Sensitive U.S. data unsecured in Libya
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BENGHAZI, Libya -- More than three weeks after attacks in this city killed the U.S. ambassador to Libya and three other Americans, sensitive documents remained only loosely secured in the U.S. mission wreckage Wednesday, offering visitors easy access to delicate information about U.S. operations in Libya.
Documents detailing weapons-collection efforts, emergency evacuation protocols, the full internal itinerary of Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens' trip and the personnel records of Libyans who were contracted to secure the mission were among items scattered across the floors of the looted compound when a Washington Post reporter and a translator visited Wednesday.
The discovery further complicates efforts by the Obama administration to respond to what has rapidly become a major foreign policy issue, just weeks before the election. Republicans have accused Mr. Obama of having left U.S. diplomatic compounds in Muslim-majority nations insufficiently protected on the anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, and have questioned security preparations in the lead-up to assaults on embassies in Egypt, Yemen, Tunisia and Sudan. Capitol Hill critics have also pressed for an explanation for the slow pace of the investigation that has followed the Benghazi attack.
Although the Benghazi compound gates were locked several days after the attacks, looters and curiosity-seekers were free to roam in the initial chaotic aftermath, and many documents may already have disappeared.
No government-provided security forces are guarding the compound, and Libyan investigators have visited just once, said a member of the family who owns the compound and who let the journalists enter Wednesday.
Two private security guards paid for by the compound's Libyan owner are the only people watching over the sprawling site, composed of two adjoining villa complexes and protected in some places by a wall only 8 feet high.
"Securing the site has obviously been a challenge," State Department deputy spokesman Mark Toner said in response to questions about conditions at the Benghazi compound. "We had to evacuate all U.S. government personnel the night of the attack. After the attack, we requested help securing the site, and we continue to work with the Libyan government on this front."
State Department officials were provided with copies of some documents found at the site. They did not request that they be withheld from publication.
None of the documents was marked classified, but this is not the first time that sensitive documents have been found by journalists in the compound's charred wreckage. CNN discovered a copy of the ambassador's journal last month and broadcast details from it, drawing an angry State Department response. Unlike the journal, all documents seen by The Post were official.
At least one document found amid the clutter indicates that Americans at the mission were discussing the possibility of an attack in early September, just two days before the assault occurred. The document is a Sept. 9 memorandum from the U.S. mission's security office to the 17th February Martyrs Brigade, the Libyan government-sanctioned militia that was guarding the compound, making plans for a "quick-reaction force," or QRF, that would provide security.
On Tuesday, two House Republicans sent a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton demanding more information about the Benghazi compound assault. The letter from Reps. Darrell Issa of California and Jason Chaffetz of Utah said Libyans working as private-security personnel at the compound were warned by family members in the weeks before the attacks to quit their jobs because of rumors of an impending attack. The congressmen did not say where they had received that information.
First Published October 4, 2012 12:00 am