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Continuing Coverage of House Foreign Affairs Committee Hearins on Benghazi Attack

Aired January 23, 2013 - 14:30   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


REP. ED ROYCE, R-CALIFORNIA: So here's the point. Senior officials fully appreciated the grave threats in Benghazi. They knew that al Qaida was there. They knew that our security was insufficient. But instead of adding security, in this case they took it away. They withdrew mobile security detachment teams. They sent packing a special team that the Defense Department provided, and provided at no cost. So if senior officials knew that our diplomats weren't safe and weren't adequately staffed, then why did they continue to withdraw security? I think that's the first question.

In testimony this morning you said you never saw those requests, and I understand that. Last month, though, Deputy Secretary Burns testified that memos regarding the deteriorating security situation did make their way to the 7th Floor to top management. So what senior official was he referring to when he talks about top management there? Who in the senior management was responsible for responding to those requests that were coming from the field? That would be my question.

CLINTON: Well, there is a lot of important questions in that, Mr. Chairman. And let me begin by saying that I was aware of certain incidents at our facility and the attack on the British diplomat. I was briefed on steps taken to repair the breach in the perimeter wall after the June bombing, steps taken to reduce off-compound movements.

Our team, led by security professionals, but also including intelligence professionals and others, did not recommend, based on those incidents, abandoning Benghazi. In part, because over the last years we have become accustomed to operating in dangerous places, in Pakistan, in Iraq, -- excuse me -- in Afghanistan and Yemen and elsewhere. And we do, as by necessity, rely on security professionals to implement the protocols and procedures necessary to keep our people safe. And as I said in my opening statements, because you know, most of the time they get it right.

But I was also engaged -- and I think this is what Deputy Secretary Burns was referring to -- in the issues related to the deteriorating threat environment, particularly in Libya. There were other places across the region. We were also watching to try to see what we could do to support the Libyan government to improve the overall stability of their country to deal with the many militias. We have many programs and actions that we were working on. I had a number of conversations with leading Libyan officials. I went to Libya in October of 2011. In fact, shortly before the attack on Benghazi we approved Libya for substantial funding from a joint State/DOD account for border security, CT capabilities and WMD efforts. So I want ... ROYCE: I understand that concept.

CLINTON: ... to just clarify that there were specific instances and assessments going on, primarily by the security professionals related to individual posts, including Benghazi.

ROYCE: But what I saw was a communique which indicated that in fact those assets like the security site team were in fact pulled. You had free of cost here from the Department of Defense a team in place, and on about August 15th some weeks before the attack. The question is, can we extend that security team? And the answer is, no, it would be embarrassing to our agency if that agency is providing the protection.

That struck me as a little bit of the problem that we had before between the CIA and the FBI, between the two agencies that were more focused perhaps on the rivalry than they were on providing the security. And we're full circle now, based on the reading, literal reading, of those memos. Here you had the requests.

So that's my question. OK, they didn't come to the conclusion that we should increase security, but what about the question of having security actually withdrawn August 15th in terms of the security site team provided by the Department of Defense?

CLINTON: Well, again, I'm glad you raised that. The ARB looked into this, as it looked into everything. It does not even discuss the SST or recommend that our personnel on the ground should have asked for its continued deployment. And I think that's in part because the SST was based in Tripoli.

ROYCE: Right.

CLINTON: It hardly ever, less than 2 percent of the entire time that it was in Libya, did it even go to Benghazi. Its responsibilities, which were about the citing of and security of the embassy, were focused on Tripoli and it was not an open-ended arrangement, as it has been understood.

It was intended as an interim measure and the experts who were there played vital roles. They were communication specialists, airfield specialists, trained medics. They helped to stand up our embassy in Tripoli when we opened it. And I think it's important that they were very helpful with the embassy, but at the end of the day they really were not focused on, nor did they pay much attention to Benghazi.

And I think since their primary mission was at the embassy, the embassy did acquire a lot of assets and that was the decision that they should not be extended for a third time.

ROYCE: Madame Secretary, thank you.

We're going to go to Mr. Engel from New York.

ENGEL: Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman.

