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Jon Greenberg
By Jon Greenberg October 12, 2012

Biden says 'we weren't told' about Libya security requests

The attack on the consulate in Libya that took the life of the U.S. ambassador and three other Americans has put the Obama administration on the defensive. In the vice presidential debate, moderator Martha Raddatz pressed Vice President Joe Biden to explain why administration officials at first described the attack as something that emerged from a protest:

RADDATZ: What were you first told about the attack? Why were people talking about protests? When people in the consulate first saw armed men attacking with guns, there were no protesters. Why did that go on?

BIDEN: Because that was exactly what we were told by the intelligence community. The intelligence community told us that. As they learned more facts about exactly what happened, they changed their assessment. That's why there's also an investigation headed by Tom Pickering, a leading diplomat from the Reagan years, who is doing an investigation as to whether or not there are any lapses, what the lapses were, so that they will never happen again.

RADDATZ: And they wanted more security there.

BIDEN: Well, we weren't told they wanted more security there.

In this fact check, we'll look at whether the administration was told that that U.S. officials in Libya wanted additional security.

In a House hearing on Wednesday, a State Department employee, Eric Nordstrom, said he told his superiors twice that the embassy mission needed more armed security. Nordstrom was the regional security officer for Libya in the months before the attack. In a July cable, he said he wanted 12 guards plus military trainers.

Charlene Lamb, a deputy assistant secretary at the State Department who reviewed his request, confirmed at the hearing that she opposed keeping the security team in Libya.

Beyond putting his assessment on paper, Nordstrom made that request verbally to a State Department officer in the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs. "His response to that was, 'You're asking for the sun, moon, and the stars,'" Nordstrom said.

Nordstrom, who still works for the State Department, described a phone call with that officer and his frustration with the department's bureaucracy.

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"I said, ' It's not the hardships. It's not the gunfire. It's not the threats. It's dealing and fighting against the people, programs, and personnel who are supposed to be supporting me," Nordstrom said.

State Department officials at the hearing argued that they met other security requests and that the additional personnel would have been of little use since they would have been based in Tripoli. The attack took place in Benghazi.

Nordstrom was seeking more forces for the embassy mission nationally, not exclusively Benghazi. In fact, the number of guards at the Benghazi consulate when the attack occurred was at or near the number Nordstrom said were needed for that site.

White House spokesman Tommy Vietor said that Biden was aware of the House testimony and was answering the debate question in terms of what the White House knew, not the entire administration.

"The vice president was speaking for himself and the President, Vietor said. "In over four hours of testimony the other day, no one suggested that requests for additional security were made to the president or the White House. These are issues that are appropriately handled by security professionals at the State Department."

Our ruling

Vice President Biden said, "We weren't told they wanted more security."

That statement is accurate only if you define "we" to mean "people at the White House." A State Department officer in Libya said that he requested additional guards and was turned down by at least one other official in the State Department. The White House said Biden meant that the security requests had not been conveyed to him and others in the executive office.

It's possible that Biden and Obama were unaware of that request. Still, it was made in the State Department, which is part of the Obama administration. Even if it didn't make its way up through the bureaucracy, a request was made.

We rate the statement Mostly False.

Our Sources

CNN, Vice-presidential debate transcript, Oct. 10, 2012

CQ Congressional Transcripts, House Oversight and government Reform Committee hearing on Libya, Oct. 10, 2012

Email interview with Tommy Vietor, Executive Office of the President, Oct. 12, 2012

CNN, U.S. Official says superiors worked against effort to boost Benghazi security, Oct. 11, 2012

New York TimesOfficial tells panel a request for security was denied, Oct. 10, 2012

Washington PostEmbassy in Libya sought, and received, extension of security team beyond scheduled deployment, Oct. 8, 2012

Washington PostBefore attack on U.S. mission in Libya, State Department concluded risk of violence was high, Oct. 9, 2012

Christian Science MonitorLibya attack: Congressmen casting blame voted to cut diplomatic security budget, Oct. 5, 2012

Christian Science MonitorState Department admits it knew Libya attack was terrorism, Oct. 10, 2012


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