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 wreckage of the U.S. mission Wednesday, offering visitors easy access to delicate information about American operations in Libya.
Documents detailing weapons collection efforts, emergency evacuation protocols, the full internal itinerary of Ambassador Christopher Stevens trip and the personnel records of Libyans who were contracted to secure the mission were among the items scattered across the floors of the looted compound.
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 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 the 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 attack in Benghazi.
Although the gates to the Benghazi compound 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, according to a member of the family who owns the compound and who allowed journalists to enter Wednesday.
Two private security guards paid for by the compounds Libyan owner are the only people watching over the sprawling site, which is 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, said Mark Toner, deputy spokesman at the State Department, 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 of the documents found at the site. They did not request that the documents 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 charred wreckage of the compound. CNN discovered a copy of the ambassadors journal last month and broadcast details from it, drawing an angry response from the State Department.
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 took place. The document is a memorandum dated Sept. 9 from the U.S. missions 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.
In the event of an attack on the U.S. Mission, the document states, QRF will request additional support from the 17th February Martyrs Brigade.
Other documents detail – with names, photographs, phone numbers and other personal information – the Libyans contracted to provide security for the mission from a British-based private firm, Blue Mountain. Some of those Libyans say they now fear for their lives, and the State Department has said it shares concerns about their safety.