Madame Secretary, you and the State Department have rightfully taken responsibility for what happened, convening the ARB. And you're implementing its recommendations.

But as I said in my opening statement, we need to be clear-eyed that there is blame to share right here in Congress. Over the past 2 years alone the administrations' request for diplomatic security funding has been slashed by more than a half a billion dollars in Congress, and the coming appropriations bill for fiscal 2013 continues this negative trend by slashing funding for worldwide security protection, embassy security, construction and maintenance, by more than $260 million.

So I'd like to ask you, Madame Secretary, do you think that Congress has provided adequate resources for diplomatic security in recent years? Can you talk about security priorities you have not been able to complete due to an inadequate budget? And what advice would you give the committee as it considers funding to protect our diplomats?

And I want to also add, what would happen even worse to the security of our diplomats and our diplomatic facilities if there is a sequester, or worse, a government shutdown? Has the State Department begun planning for the dangers of Congress not agreeing on a budget?

CLINTON: Well, Congressman Engel, this is a bipartisan problem. Since 2007, the department has consistently requested greater funding for embassy construction and diplomatic security. But with the exception of 2010, the Congress has consistently enacted less than requested. Most notably, in 2012, the department received $340 million les than requested, close to 10 percent less.

Now, over the last 2 years, cuts to the embassy construction, security and maintenance budget was almost 10 percent as well. Now, the ARB -- and I would refer to them, because you know, they had an independent view of this -- has recommended an increase in facilities funding to $2.2 billion per year to restore the construction levels that were called for in the 1998 ARB report.

But I think it's also fair to make the point the ARB made. Consistent shortfalls have required the government to try to prioritize. And the department has attempted to do that, but I do think that there became a culture of reaction. You know, as the ARB said, husbanding resources and trying to figure out how to do as much with as little as possible. And so, although our prioritization was certainly imperfect, the funds provided by Congress were inadequate. So somehow we have to work on both ends of that equation.

Now, what can you do? Well, first of all, we came up with a request to the legislative and budget staffs for transfer authority language. Namely, taking money we already had in this budget and letting us move it quickly to do what the ARB told us to do. More Marine security guards, more diplomatic security guards, more construction and upgrades. We were able to get that included in the Senate version of the Sandy Supplemental, which passed on December 28th, but we were unable to get the language included in the House version.

CLINTON: This is not new money. So first and foremost, I would greatly appreciate this committee weighing in, working with your counterpart in the Senate to give us this transfer authority. Otherwise, we're going to be behind the curve again. Secondly, I think it's very important to change the laws about best value contracting versus lowest priced, technically qualified.

But statute, the State Department local guard contracts in dangerous places like Libya and everywhere else, except Iraq and Afghanistan must be awarded using a lowest price technically acceptable section process. We have requested a change in the legislation that would allow us to use some discretion to try to deal with the -- the -- the varieties and vagaries of these local guard forces.

We currently have in, as I said, in Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan but it's going to expire. So that's something else that I would respectfully ask this committee to look into.

And finally, the point that the chairman made and that you echoed, Congressman, an authorization. You know, working on an authorization, I was on the Armed Services Committee in the Senate, we did an authorization every year, no matter what was going on in the world. It was a great organizing tool. It made sure that our defense needs were going to be met. I believe that in the world in which we are living, our diplomacy and development needs are very important but we don't have the same focus and so, working with the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on an authorization where you can look everything and you can have subcommittees, really delving into all of these different issues coming up with an authorization I think would be a great step forward.

UNKNOWN: Thank you. Thank you Madam Secretary.

ROYCE: Ileana Ros-Lehtinen from New York.

ROS-LEHTINEN: Well we -- they eventually retired.

ROYCE: From Florida, they retire from New York to Florida -- from Florida.

ROS-LEHTINEN: We'll take them either way, it's New Jersey, New York, come on down.

Madam Secretary, thank you... CLINTON: There are a lot of New Yorkers already down there I (inaudible).

ROS-LEHTINEN: You bet, but you can only vote once remember, we're very, very picky about that.

