NEW YORK – In a detail largely unreported by the mainstream news media, testimony by the State Department’s diplomatic security chief at Wednesday’s Benghazi hearing conflicts with Hillary Clinton’s explanation for why a Marine contingent was never deployed to protect the attacked U.S. Special Mission.
Greg Starr, assistant secretary for diplomatic security, told lawmakers that in his experience Marines were never deployed to protect temporary facilities, such as the U.S. Mission in Benghazi.
“In my experience we would not have put a Marine security guard detachment into a temporary facility,” Starr testified.
He affirmed that assessment a second time when Rep. Martha Roby, R-Ala., asked, “The Benghazi compound, we’ve already established by multiple questions here, it was a temporary facility. And Marine security guard detachments are never deployed to temporary facilities, correct?”
Starr replied, “Not in my experience.”
The U.S. Benghazi Mission was set up originally by Clinton’s State Department as a “temporary, residential facility,” according to the State Department’s Accountability Review Board, thus exempting the structure from numerous security requirements.
However, in her memoir, “Hard Choices,” Clinton claims the reason Marines were not posted to the Benghazi compound was because the job of Marines is to protect classified documents, and the Benghazi facility did not process classified documents.
“Many Americans and even members of Congress were surprised to learn that there were no U.S. Marines assigned to our Benghazi compound,” she wrote. “In fact Marines are assigned to only a little over half of all our diplomatic posts around the world, where their primary mission is the protection and, if necessary, the destruction of classified materials and equipment.”
Continued Clinton: “So while there were Marines stationed at our embassy in Tripoli, where nearly all of our diplomats worked and which had the capability to process classified material, because there was no classified processing at the diplomatic compound in Benghazi, there were no Marines posted there.”
According to Starr, though, no Marines could have deployed since the facility was set up by the State Department as a temporary compound.
Instead of Marines, external security at the facility was provided by unarmed local Libyan guards.
Armed members of the Martyrs of the February 17th Brigades served as the official quick-reaction force that worked within the compound. The Brigade is an offshoot of the Ansar al-Sharia terrorist organization that was implicated in the Benghazi attack.
No classified documents?
While Clinton claims no classified documents were processed at the facility, questions have been be raised as to why sensitive information housed at the U.S. special mission in Benghazi was not officially designated as classified.
The question of the security designation of documents and information contained at the Benghazi facility was prompted in by a recent debate within the intelligence community.
In July, Fox News quoted sources in Washington and on the ground in Libya, including a witness, confirming computers were stolen during the Sept. 11, 2012, attack.
“They took computers, computer devices. And I saw M-16 rifles, American rifles. I know they are American – we don’t have them, we just have AK-47s – and a suitcase,” the Libyan witness told Fox News.
Two days after the attack, the London Independent reported documents inside the U.S. mission were said to “list names of Libyans who are working with Americans, putting them potentially at risk from extremist groups.”
Three weeks after the attack, the Washington Post reported documents inside the U.S. mission contained “delicate information about American operations in Libya.”
The Post reported one of its journalists visited the facility weeks after the attack to find scattered across the floors “documents detailing weapons collection efforts, emergency evacuation protocols, the full internal itinerary of Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens’s trip and the personnel records of Libyans who were contracted to secure the mission.”
The July Fox News report revealed that after the U.S. mission was looted, some of the Libyans employed there received death threats via text message. It is unclear whether the threats were prompted by the stolen documents and computers.
Officially, the information processed at the U.S. mission was not designated as classified by the State Department.
However, two former CIA agents contacted by WND said they were perplexed as to why such reported sensitive information was not designated as classified. The agents’ comments were based on news media descriptions of the information, not on any firsthand knowledge.
The U.S. government classifies information based on an estimation of the potential damage to national security if it were released.
Documents classified as “confidential” are likely to cause “damage” to national security if released. Material classified as “secret” would cause “serious damage” if exposed. The classification of “top secret” is used for material that would cause “exceptionally grave damage” to national security.
With additional research by Joshua Klein.