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Continuing Coverage of House Hearing on Benghazi Attack; Reps. Wilson, Bass, McCaul, Keating, Poe, Cicilline, Salmon Speak

Aired January 23, 2013 - 15:30   ET


"Having worked as a watch officer at the OpCenter, I know that any information that indicates a threat to the safety of American citizens overseas is passed to other agencies mentioned above.

If it's a significant message concerning American interest received, it is the watch officer's job to ensure that these other agencies are informed. He goes on. There are many questions that need to be answered, and I'd like to present these questions on his behalf.

First and foremost, what was going on at the Op Center of the State Department, and Washington, while our consulate was under attack for seven hours?

CLINTON: Well, we can certainly give you greater details. But the Op Center is, as you have described, you know, the place where communications goes in and out. They were placing calls. They were receiving calls.

They were, you know, deeply engaged in trying to help us. They don't reach out on their own, but to help us acquire information so that we could respond in real time.

WILSON: And seven hours. I mean, goodness gracious, there should have been a response. Why the delay in labeling the attack as terrorism, when it was immediately known that it was?

CLINTON: Well, you know, again, I would say, Congressman, that we described the attack. I described the attack the next morning. The president called it an act of terror.

There was a -- as you'll find in reading both the unclassified and classified version of the ARB, there was a lot of questions about who was behind it, what motivated it. And the ARB says those questions are still not fully answered today.

WILSON: And he continues. Why weren't Marine guards posted in Benghazi in the first place?

CLINTON: Because historically, Marine guards are at posts where there is classified information. Marine guards have not historically had the responsibility for protecting personnel. Their job is to protect, and if necessary, destroy classified material. At our compound, there was no classified material.

WILSON: And he continues in line with everybody else, pointing out that there were requests to enhance security that were denied. We weren't able to reach all the questions. I appreciate you responding to Mr. Budrow's (ph) questions. I'll submit them for the record for your office for a written response.

CLINTON: Thank you, Congressman.

WILSON: Thank you.

ROYCE: Karen Bass of California.

BASS: Thank you very much. Thank you, Chairman Royce, and Ranking Member Engel, for convening this hearing.

Secretary Clinton, I want to take the time to thank you for your willingness to come before this committee for the final time. And I want to offer my sincere and deep gratitude for your remarkable service to our nation. I'm also very glad to know that you're feeling much better.

CLINTON: Thank you.

BASS: For the past four years, and well before, you have put country first. And for our nation -- and for that, our nation is indebted to you. With competence and careful consideration, you have shown extraordinary leadership on countless issues, ensuring that diplomacy is an essential part of our country's foreign policy.

And your tireless efforts to elevate women and girls' rights is without comparison. You have strengthened our State Department, made it better today than when you arrived.

As the ranking member on the Africa Subcommittee, I'm especially appreciative of the attention you've given to the 54 nations of Africa. While Africa may lose one of its most steadfast and dedicated champions at the State Department, I trust Africa will not be far from your thoughts, and will remain a top priority in your future work.

I also want to associate my comments with Congressman Sherman, who said that it's unfortunate that this is the last time we will hear from you. So I want to focus my time on moving us forward, and asking your advice.

You made reference in your testimony about best -- best-value contracts. And you mentioned, I believe, several nations where best- value contracts are not used. And in thinking about Africa, and the instability in a number of nations in Northern Africa, Central Africa, Mali, you know, what we're dealing with now, I want to know whether or not those nations are subject to those type of contracts, and whether or not exemptions or waivers should be made. What should we do?

CLINTON: Well, Congresswoman, thank you very much for your emphasis on Africa, which I think is going to be increasingly important. There are only three nations where the State Department has an exemption by Congress for using different contracting rules in order to get the best value for our country; those are Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan. So every other country in the world, we are under the kind of contracting rules that I think do interfere with our capacity to get the best deal, particularly when it comes to security, that we should in these countries where the threats unfortunately are going to always be with us.

BASS: Should we look to extend that to Mali, to the DRC, to Somalia?

CLINTON: Well, I would certainly recommend -- there was an article, I think in one of the newspapers today, that went into some detail. Basically, here's how it started: For more than two decades, federal laws required the State Department to select the cheapest, rather than the best contractor to provide local guard services at its embassies abroad.