Thank you for the positive working relationship that we have had during your tenure at the State Department. I request that I get written responses for the questions that I'm going to ask.

First, why were you not interviewed for the review board -- by the review board investigators? And how can this review be considered thorough when the person at the top, the Secretary of State was not part of the investigation? That's what was said in our open hearing when it was confirmed that you were never questioned for -- for this report and I -- I think that's outrageous. Also, the State Department was clearly allowing the false narrative that department officials were being held accountable for what went wrong in -- in Benghazi for ignoring the threat and it -- it was perceived as -- as fact.

Look at these headlines, the New York Times, "Four are Out at the State Department After Scathing Report on Benghazi Attack." Not true.

"Heads Roll at the State Department." Not true.

Yet, State did nothing to correct the record. Here we are 130 days after the terrorist attack, why did you not take steps publicly to correct this false narrative even and up to including today? Even when your Deputies Burns and Nides testified before us, the both said that steps were being taken to discipline those State Department officials when in fact, no significant action had or has occurred. There's just been a shuffling of the deck chairs.

Do you find it acceptable that state officials responsible for this lack of leadership and mismanagement for ignoring a security request during the Benghazi attack and before remain employed within the State Department?

Also, the accountability report cites several systemic failures at the department that cannot be overlooked or ignored.

Given that state was aware of the dangerously declining security situation in Benghazi as pointed out by the chairman, the assignation attempt on the British Ambassador, other attacks on Western interests, why did state not immediately revamp our security protocols prior to the September 11 attacks?

Did state fail to act preemptively because it ignored the threat or did it fail to act because it was unable to recognize this growing pattern of violence? Either way, state did fail to act and these failures highlighted by the ARB report serve as a blueprint for -- for terrorist on where our weaknesses lie, where we are vulnerable. So what actions have you taken to ensure that when another embassy, another consulate sound the alarm on security threats as it -- as it happened in Benghazi that those requests are not yet again ignored?

And as we examine the willingness and -- and capacity of post- countries in the region, we must condition aid to these high threat posts based on their cooperation with the United States. I hope that we do that.

Now regarding the -- the state's request for -- for money, I think it's work pointing out that -- that some State Department officials have stated that budget constraints are not to blame for the loss of lives in Benghazi. However, the State Department is notorious for wasteful spending and continues to have misplaced funding priorities between the State Department, Treasury and USAID.

The fiscal year 2012 request for global climate change initiative is over $1.3 billion. Now what do we think or what do you think is a higher priority and a better use of -- of taxpayers' money, national security or global climate change? This money could have been used for embassy construction, for hiring more diplomacy security agencies -- agents for providing our posts and personnel overseas with adequate equipment and training?

So -- and there's more that I -- I can't get to but certainly, I would appreciate your written answers including the 64 specific action items that you will be taking on the taskforce recommendation and we look forward to getting a detailed report here in Congress on explaining their justification, their itemized funding layout, et cetera.

So thank you Madam Secretary for the time.

CLINTON: Congressman, obviously we'll answer all of your questions. Let me just comment on two of them, even though my time is run out.

First, I was not asked to speak with the Accountability Review Board during their investigation. The specific issues they were looking at regarding the attack on Benghazi were handled by security professionals in the department and that's where ARB focused.

Obviously, if they had thought that I was relevant or had information that would have helped the investigation, I would have gladly discussed that with them at their request.

Secondly, on the personnel, this is another area where I need your help.

First, all four individuals have been removed from their jobs; secondly, they've been placed on administrative leave. Thirdly, Ambassador Pickering and Admiral Mullen specifically highlighted the reason why this has been so complicated.

Under federal statute and regulations, unsatisfactory leadership is not grounds for finding a breach of duty. And the ARB did not find that these four individuals breached their duty.

So fourth, I have submitted legislation to this committee and to the Senate committee to fix this problem so future ARBs will not face this situation because I agree with you, there ought to be more leeway given to the ARBs, but under current law, they were limited.

ROYCE: Madam Secretary, we'll be working to fix that problem.

Mr. Faleomavaega from American Samoa. FALEOMAVAEGA: Thank you, Mr. Chairman, Ranking Member for calling this important hearing.

