Judicial Watch: State Department Documents Show Its Security Contractor Operating without a License in Benghazi on Day of Terrorist Attack
DECEMBER 11, 2014
State Official Describes Benghazi as an ‘Emergency’ Situation
(Washington, DC) – Judicial Watch has obtained and released internal Department of State documents detailing the department’s $783,284.79 contract with U.K.-based Blue Mountain Group (BMG) to provide security at the diplomatic outpost in Benghazi, Libya. The documents show that BMG did not have a license to operate in Libya at the time of the attack due to a business dispute with its partner in Libya, XPAND Corporation, and quote a State official describing the Benghazi security issue as an “emergency situation.” Judicial Watch obtained the documents through a court order in a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit (Judicial Watch v U.S. Department of State (No. 13-00243)).
BMG notified State Department Contracting Officer Jan Visintainer of the dispute on June 6, 2012. On July 10, 2012, Visintainer advised the company that the department, “is not required to mediate any disagreements between the two parties of the Blue Mountain Libya partnership.” The letter further suggested that “it is in the best interests of both of the 50/50 partners to resolve their differences and successfully complete this contract.”
Despite that urging, the documents obtained by Judicial Watch include an agreement, dated August 20, 2012, between Blue Mountain Group and XPAND Corporation to dissolve their partnership. On September 9, 2012 – just two days before the terrorist attack – an unidentified partner at Nabulsi & Associates (the law firm representing XPAND) wrote to Visintainer advising the department that XPAND, which owned the security license under which BMG was operating, “hereby bar and prohibit BMUK [Blue Mountain U.K.] from utilizing such license.” The letter continues:
Accordingly, we kindly inform you that any use of such license by BMUK in Libya shall be illegal and a clear violation of Libyan laws. We therefore request that the US mission ceases any dealings with BMUK if such dealings are based on any form of reliance on such security license.
In response to XPAND’s letter, an unidentified BMG official wrote to Visintainer on September 11, 2012:
I have never experienced anything like this in business before. The agreement was signed and we were to operate under the [Blue Mountain Libya] license and confirmation of this was due through from [sic] the partners. However, they have had a change of mind and now this. I will call you very shortly.
The documents indicate that the dispute and licensing issue led the State Department to immediately plan to terminate their contract with BMG. On the morning of September 11, 2012, David Sparrowgrove, a State Department regional security officer, wrote to Visintainer and others, “The dissolution of the partnership leaves BMG without a security license to operate in Libya and the Libyan partner has no capacity to manage the guards or the contract. As a result, we feel the best course of action is to terminate the contract in short order.” Sparrowgrove also writes, “I’ve CC’d OPO Branch Chief Ricki Travers who has had the unfortunate pleasure of dealing with these types of emergency situations in the past.”
In an email from Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs Mark Toner dated October 17, 2012, the fact that the dispute between BMG and XPAND meant the company was operating without a license is glossed over, any reference to the September 11, 2012, emergency Benghazi security situation is specifically omitted, and he describes Visintainer’s response in July as “invoking collaborative resolution to the said dispute.” The misleading responses are significant because they were also shared with Congress.
The day after the attack, the Nabulsi law partner wrote again to Visintainer on behalf of XPAND to express their condolences and to advise the State Department that in light of the attack, “XPAND shall put its differences with the security operators, Blue Mountain UK, to the side for the moment, and shall allow the use of its security license by BMUK to meet your full needs until a suitable alternative has been arranged.”
The records reveal that Blue Mountain Group was not the only security contractor to bid on the Benghazi contract. A February 1, 2012, email from State Department contractor Neil Kern identifies two other bidders, including Torres Advanced Enterprise Solutions. According to federal contracting records, Torres, a Service Disabled Veteran Owned Small Business based in Virginia, has won nearly $70 million in contracts with the department (including those to provide guard services in Pakistan, Iraq, and Jordan).
It’s unclear from the documents why the Benghazi contract was instead awarded to BMG, which apparently had never previously provided security for a U.S. government agency.
The documents also disclose a previously unknown “Benghazi Group supporting the Secretary” that evidently was managing responses to press and Congressional inquiries.
As previously reported, Judicial Watch has obtained records revealing significant and ongoing problems with BMG’s security operations in Benghazi. These included several guards walking off the job out of fear for their safety and an altercation between the BMG guard force commander and a member of the 17th February Martyrs Brigade that led to the commander’s dismissal.
The role BMG played in protecting the security of the Benghazi Consulate first came to light shortly after the September 2012 terrorist attack when State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland emphatically denied on September 18, 2012, that State had hired any private firm to provide security at the American mission in Benghazi. The department later retracted that claim.
“These documents took years to see the light of day and show the Obama administration had a security emergency on the day of the Benghazi terrorist attack. And the documents indicate the administration specifically withheld this pertinent information from both Congress and the American people. It seems an odd coincidence the Middle East firm providing security for the Benghazi facility desperately wanted out two days before the terrorist attack,” stated Judicial Watch president Tom Fitton.
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