And, you know, there's that old saying, "You get what you pay for." And this lowest-price provision started off in 1990, but it has just stayed with us. And I would respectfully request that this committee take a hard look at it. If you can't do a total lifting of it for everybody, at least look at the high-threat posts where obviously we did it for Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan, and the countries you're naming are countries that I think would fall into that category.

BASS: Well, thank you very much.

Among the various Islamic extremist groups operating in Africa today -- AQIM, Al Shabaab, Boko Haram, to name a few -- in your view, which pose the great threats -- direct threat to the United States? And then, given the limited capacity and/or in some cases the limited political will of the countries in which these groups operate, are U.S. military, intelligence and security assistance resources devoted to these threats adequately or appropriately balanced? And what recommendations would you have for us?

CLINTON: Well, I think if you're focusing just on north Africa, Al Qaida is a brand name as much as an organization. People wake up. They form these jihadist groups. They then claim to be associated with, somehow affiliated with Al Qaida in order to gain some credibility with local people as well as beyond.

I -- I think that we have to take seriously all of these terrorist groups whatever they call themselves. Now, at the moment they don't necessarily have either the interest or the ability to attack our homeland, but we have a lot of facilities. We have a lot of assets in north Africa. We just saw Americans killed and held hostage at a gas facility because we do business all over that continent.

So I think we have to take a hard look at all of them, and constantly be upping our military and intelligence and diplomatic assets to deal with them.

BASS: Thank you very much.

ROYCE: I'd like to just take a moment and explain to the gentlelady, we passed last year the best value contract language that you're speaking of, and the House passed an appropriations measure. We're going to try to get our colleagues in the Senate to take that measure up.

We go now to Mr. McCaul from Texas.

MCCAUL: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

Welcome, Madam Secretary. Thank you for your service.

Similar to September the 11th, 2001, there were warning signs prior to Benghazi September 11th. There was an April 6th, 2012 crude IED thrown over the wall of the U.S. facility in Benghazi. On May 22nd, 2012, Red Cross building in Benghazi hit by two RPGs. The brigades of the imprisoned Blind Sheikh took responsibility for that attack. On June 6th, 2012, the U.S. consulate in Benghazi was targeted by an IED (inaudible) a big hole in the perimeter wall. Again, the Blind Sheikh brigade taking credit.

And then on August 16th, we have this cable that's been widely reported -- a classified State Department cable warning that the Benghazi consulate could not withstand a coordinated attack. And the regional security officer believed our consulate could not be protected at an emergency meeting less than one month before the attack on 9/11.

A contingency plan was supposedly drafted to move the operations to the CIA annex about a mile away from the compound. This cable is presumed to have been shared by senior staff. It was sent to your office. It was sent to the NSC. And even on September 11th, the day Ambassador Stevens was killed, he personally warned about, quote, "a growing problem with security in Benghazi and growing frustration with security forces and the Libyan police."

Were you aware of this cable -- this August 16th cable?

CLINTON: Congressman, that cable did not come to my attention. I have made it very clear that the security cables did not come to my attention or above the assistant secretary level where the ARB placed responsibility. Where, as I think Ambassador Pickering said, "the rubber hit the road."

Now, I think...

MCCAUL: Can I ask the question: When -- when were you aware of this cable?

CLINTON: After the ARB began to, you know, gather information and material, which, of course, we cooperated with.

MCCAUL: Who within your office -- who within your office did see this cable?

CLINTON: I'm not aware of anyone within my office, within the secretary's office, having seen the cable.

MCCAUL: Within the National Security Council?

CLINTON: I have no information or awareness of anyone in the National Security Council having seen that cable.

MCCAUL: Was this cable a surprise to you?

CLINTON: You know, Congressman, it was very disappointing to me that the ARB Concluded there were inadequacies and problems in the responsiveness of our team here in Washington to the security requests that were made by our team in Libya.

And I was not aware of that going on, it was not brought to my attention, but obviously it's something we're fixing and intend to put into place protocols and systems to make sure it doesn't happen again.

MCCAUL: I certainly hope so. I think when you have a United States ambassador personally warning about the situation over there, sending this cable to your office...

