(Reuters) - The State Department’s decision to hire Blue Mountain Group to guard the ill-fated U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya, entrusted security tasks to a little-known British company instead of the large firms it usually uses in overseas danger zones.
The cradle of last year’s uprising that ended Muammar Gaddafi’s 42-year rule, Benghazi has been plagued by rising violence in recent months.
Security practices at the diplomatic compound, where Blue Mountain guards patrolled with flashlights and batons instead of guns, have come under U.S. government scrutiny in the wake of the September 11 attack in Benghazi that killed U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other Americans.
“Blue Mountain was virtually unknown to the circles that studied private security contractors working for the United States, before the events in Benghazi,” said Charles Tiefer, a commissioner at the Commission on Wartime Contracting, which studied U.S. contracting in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.
GUARDS OF BENGHAZI
Blue Mountain hired about 20 Libyan men - including some who say they had minimal training - to screen visitors and help patrol the mission at Benghazi, according to Reuters interviews.
Some of the guards sustained injuries and said they were ill-prepared to protect themselves or others when heavily armed militants last month stormed the rented villa that was serving as the mission.
The unarmed guards were told to sound the alarm over the radio and then run for cover if there was an attack, a Libyan who acted as a supervisor for the Blue Mountain local guard team at the mission said during an interview with Reuters.
The State Department contract for “local guard” services in Benghazi took effect in March 2012. Several of Blue Mountain’s Libyan employees told Reuters that they had no prior security training or experience.
He also displayed a medal embossed with “Department of State” and a horseman carrying Libyan and U.S. flags. “They thanked us for our help and also gave us this medal as an appreciation,” he said.
Despite their inexperience, the Blue Mountain guards said they feared the Americans were not concerned enough about security.