There’s fresh evidence that security at the U.S. consulate in Benghazi was something less than first class. Documents recovered from the grounds of the American mission show that the guards there were paid an hourly rate of 5.21 Libyan Dinars — the equivalent of $4 per hour.
Libya isn’t a wealthy country by American standards. Before the country’s civil war in 2011, the average income was about $12,000, or six dollars per hour for a 40-hour work week. It’s safe to assume that the fighting over the last 18 months has only lowered that average take-home pay.
Still, $4 an hour isn’t exactly a king’s ransom, considering the risks to the consulate’s security personnel. On June 6, militants planted a bomb at the mission’s north gate, blowing a hole allegedly big enough for 40 people to run through. Then came the coordinated assault on Sept. 11 that left four Americans — including the U.S. ambassador — dead. The FBI claims that Benghazi is still too dangerous to set up a dedicated operations center there.
Yet a Washington Post reporter was able to walk the grounds of the now-discarded consulate, and pick up some rather sensitive documents. The papers included the employment agreement between British private security contractor Blue Mountain and the local guards they hired to protect the mission.
The U.S. State Department paid Blue Mountain $783,000 to help secure the location. Blue Mountain paid the locals considerably less, and were require to cover their own transportation costs to the consulate, to boot. And once their shifts were over, the guards weren’t supposed to pick up second jobs. “During subsequent rest periods there will be no financial compensation and Employees are not to engage with other working practices,” the agreement reads. The guards — at least some of which were unarmed — were also warned that anything from “downloading pornography” to “sabotage” could get them fired.
The measures — or lack thereof — to protect the consulate have become a major political issue. Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney has questioned the Obama administration’s commitment to diplomatic security. On Tuesday, the Republican-led House Oversight Committee announced hearings into the consulate attack; Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for International Programs Charlene Lamb and Regional Security Officer Eric Nordstrom have been called in to testify.
The documents discovered by the Post won’t do much to relieve that political pressure. They include an eight-step evacuation plan for the diplomatic personnel stationed in Benghazi (step #2: “gather and destroy sensitive equipment and documents”) as well as an agreement with a local band of fighters to serve as a “quick reaction force” in case the consulate was attacked. The so-called February 17 Brigade may have, in fact, performed those duties; U.S. officials claimed immediately after the September 11 assault that a “sympathetic local militia” helped repel the attackers. But later, American intelligence officials told The Daily Beast that they picked up communications between the Feb. 17 Brigade and an al-Qaida affiliate.
The Pentagon’s Joint Special Operations Command — its elite manhunting cadre — is now building “target packages” on the people believed to have hit the consulate. American commandos are spreading out throughout North Africa. Perhaps if the U.S. had spent more than $4 per hour on Benghazi’s security, it wouldn’t need to dispatch quite so many of its most valuable troops.