CLINTON: Well if I could -- 1.43 million cables a year come to the State Department. They are all addressed to me. They do not all come to me. There are reported through the bureaucracy.

MCCAUL: Well certainly somebody within your office should have seen this cable, is my -- in my judgment.

Can I ask one last question?

CLINTON: Also, I just want to clarify. You know, as -- with regard to the security requests subsequent to the August 16th cable, our personnel in Libya had not submitted any additional security requests to Washington at the time of the September 11th attack. Now, there was an ongoing dialogue, as you know, between Libya and Washington. I think it is...

MCCAUL: Reclaim my time is very limited -- an emergency meeting was held and a cable sent out on August 16th by the ambassador himself. Warning of what could happen. And this meant this cable went unnoticed by your office. That's the bottom line.

CLINTON: Well the facts -- the facts as we have them, Congressman, and I will be happy to have people give you this in detail. The August 16th cable stated the security requests for Benghazi would be forthcoming. The RSO in Benghazi submitted to Tripoli a preliminary list of proposed security recommendations on August 23rd, but no requests were submitted to Washington before the attacks.

Now, this sound -- this sounds very complicated and to some extent it is, we're trying to simplify it and avoid the kind of problems that are identified.

MCCAUL: I hope we can fix that.

One last question. Why was he in Benghazi on September the 11th?

ROYCE: Going to go now to Mr. William...

MCCAUL: I'll submit that question in writing.

ROYCE: That will be fine.

We'll go to Mr. William Keating of Massachusetts.

KEATING: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

You know, I -- I must say that after the tragedy last September, one of the things that just moved me so much were the comments of the family members of one of the heroes who lost their lives. Glen Daherty (ph) in Massachusetts. And paraphrasing them, but they told people that they shouldn't lose sight over who is ultimately responsible for these deaths. An amazing statement giving -- putting things into perspective here. And the other thing they mentioned was, do not lose sight of the causes that these men gave their lives for. And as a person who has advanced those causes, I want to thank you for your incredible service as secretary of state.

Now, one of the parts of the ARB Report is of great concern to me. Dealt with what they described as a culture of austerity in the State Department. And Madame Secretary, can you take a few moments and expand on the ARB's finding on that subject and how it affects the State Department's ability to carry out crucial tasks?

Not just security, but all crucial tasks.

CLINTON: Well Congressman, that is what the ARB Found. They found that there was a culture of husbanding resources, of, you know, being quite concerned about responding, even on security, as important as security is, because one never knows what the -- you know, what the budget's going to be going forward.

And, you know, we've had some -- some ups and downs budgetary- wise going back, as I said, into prior administrations. But it is fair to say that many of the professionals in the State Department have really gotten used to worrying greatly that they'll give something to somebody and that will become an expectation that will then have to be taken away, and it did affect the security professionals' decisions according to the ARB

KEATING: Yeah, these prioritizations in my opinion, and this culture, has to change. Not just for security reasons, but for our overall mission.

And just quickly too, with the crisis in Mali and the insurgency there and the spreading jihadist threat in Northern Africa and Maghreb and the Arabian Peninsula, you know, in that area they're relatively technologically advanced, and there's threats that go along those lines that I'm concerned about in terms of cultural austerity there as well.

Cyber threats and other security upgrades that are going to be vitally necessary. And I hope those kind of things are not lost as we review this situation. Can you just comment on what we need in that regard going forward? And -- how much of a threat this -- may pose to us?

CLINTON: Well, you mentioned a word that is rarely mentioned in these hearings but I predict will be a major threat to us and that's cyber, because it's not only going to be nation-states where we already are seeing cyber-intrusions, both against our government and against our private sector, but increasingly nonstate actors will have more capacity to disrupt, to hack into, to put out false information, to accuse the United States of things that can, you know, light fires before we can put them out.

So, you know, I think it's important we have a really thoughtful comprehensive review about the threats of today and the threats of tomorrow. And that will help guide the committee, it will help guide the Senate and certainly the administration in working together to answer them.

KEATING: Thank you. And thank you, Madam Chairman. And I think I'm going to do something that hasn't been done yet. I'm going to yield back the rest of my time.

ROYCE: We go now to Mr. Poe of Texas.

POE: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Madam Secretary, thank you once again for your service to our country.

