- By Josh Rogin
Prior to the attack on the U.S. mission in Benghazi late in the evening on Sept. 11, there was no protest outside the compound, a senior State Department official confirmed today, contradicting initial administration statements suggesting that the attack was an opportunistic reaction to unrest caused by an anti-Islam video.
In a conference call with reporters Tuesday, two senior State Department officials gave a detailed accounting of the events that lead to the death of Amb. Chris Stevens and three other Americans. The officials said that prior to the massive attack on the Benghazi compound by dozens of militants carrying heavy weaponry, there was no unrest outside the walls of the compound and no protest that anyone inside the compound was aware of.
In fact, Stevens hosted a series of meetings on the compound throughout the day, ending with a meeting with a Turkish diplomat that began at 7:30 in the evening, and all was quiet in the area.
"The ambassador walked guests out at 8:30 or so; there was nobody on the street. Then at 9:40 they saw on the security cameras that there were armed men invading the compound," a senior State Department official said. "Everything is calm at 8:30 pm, there is nothing unusual. There had been nothing unusual during the day outside."
The official was asked about why senior officials said in the immediate aftermath of the attack that it was related to the anti-Islam video and the protests at the U.S. Embassy in Cairo earlier in the day.
"But putting together the best information that we have available to us today, our current assessment is what happened in Benghazi was in fact initially a spontaneous reaction to what had just transpired hours before in Cairo, almost a copycat of the demonstrations against our facility in Cairo, prompted by the video," U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice said Sept. 16 on NBC’s Meet the Press.
"That was not our conclusion," the State Department official said. "We don’t necessarily have a conclusion [about that]."
Rice has since attributed those statements to information given to the administration by intelligence officials.
On Wednesday, the House Oversight Committee will hold its much-anticipated hearing on the administration’s actions leading up to and following the attack. The hearing, entitled, "The Security Failures of Benghazi," will feature testimony from Under Secretary of State for Management Patrick Kennedy, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for International Programs Charlene Lamb, Regional Security Officer Eric Nordstrom, who was stationed in Libya before the attacks, and Lt. Col. Andrew Wood, a Utah National Guardsman who was leading a security team in Libya until August.
The officials on the call did not respond directly to allegations made by Nordstrom and Wood that the State Department rejected repeated requests to increase security in Libya, but they defended the security in Benghazi and said that Stevens was traveling with five diplomatic security agents, two more than his regular contingent of three, in light of the increased threat environment.
"There had been no attacks like that anywhere in Libya in the time that we had been there. So it was unprecedented," the official said. "In fact, there hasn’t been an attack like that in recent diplomatic history."