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House panel: Security boost denied at consulate

WASHINGTON -- Despite two explosions and dozens of other security threats, U.S. officials in Washington turned down repeated pleas from American diplomats in Libya to increase security at the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi where the U.S. ambassador was killed, Republican leaders of a House committee said yesterday.

In a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, chairman Darrell Issa and Rep. Jason Chaffetz of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee said their information came from "individuals with direct knowledge of events in Libya."

Issa (R-Calif.) and Chaffetz (R-Utah) said the attack three weeks ago in Benghazi that killed Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans was the latest in a long line of attacks on Western diplomats in Libya in the months before.

The letter listed 13 incidents, but Chaffetz said in an interview there were more than 50. Two involved explosive devices. A June 6 blast blew a hole in the security perimeter.

The explosion was described to the committee as "big enough for 40 men to go through." On April 6, two Libyans fired by a security contactor threw a small explosive device over the consulate fence.

"A number of people felt helpless in pushing back" against the decision not to increase security and "were pleading with them to reconsider," Chaffetz said. He added that frustrated whistle-blowers were so upset with the decision that they were anxious to speak with the committee.

The lawmakers said they plan a hearing on Oct. 10. They asked Clinton whether the State Department was aware of the previous incidents and how the department responded to requests for more protection.

Clinton responded Tuesday in a letter to Issa that she has established an accountability review board to determine "whether our security systems and procedures in Benghazi were adequate, whether those systems and procedures were properly implemented, and any lessons learned that may be relevant to our work around the world." She asked the committee to withhold any final conclusions until the board issues its findings.

In the days after the attack, the Obama administration said it believed it was a spontaneous reaction to an anti-Islamic video. Since then, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and White House press secretary Jay Carney have called it a terrorist attack.

Republicans have lashed out at Obama and senior administration officials over their evolving description of the deadly Sept. 11 attack.

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