Gordon Rolland (ph) from Oregon, Frederick Butassio (ph) from Caty, Texas, and Victor Lovelady from my district of Atoscaceda (ph), Texas, three Americans overseas killed not in Benghazi, but killed at a remote gas facility in Algeria. Killed, in my opinion, because they were Americans.

Over the last weekend myself and others have tried to get information. I will just say that there's too much in my opinion, red tape, from trying to get just basic information to the families as to what happened in a situation like that. I would hope that the State Department would look at that protocol and try to streamline it because people died.

The Algerian government now reports, after they have captured some of the terrorists alive , some from claiming to be from Egypt, one says that after interrogation by the Algerian government , whatever that interrogation may entail, that there were Egyptians involved in the Benghazi attack and that were at the attack on the gas plant in Algeria.

At the time of the Benghazi attack, Ansar Al Shari'a, the next day, terrorist group as you know, they claimed responsibility for the attack. We probably don't know if the statements made by the Algerian -- or excuse me Egyptian terrorists that was captured are true, or if the Egyptians were followed or were involved in that attack or not. It does seem to show that the whole region is very fluid with different groups getting together, causing mischief throughout the entire region.

As of today, several months later, after the attacks on Benghazi, has to your knowledge any person been put currently in custody anywhere by any government for the responsibility -- as a suspect involved in the Benghazi attack?

CLINTON: Congressman, there is one potential suspect who has been placed under monitoring by the Tunisian government. There are other suspects that the FBI are both closely following and consulting with partner governments. I think, based on my last conversation with Director Mueller, which was just a few days ago, he went to Libya, he went to Tunisia. He believes that the investigation is proceeding. I know that the FBI has been up on the Hill doing classified briefings with certain committees. I don't know about this committee.

But I certainly hope that the FBI is able to investigate, identify, and hold responsible those who waged this attack against us. And I think that, based on their work, they feel that they are pursuing some very positive leads.

POE: OK. My understanding is the Tunisian person that was held in Tunisia was released by a judge there. And that person has been released. So basically, we don't really know at this point who did it.

CLINTON: Well, Congressman, I confirmed with Director Mueller, who was just in Tunisia meeting with their high officials, that this person is basically under law enforcement surveillance and forbidden to leave Tunis. Director Mueller told me that that had been confirmed to him by the Tunisians.

POE: All right. Just very briefly, we don't know who --- no one's been held accountable, charged with this offense. Before Gaddafi was taken out, my understanding is the nation of Qatar 18 shipments, 20,000 tons of weapons, machine guns, RPGs into the region to help different groups overthrow Muammar Gaddafi. The United States gave a wink and nod to this.

And I'd like a written answer to that, Mr. Chairman.

ROYCE: Thank you. We will go now to Mr. Cicilline from Rhode Island.

CICILLINE: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

Thank you, Madame Secretary, for your extraordinary service to our country that has earned you the deep respect and admiration of people all over the world and has enhanced America's standing all over the globe.

Your leadership on women's issues, LGBT equality, supporting emerging democracies, and enhancing American national security are to numerous to list. But I want to begin by thanking you for all of your hard work and everything you have done in service to our country.

Thank you also for your testimony today. The terrorist attacks in Benghazi, Libya resulted in the tragic deaths of Ambassador Stevens, Shawn Smith, Tyrone Woods, and Glen Doherty. And these are constant reminders of the dangerous work that our diplomats engage in every single day all throughout the world. And while we cannot eliminate all risks, it's our duty to enact protocols and policies that will reduce these risks and to provide all the resources and support necessary to help mitigate and manage those risks.

With that in mind I hope my colleagues will consider the Accountability Review Board, which you, Madame Secretary, convened. And it calls for, and I quote, " ... a more serious and sustained commitment from Congress to support State Department needs." End quote. This is particularly important, given the implications that the looming sequester as well as potential government shutdown would have on our diplomatic security, especially in high risk posts.

I also want to take a moment to commend and thank Admiral Mullen and Ambassador Pickering, for the comprehensive and prompt review that they conducted. And of course, applaud you, Madame Secretary, for the adoption of all 29 ARB recommendations and for promptly undertaking their implementation, and providing guidance on the status of that implementation here today.

