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Weak security blamed for US consulate deaths in Libya

Weak security at the US consulate in Libya left it open to attack, security officials have told a congressional hearing. Three diplomats and the US ambassador to Libya were killed when militants raided the mission.

In a tense and at times heated hearing on Wednesday, senior State Department officials and the former leader of a security team were grilled on the events which led to the September 11 attack on the US consulate in the Libyan city of Benghazi.

Two officials testified that requests for additional security staff at US missions in Benghazi and Tripoli were denied, despite a rising al Qaeda threat. Their evidence was supported by former regional security officer in Libya, Eric Nordstrom, who told lawmakers he had been left frustrated by a "total absence of planning" for future security and bureaucratic battles for resources.

"It was abundantly clear that we were not going to get resources until the aftermath of an incident," he told the special hearing of the House Oversight and Government Reform committee. Nordstrom said that when he asked a regional director for 12 more agents, the director said, "You're asking for the sun, moon and the stars."

'Risky operation'

While noting the security failings, two State Department officials warned that fail-safe protection could never be expected when US diplomats are sent into danger zones.

"In the end, this is an inherently risky operation. We cannot withdraw always to fortresses," Patrick Kennedy, the under secretary of state for management, told the hearing.

"But an attack of that kind of lethality ... we're never going to have enough guns," he said. "We are a diplomatic service ... we are not an armed camp ready to fight it out as the US military does if there was an attack on a US military facility in Afghanistan."

'Full-scale assault'

Meanwhile Charlene Lamb, an official of the department's Bureau of Diplomatic Security, said the Benghazi compound was hit by "a full-scale assault that was unprecedented in size and intensity."

"We had the correct number of [security] assets in Benghazi at the time of 9/11 for what had been agreed upon," she told lawmakers.

Ambassador Chris Stevens and three diplomatic staff were killed when militants attacked the US mission. The incident was originally thought to have been linked to widespread protests over a US-made anti-Muslim film. The US administration has since acknowledged that the consulate was the target of a pre-meditated terrorist attack.

"We now know that, in fact, it was caused by a terrorist attack that was reasonably predictable to eventually happen somewhere in the world, especially on September 11," Republican committee Chairman Darrell Issa told reporters on Tuesday.

ccp/slk (AFP, Reuters)