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'Security in Benghazi Was a Struggle... Diplomatic Security Remained Weak'

"The post had agreed that three was a sufficient number to have on the ground," Lamb argued, adding that the goal was to train Libyans to assume greater security roles.

"You knew about all these other attacks that had taken place," said Rep. Dan Burton (R-Ind.). "Local Libyans were told there was going to be an attack and left."

Stevens also cabled his concerns about the deteriorating security situation on the day of his death.

In the six months leading up to the Sept. 11 assault, there were 13 documented threats or attacks on U.S. interests in Tripoli and Benghazi.

The State Department officials were grilled by committee Republicans on why it took so long for the administration to admit that the attack was terrorism.

"We were gathering information and coordinating with the intelligence community, dozens of other embassies, we were concerned about looking for all the information," said Kennedy. "…We have a great partnership with the intelligence community and heavily depend on the information they provide us."

Under questioning, both Kennedy and Lamb admitted they have never visited Libya.

"Your testimony seems to be conflicting," said Rep. James Lankford (R-Okla.), noting that "seven days later the White House press secretary was still standing up and giving the same report."

"I'm kind of amazed by this whole dialogue today," he added.

Kennedy said the department was juggling "multiple reports" -- including ones dealing with the administration's first story. "There were reports we received that said there were protests and I will not go any further than that," he said. "And things evolved. Period."

"I don't want to cross certain lines in open session," Kennedy said when prodded by committee members.

Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.), who joined the hearing as the House Foreign Affairs Oversight and Investigation Subcommittee chairman, slammed the administration's "bowing and scraping to try to prove its sincerity and friendship-seeking to the Islamic world since Day One."

He also noted that none of the witnesses used "terrorism" in their prepared remarks.

"That's not your fault, but there's a mindset there that the word 'terrorism' doesn't even come into your written testimony," Rohrabacher said.

"I'm not making any judgments on my own," Lamb maintained when asked by Burton about calling it a terrorist attack.

"Which terrorist group finds 9/11 significant?" asked Rep. Sandy Adams (R-Fla.), also not an Oversight member but joining the hearing.

"I'm sure all do," Lamb stumbled.

"We cannot end the risk to our people overseas," Kennedy asserted, stressing they had no actual intelligence of an attack plan on Sept. 11. "The State Department must go into harm's way."

At today's White House daily briefing, press secretary Jay Carney kicked it back over to Kennedy's court, particularly when pressed on the undersecretary's reported call with congressional staffers on Sept. 12 in which he called it a coordinated attack.

"Pat Kennedy, the undersecretary of State for management, is testifying in public today. So I would look to what he says before your cameras and the American people, rather than what congressional sources, whoever they may be, may be telling you," Carney said under grilling from Fox News' Ed Henry.

"I never said we don’t know if it’s terrorism. There was an issue about the definition of terrorism. This is by definition an act of terror, as the president made clear," Carney added.

The White House announced Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism John Brennan met with senior Libyan officials, including Libyan National Congress President Mohamed Yousef el-Magariaf, today in Tripoli.

"Mr. Brennan, on behalf of President Obama, expressed support for Libya's ongoing government formation and transition to democracy and accepted condolences for the tragic deaths of four Americans in Benghazi last month," National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor said in a statement.

"The two sides discussed the continuing investigation into the Benghazi attacks, including specific additional steps Libya can take to better assist the U.S. in ensuring that the perpetrators are brought to justice. Both sides reaffirmed their strong commitment to countering terrorism and violent extremism."

The White House didn't mention the anti-Muhammad video.

Brennan's visit was on the heels, however, of a weekend trip to the region by Oversight Republicans, including Chaffetz.

Democrats complained that they weren't invited on the trip, though Chaffetz wryly noted that he received the same notice given to the Dems and that the other side of the aisle did send an attorney "to follow my every footstep."

"At OGR Libya hearing. Issa/Chaffetz running roughshod on process, witholding [sic] Utah witness, traveling to Libya sans Dems. All politics," Connolly tweeted at the beginning of the hearing.

"We could have and should have saved the life of Ambassador Stevens and the other Americans there," Chaffetz said.

Issa, who promised to "follow all the clues to where they lead," advised Nordstrom and Wood to come back to the committee if they receive any government harassment for their testimony. "We take the work of whistleblowers seriously," he said.

The chairman asked Wood, who said the attack was "instantly recognizable" to him as terrorism, what the difference would be in a result of "everyone getting out and half getting out" of an attack such as the consulate assault.

"Superior weapons and superior tactics," Wood said. "That was what the SST was."