And just to say, there has been some discussion about the importance of getting to the nitty-gritty and fixing problems. I hope that we will rely on the security professionals and the expert advice and recommendations of the ARB. I think they're much more likely to produce the best response to what needs to be undertaken.

And so, I want to ask you, Madame Secretary, one of the things that you did was actually in anticipation of some of the recommendations, you created for the first time ever a diplomatic security deputy assistant secretary. And I think with respect to the ARB report, the importance of examining the State Department's organization and management as it relates to security planning, my expectation is that that will be one of the responsibilities of this new position.

I'm wondering if you could just tell us a little bit about the role of this new secretary within the bureau, what responsibilities the position will have, and will this individual in particular have the authority to reallocate resources in order to fill potential resource gaps, if that's one of the challenges you face?

CLINTON: Well, thank you, Congressman.

This is a deputy assistant secretary for high-threat posts . I want one person held accountable, looking at these high-threat posts, talking to our military and intelligence partners, being a voice at the table, not just for all 275 posts, but really zeroing in, on a real -- a real-time, constant evaluation about what our high-threat posts need.

But in addition to that we're going to continue our work with the Defense Department and the interagency security assessment of threats.

I'm also, for the first time, elevating a lot of these security issues for high-threat posts to the secretarial level, because it hasn't been there before and I think, given what we've experienced. it needs to be .

We're also looking for the transfer authority to add to our -- our Marine security guards, our construction and our Diplomatic Security.

We're enhancing the -- the training for everyone. We're taking a hard look at another problem that the ARB pointed out, and that was our temporary duty assignments. You know, very often, given especially the experiences we've had in Iraq and Afghanistan, and to a lesser extent in some other large posts, we have a lot of our most experienced Diplomatic Security people going there.

I mean, you know, in the two times we've had serious assaults on our embassy in Kabul, Kabul is fortified, Kabul has the ISAF troops across the street. As they draw down, we have to recognize that the danger is not going to leave with our ISAF military.

So we -- we have to take a hard look at all of this. And we have to embed that responsibility in this new, experienced deputy assistant secretary to do that.

CICILLINE: Thank you, Madam Secretary.

I yield back, Mr. Chairman.

ROYCE: Matt Salmon of Arizona.

SALMON: Thank you.

Madam Secretary, I appreciate your desire to come before our committee today to testify and answer questions to help us make the changes necessary to ensure the safety of all of our Foreign Service officers, but particularly those who are making the heavy -- heavy sacrifices servicing in high-threat regions.

But I've got to say that I -- I am troubled by what seems to be this administration's pattern of misleading the American people and failing to hold decision-makers accountable.

From Operation Fast and Furious, where Attorney General Eric Holder has repeatedly misled the American people and Congress about an intentional international gun-walking scheme, to U.N. Secretary Susan Rice. who, on five separate occasions, went before the American people days after the attacks on Benghazi talking about a demonstration at a facility that never happened, that was not even suggested in any of the reports and information coming from Benghazi.

I know the purpose of this hearing is to find out how to ensure another Benghazi never happens again. I hope that we'd all include the aftermath of the tragedy as well.

How do we make sure that such gross mispresentations of attacks on Americans never happen again?

One other -- a couple of other questions. I know you've put the four individuals identified as culpable by the Accountability Review Board on administrative leave. What do you anticipate will be the final resolution of their status with the department?

And the Accountability Review Board did not identify any individuals above the secretary -- excuse me, assistant secretary level as accountable for the security failures at the Benghazi mission. Now, you've said that the numerous cables requesting and begging for additional security resources sent by Ambassador Chris Stevens were never seen by State officials above Assistant Secretary Eric Boswell or Deputy Assistant Secretary Charlene Lamb.

I know you care very deeply about the people that work with you in the department. So, given the fact that your testimony is that you never saw any of these multiple requests and nobody above assistant secretary level saw these requests, doesn't that give you some concerns about the flow of information within the department and maybe some of your underlings' ability to prioritize and get to your attention serious issues?

You said that you get hundreds of thousands of cables all the time, and these -- these cables directly to you. I understand that you don't read them all and nor do you have the time to do that.

But I would think that within the department you would have people that work for you that are able to prioritize and get to you the ones that are more serious in nature and especially when somebody's security is on the line.