The State Department insists it didn't cut corners on security in the run-up to the deadly Sept. 11 terrorist attack in Benghazi, but a former U.S. security official in Libya is doing his best to torpedo those claims. For weeks, the State Department has been on defense trying to account for why there wasn't more security at the U.S. compound in Benghazi even as U.S. officials in Libya complained of mounting security threats. Last week, these criticisms were vaguely sourced to "whistleblowers" speaking with Republicans on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. Now, it appears that at least one source of those criticisms is showing his face: Lt. Col Andy Wood.
Wood led the 16-member special forces team tasked with protecting U.S. personnel in Libya. and this morning, two stories critical of the State Department were sourced to Wood, one by ABC News and another by CBS News. The first features Wood hitting the administration hard on its refusal to increase security personnel in the country prior to the attacks. "We tried to illustrate ... to show them how dangerous and how volatile and just unpredictable that whole environment was over there. So to decrease security in the face of that really is ... it's just unbelievable," Wood told Attkisson in a sit-down interview. When Wood discovered that his 16-member team and a six-member State Department elite security team was being pulled from Tripoli in August, he said it felt "like we were being asked to play the piano with two fingers. There was concern amongst the entire embassy staff."
Wood told ABC News' Jake Tapper that murdered U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens himself even asked the State Department to keep Wood's security detail there past August—a request that wasn't granted. “They just had to make do with less security.” Strengthening Wood's claim, Tapper got his hands on an embassy request in February that stated: “Quite simply, we cannot maintain our existing levels of Embassy operations, much less implement necessary staffing increases, without a continued SST presence.” It also spoke of the worsening security situation in the country. “Overall security conditions continue to be unpredictable, with large numbers of armed groups and individuals not under control of the central government, and frequent clashes in Tripoli and other major population centers,” reads the request.
In response to criticisms, the State Department has refuted the claim that security personnel were ever decreased, saying different security personnel were rotated in and out of Libya, but "maintained a constant level of security capability." Interestingly, the State Department has not given an on-the-record rebuttal of Wood, but they have tried to discredit him through anonymous statements to the press. In the CBS story, "State Department officials" say Wood doesn't know what he's talking about:
State Department officials have told CBS News that Wood was not part of the security assessment in Benghazi and that his assignment to Tripoli means he was unfamiliar with the local situation in the smaller port city in the country's east.
Not a lot has been written about Wood prior to this incident, but what we know about him is that in his former position as Special Forces "Site Security Team" in Libya, his mission ended in August. He's a member of the Utah National Guard who typically does security for the Department of Interior. Though he's been relatively obscure up until now, that's going to change quickly: He's been subpoenaed by the House Oversite Committee and is scheduled to testify on Wednesday. It's hard to divine any motivations for him to attack the administration at this point, but if he keeps it up, he's not going to be making any fast friends with the State Department.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.
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