The State Department signed a six-figure deal with a British firm to protect the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya just four months before a sustained attack on the compound killed four U.S. nationals inside.
Contrary to Friday’s claim by State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland that “at no time did we contract with a private security firm in Libya,” the department inked a contract for “security guards and patrol services” on May 3 for $387,413.68. An extension option brought the tab for protecting the consulate to $783,000. The contract lists only “foreign security awardees” as its recipient.
The State Department confirmed to Danger Room on Monday that the firm was Blue Mountain, a British company that provides “close protection; maritime security; surveillance and investigative services; and high risk static guarding and asset protection,” according to its website. Blue Mountain says it has “recently operated in Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, the Caribbean and across Europe” and has worked in Libya for several months since last year’s war.
A representative for Blue Mountain, reached at its U.K. offices Monday, said no one was available to comment.
The State Department frequently hires security companies to protect diplomats in conflict zones. It usually is done through what’s known as the Worldwide Protective Services contract, in which a handful of approved firms compete to safeguard specific diplomatic installations. In 2010, State selected eight firms for the most recent contract. Blue Mountain wasn’t among them, and the State Department did not explain why the Benghazi consulate contract did not go to one of those eight firms.
It isn’t known how the Blue Mountain contractors performed Tuesday when the consulate came under sustained attack by small arms fire. In an official account provided Wednesday by the Obama administration, embassy security staff — both American and Libyan — failed to break the assault. They required help from Libyan security forces, assisted by a sympathetic Libyan militia, to regain control of the consulate’s main building and end a pitched battle that raged for 4.5 hours.
Nor is it clear if two former Navy SEALs killed in the assault were Blue Mountain employees. One of them, Glen Doherty, told ABC News last month that he was part of a mission sent to Libya to lock down Moammar Gadhafi’s missiles to prevent them from reaching the black market. Blue Mountain’s contract doesn’t refer to safeguarding thousands of rockets and missiles that have gone missing in the aftermath of the 2011 war.