POMED Notes: “Benghazi: The Attacks and the Lessons Learned”
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton testified before the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations Wednesday (1/23) in a hearing titled“Benghazi: The Attacks and the Lessons Learned.” Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ), the incoming chairman, presided and all committee members were present.
For full event notes continue reading, or click here for the PDF.
Senator Menendez opened the proceedings by commending Secretary Clinton for her work during her tenure to “move the world toward democracy, peace, and the preservation of human rights.” Citing the Accountability Review Board (ARB), he described the lessons of Benghazi as the inadequacy of resources for security and the construction of new facilities, but also communication problems within the State Department and between the department and its missions, other government organizations, and Congress. Menendez said that the U.S. must figure out how to “remain accessible to foreign governments, civil society, and the private sector while still securing our embassies and protecting our people” in high-threat environments. He closed by asserting that “diplomacy and foreign aid are but down payments that yield dividends to us,” including good will, markets, and security cooperation.
Senator Bob Corker (R-TN), the incoming ranking member, said that Benghazi represents many things, including the realization that the Arab Spring has allowed al-Qaida to rise, and that a new foreign policy is therefore needed. He expressed dismay that the committee had not done an authorization of the State Department in at least six years, and suggested it was time for a top-to-bottom review.
In her opening statement, Secretary Clinton took responsibility for Benghazi. She said that she directed the U.S. response from the State Department. She confirmed that there was “timely and exceptional coordination,” that there were no delays in the decision making or denials of support, and that the response in real time saved American lives. Clinton said she ordered an immediate review of the U.S.’s security posture, asked the Department of Defense (DOD) to join Interagency Security Assessment Teams and to dispatch additional Marines, named the first Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for High Threat Posts, and appointed the ARB. She also reported the department will have implemented 85% of the ARB’s 29 recommendations by April, and that there will be an annual review of high-risk posts. Clinton noted that “the Arab revolutions have scrambled power dynamics and shattered security forces across the region,” increasing the threat from terrorists, but said the U.S. must continue to lead and cannot afford to retreat. She said, “When America is absent, especially from unstable environments, there are consequences. Extremism takes root; our interests suffer; our security at home is threatened.”
Opening up the question and answer portion of the hearing, Senator Menendez asked about the security of the Benghazi mission and what actions Clinton and her staff were taking during the attack. Clinton said that though discussions were ongoing, the compound was determined to be the safest location possible. Prior to the attack the State Department’s focus was on the protests in Cairo, but once notification of the attack came, she spoke first with the National Security Advisor, then the director of the CIA, and eventually the President.
Senator Corker asked Clinton to identify one reform that should be implemented, who turned down the extension of a protection detail, and to address overall woeful unpreparedness. Clinton said the security requests were handled by the security professionals. She noted that the massive unexpected changes in the region are a great opportunity and a serious threat. She asserted that combatting terrorists will not matter until the U.S. does a better job communicating its values and building relationships.
Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) asked if Clinton had engaged with DOD to provide additional marines to better secure U.S. posts. Clinton said that constant budget shortfalls have required the State Department to prioritize security funds. She also noted that Congress has consistently, for the past six years except 2010, given the Department of State less money for security than requested for security. She stated “the prioritization process was imperfect, but funds were inadequate.”
Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) asked Clinton if Libya’s deteriorating security was addressed in meetings, and what the U.S. has done to address it. Clinton said that security was a constant conversation and that the Libyan government had willingness, but not capacity. She reported that the U.S. has provided a long list of training and planning.
Senator Bob Casey (D-PA) asked about the remaining 15% of the ARB recommendations. Clinton said accountability and an authorization process would dynamically change things and that the State Department is improving communication in the field while determining if Marines can do more.
Senator Ron Johnson (R-WI) asked Clinton if she was aware of all the reported security incidents in Benghazi in real time, specifically an October cable asking for reinforcements. He also asked if she had talked to any of the evacuees, and whether she agreed that doing so could have clarified the questions about protests. Clinton said she was aware of the incidents that were brought to her attention, had not seen the cable, and only spoke to one returnee, to avoid interfering with the FBI’s investigation. She repeated that there are still questions about the motivations and perpetrators of the attack. Raising her voice, Clinton said “we had four dead Americans…what difference at this point does it make!”
Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) asked whether the State Department was still waiting for transfer authority for $1.4 billion that could be applied to security concerns in Libya and elsewhere. Clinton explained that this permission did not stay in the Hurricane Sandy bill, so the approval process must start over.
Senator Jeff Flake (R-AZ) asked if Clinton participated in any conversations about Ambassador Rice’s comments after they were made, citing what he called clear variance between them and the facts. He noted that security protocols were already in place and not followed, and asked why things would be different. Clinton said the administration did not have a clear picture of the attacks for weeks, but that the she and the administration did a poor job explaining that. She also stated that the U.S. made a clear-eyed decision not to close the Benghazi embassy despite the risks.
Senator John McCain (R-AZ) criticized Clinton for failing to heed numerous warnings and rejected her answer to Senator Johnson. He said Rice’s answers were false and asked why the administration refuses to release the full text of relevant emails. He argued that the U.S. has not done much to help with security in Libya. Clinton said they just have a disagreement, and that the administration did not have full information for weeks. She noted that Congress has had holds on assistance to Libya for months and said it’s time for the U.S. to get its act together and look forward, because Libya still requires attention.
Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) cited Iraqi weapons of mass destruction as another instance where the American people were not given correct and timely information. He also said that you cannot solve problems by throwing money at it unless the problem is a lack of money. Clinton admitted that inefficiencies and inadequacies exist in the department and cited her work to correct them. She emphasized need to make the right investments in diplomacy and development, and to approve the proposed transfer authority.
Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) called Benghazi the worst tragedy since 9/11 and a failure of leadership where lives could have been saved. He said that he appreciated Clinton taking responsibility for Benghazi, viewed her leaving as an acceptance of culpability, and would have fired her had he been president. Paul said the mission should have had military protection. He asked if any arms been sold or transported from Libya to Turkey. Clinton said she hadn’t heard of Libyan weapons going to Turkey, and that the ARB evaluated personnel failings and four individuals were placed on administrative leave.
Senator Chris Murphy (D-CT) suggested that anyone calling the Benghazi attack the worst tragedy since 9/11 is overlooking the tragedy of more than 4000 American deaths in a war fought under false pretenses, referring to the Iraq War. He asked Clinton what to expect in North Africa. Clinton said the U.S. must humbly admit that this revolutionary environment is unprecedented and try to apply lessons learned in other places.
Finally, Senator Tim Kaine (D-VA) asked whether relying on contractors for security is typical. Clinton confirmed that depending on groups like the February 17th Brigade is common.