Madam Secretary, thank you for your most eloquent statements. Your service to our nation has been exemplary and outstanding and any suggestion otherwise during today's hearing, I would consider unfair and unwarranted.

We meet today under difficult circumstances. I am sure that when you, as Secretary of State, stood at Andrews Air Force Base of the transfer of the remains of Ambassador Christopher Stevens, Mr. Sean Smith, Mr. Tyron Woods and Mr. Glenn Daugherty, you must have had tremendous or felt tremendous pain and suffering as we express in our Samoan proverb, (inaudible), meaning the stones and the earth wept.

Madam Secretary, please know that we were not -- you were not alone, we wept with you and with the families of our fallen heroes.

It is true that the Benghazi attacks is the first time since 1979 that an American Ambassador has been killed in the line of duty. But it is also true that the world has changed significantly since 1979 and consequently, the Department of State is increasingly operating in high threat locations throughout the world. This is why the Accountability Review Board rightly observed that Congress needs to make a serious and sustained commitment for supporting State Department needs.

FALEOMAVAEGA: But the F.Y. 2013 fiscal year budget, the House cut the administration's request by about $200 million. However, having been provided $2.6 billion in security funding, I wonder if the Congress had done its part and fulfilled its responsibility in providing the State Department with the necessary resources and funding to meet its needs, especially to provide security for our embassies and consulates throughout the world.

I agree with ARB's recommendations that we should restore the capital and security cost sharing program, which pulls money from different agencies in order to accelerate construction of new embassies and consulates. Madam Secretary, in honor of the lives of Mr. Christopher Stevens, Mr. Sean Smith, Mr. Tyrone Woods, and Glenn Dougherty, we need to -- we need answers so that we can prevent this kind of tragedy from happening again.

It is no good for any of us to use this tragedy for political gain. This was a terrorist attack, first and foremost. And we must not lose sight of this brutal fact. Instead, we must hold together in our commitment to defeat those who would do us harm.

So Madam Secretary, I commend you for (inaudible) ominous diplomatic security an anti-terrorism act of 1986 and for accepting all 29 recommendations of the ARB commission. For the past 20 years you have served our nation well. You have done all you could do to deliver freedom safely to future generations. I salute you, and I look ahead to 2016, wishing you much success and extending to you my highest regards.

I do have one question,or a couple, if I have the time. Madam Secretary, I note with intrigue to one of your -- quotes, a -- a statement here that -- that this is why Ambassador Chris Stevens went to Benghazi. I want to get the sense that the commitment that our foreign service offices throughout the world is second to none, even at the risk of their lives. And I wish, and my colleagues would understand, yes, we have logistical problems, yes, we have funding -- but the fact that this people willingly did this, not only for their love of the leaders of the people of Libya, but because he was so proud to represent this great nation of ours. And I would like to ask you if you could elaborate just a little further what you meant by this, that Ambassador Stevens went to Benghazi, -- knowing the dangers, knowing the dangers were there, he went still. Could you please comment on that? CLINTON: Well, Congressman, I think it is absolutely the case that we have a foreign service that is composed of men and women who take on these responsibilities because they love our country. They go in with their eyes wide open. They learn languages. They immerse themselves in cultures. They go out to the Foreign Service Institute and hone their skills. And Chris Stevens was one of our very best. He started off in the Peace Corps in Morocco, was a fluent Arabic speaker, had served with distinction throughout the Arab world. And when I asked if he would be interested in going to Benghazi, where we had nothing when he first went, where he, you know, bunked up in a hotel, we didn't have any support to speak of, he was thrilled. And he understood immediately what it would mean.

In the wake of this tragedy, this terrible terrorist attack, I think one of the most poignant events has been overlooked. And that is what happened after the Libyan people from Benghazi to Tripoli learned, that Chris Stevens, someone whom they had gotten to know, whom they trusted and admired, had been murdered. They went out into the streets. They protested themselves, thousands, tens of thousands, far more than the dozens of highly-armed, you know, invaders of our compound and our an annex. And they made it clear that that was not the kind of country they were trying to build. So in some way Chris's faith, after his death, was certainly validated.

