified before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. [Photo from C-SPAN screen; The US Report]House Oversight and Reform committee chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) gaveled a hearing to order on Wednesday in an attempt to separate fact from spin about the security situation in Benghazi.

The attack on the U.S. Consulate was legally an attack on America, and 4 people including our ambassador were murdered. The fact that it came on the anniversary of Sept. 11 raised flags about security protocol.

At one point in the testimony, there was a bombshell disclosing a security threat most Americans didn't know about.

Democrats struggle with necessity for hearing, blame GOP for funding levels
Democrats on the committee appeared to struggle with the necessity for the hearing. One Democrat even mentioned GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney. Another attempted to blame Republicans, saying they cut the State Dept. budget.

Issa pointed out that the current funding “enjoyed by the State Dept.”  drew more support from Democrats than Republicans.

What Issa might also point out is that the State Dept. didn’t appear to have budget constraints. The Department spent $1,000,000 in 2010 to send 15 visual artists to communities for arts projects in other countries. In a previous column, I reported:

NYT [The New York Times] said in 2001 the budget for cultural diplomacy programs was $1.6 million. In 2010 under the Democrat Congress and the Obama administration the budget is $11.75 million. Between 2009 and 2010 NYT said the budget increased 40 percent.

Kucinich unloads
Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) didn’t hold anything back, delivering an anti-interventionist tirade. He said our government caused “a civil war in Libya.” He also said, “Based on verbal threats, we intervened, absent Congressional authority.” Kucinich added, “Because Americans were killed…there has to be accountability. We haven’t heard that yet.”

Confusion still abounds
As members of the committee questioned four individuals, it became apparent there is still confusion within the administration about the events that transpired Sept. 11.

Ambassador Patrick Kennedy, Undersecretary of State for Management, phrased his answers carefully. Asked repeatedly to explain the 5-7 day delay after the event in telling Americans what happened, Kennedy basically said he and UN Ambassador Susan Rice “were relying on the same information…This has been very much an evolving situation.”

Yet when Rice appeared on Sunday talk shows the weekend after the attack, she gave the idea she knew exactly what happened, parroting claims by President Barack Obama’s administration and Sec. of State Hillary Clinton. The Middle East was in meltdown mode because of an amateur film no one really knew about until after the attacks occurred.

However, Charlene Lamb, Deputy Assistant Secretary for International Programs, disclosed she was aware of events in real time, through phone calls and messaging, but she still had no idea the attack wasn’t  the product of a protest like that in Egypt.

Missing videotape and a bombshell
Furthermore, there’s a 50-minute video the FBI doesn’t have—and “doesn’t need”—that Issa’s committee hasn’t been able to obtain. All Kennedy would tell Issa is that “another part of the government” has the tape.

Aside from the tape, Issa didn't get a copy of a statement Lamb actually gave to media.

Requests for additional security, even those to maintain previous levels, were denied.

A bombshell dropped when a question arose about the missing shoulder to air missiles that can shoot down civilian airliners. Kennedy had no idea.

Eric Nordstrom, Supervisory Special Agent with the State Dept. Bureau of Diplomatic Security said there are approximately 10-20,000 of those missiles still missing in Libya.

Nordstrom’s request to simply maintain previous levels of security was turned down, but ironically, his pay was increased. The State Dept. classified the increase as “danger pay.”

“We were fighting a losing battle…”
LTC Andrew Wood’s testimony was perhaps the most impressive. A seasoned military man with 24 years of service in Special Forces, Wood was blunt and to the point, noting in a written statement:

While the sound of gunfire in and around Tripoli subsided from February to April the situation remained unstable. Libyans struggled with a Transitional government that hesitated to make decisions and was forced to rely upon local or tribal militias with varying degrees to loyalty. In late spring, Police were allowed to return to work to help with traffic but were limited to that. Fighting between militias was still common when I departed. Some militias appeared to be degenerating into organizations resembling freelance criminal operations. Targeted attacks against westerners were on the increase. In June the Ambassador received a threat on Facebook with a public announcement that he liked to run around the Embassy compound in Tripoli.

Asked about frustration over security resource allocation, Wood told the committee, “We were fighting a losing battle. We couldn’t even keep what we had.”

For Wood, determining what happened in Benghazi was a no-brainer.  He told the committee, “It was instantly recognizable to me it was a terrorist attack.”

Three days after the attack on the Consulate in Libya, Taliban in Afghanistan launched an attack on Camp Bastion. One military analyst called it “arguably the worst day in USMC aviation history since Tet in 1968.”

It’s puzzling why the Obama administration intervened in Libya but refrained from providing security assets that were obviously necessary. With the presidential election looming, questions about political decisions at the expense of security will most likely surface in the public arena.

Libya is Obama's war; he didn't seek approval from Congress. Democrats appear reluctant to own it.

 (Commentary by Kay B. Day/Oct. 10, 2012)

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