Witness Says Additional Security May Not Have Stopped Benghazi Attack

Regional security officer tells Congress the Sept. 11 attack in Libya was like 'nothing that we had seen'

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A key Congressional witness conceded Wednesday that even with heightened security measures, it may not have been enough to stop the dozens of armed terrorists from storming the U.S. consulate in Benghazi and killing U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans.

Eric Nordstrom, who served as a regional security officer in Libya, told the Oversight and Government Reform Committee that he had not seen anything like the Sept. 11 attack.

"The ferocity and intensity of the attack was nothing that we had seen in Libya, or that I had seen in my time in the Diplomatic Security Service," Nordstrom testified. "Having an extra foot of wall, or an extra half dozen guards or agents would not have enabled us to respond to that kind of assault."

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Nordstrom's diplomatic tone in his testimony, which he says was reviewed by the State Department, ran counter to sharper criticism he made earlier this week about the government's handling of the situation. His testimony revealed deep divisions between the security requests coming from advisors on the ground and the amount of support State Department officials were willing to lend to the consulate.

"They repeatedly warned Washington officials of the dangerous situation," California Republican Darrell Issa, the chairman of the committee says. "Washington officials seemed preoccupied."

Nordstrom told the committee that he made multiple requests for increased U.S. security personnel in Benghazi during his time as the regional security officer, but was ignored despite more than 230 security incidents in the last year.

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"It became clear that we were not going to get resources until the aftermath of an attack," Nordstrom said. "For me, the Taliban [was] on the inside of the building."

Another witness, Lt. Col. Andrew Wood, who served as the site security team leader between February and August of this year, said the State Dept. failed to adequately secure the consulate and actually drew down the number of security forces in Benghazi in the month prior to the attack.

"The security in Benghazi was a struggle and remained a struggle throughout my time there," Wood said. "The regional security officer struggled to obtain additional personnel there ,and was never able to attain the numbers he felt comfortable with."

Committee members also used the hearing to clarify what sparked the attack in Benghazi during the hearing.

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Initially, U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice said that an anti-Muslim film had led to spontaneous and uncontrollable protests. But ahead of the hearing, State Dept. officials told reporters Tuesday that no protest had ever occurred.

Undersecretary of State Patrick Kennedy and Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Charlene Lamb both defended the Obama administration and Rice for the initial statements made after the attack, saying that immediate details following the attack were unclear and that Rice was responding to the only information available.

"If any administration official, including any career official, were on television on Sunday, Sept. 16, they would have said what Ambassador Rice said," Kennedy testified. "The information she had at that point from the intelligence community is the same that I had at that point. As time went on, additional information became available."

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Lauren Fox is a political reporter for U.S. News and World Report. She can be reached at lfox@usnews.com or you can follow her on Twitter @foxreports.