FALEOMAVAEGA: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Thank you, Madam Secretary.

(UNKNOWN): Mr. Smith of New Jersey.

SMITH: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

Welcome, Madam Secretary. You know, we all deeply mourn the tragic loss of four extraordinarily brave Americans, including our distinguished Ambassador Christopher Stevens. But one of my top concerns is that we seem to be relearning the same lessons again and again and again.

Madam Secretary, after the August 1988 bombings of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, Admiral Krause (ph) sat exactly where you sit, that was 12 years ago, and the subcommittee that I chaired at the time, that, quote, "In our investigations, of the bombings, the ARB boards were shocked how similar the lessons learned were, to those drawn by the Bobby Inman Commission some 14 years before that." In other words, in 1985.

In direct response I authored a bipartisan law, the Admiral Nance-Meg Donovan Foreign Relations Act (ph) and in it we had a title, The Secure Embassy Construction and Counterterrorism Act of 1999 to upgrade diplomatic security and residences, to improve threat assessments and facilities, emergency action plans, security threat lists, perimeter distances, setbacks, for example, crisis management training, diplomatic security training, rapid response procedures, storage or emergency equipment, like fire suppressant capabilities, and increased antiterrorism in Africa.

Before 1998 there were 1,000 security specialists. Today there are over 3,100. I agree we need more, but how present-day security personnel and assets are deployed are above all a leadership issue. And clearly we have and had the diplomatic security assets that could have been deployed to Benghazi.

When it came to you knew, Madame Secretary, and what requests were made of you and the department to beef up security in Benghazi, there are disturbing parallels to Kenya and Tanzania. Prior to East Africa terrorist bombings, U.S. ambassador to Kenya Prudence Bushnell repeatedly asked Secretary Albright for more security upgrades, and the ambassador's request was rejected and the loss of life, as we all know, was horrific.

There are numerous press reports that U.S. ambassador to Libya, Chris Stevens, and his team made repeated requests for security assistance. So my questions are these -- one, you define taking responsibility for Benghazi in your testimony a few moments ago in terms and only in terms of during and after the terrorist attacks. What about before the attack on September 11th, 2012 -- 11th -- 12th. What did you personally and your staff -- when did you become aware of Ambassador Stevens' and his team's request for security upgrades? What exactly did do you in response? You obviously were very close to him. Did he ask you personally at any time? When you say a moment ago that Ambassador Pickering's ARB perhaps didn't think you relevant to be interviewed, you're the most relevant person of all. You're the leader. You're on top of it all. So, I would join with my colleague, Ileana Ros-Lehthinen, you should have been interviewed and very important questions asked. And were you personally in any way at fault?

CLINTON: Well, first, Congressman, I'm well aware of the work that you did after the 1998 bombings, and I think that work and the legislation that you championed has been very important in protecting our people around the world.

We have been not only reviewing but continuing to implement the recommendations of all the former ARBs, and the 18 previous ARBs resulted in 164 recommendations. And we have been very clear that the overwhelming majority have been implemented. A handful of such recommendations were, by their very nature, requiring continuous implementation, like what kind of security upgrades or radio communication was necessary. And there were a few that were only partially implemented because of some separate security concerns that that would have raised. But there was the need for ongoing funding. You remember that Admiral Crowe said, "we wanted $2.2 billion for building embassies." We had a number of embassies that were built in those early years, thanks to your legislation. Then it petered off. You know we put so much time and attention into Iraq and Afghanistan, trying to make sure that we secured our people there. We sent a lot of our diplomatic security personnel there. And so we had a slowdown over a number of years in our ability to build new Inman facilities, and now the latest ARB is saying, "let's get back and do this again because there's no substitute for it."

SMITH: I'm almost out of time. When did you become aware of Ambassador Stevens' request and did you respond to it? And did he ever personally ask you to be involved?

CLINTON: No, no and...

SMITH: You didn't get...

CLINTON: No. Any of the requests, any of the cables having to do with security did not come to my attention.