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Benghazi: The Attack and the Lessons Learned


This news story was published on December 21, 2012.
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DEPUTY SECRETARY BURNS: Thank you. Mr. Chairman, Senator Lugar, members of the committee, thank you for this opportunity. Secretary Clinton asked me to express how much she regrets not being able to be here today. And I’d like to join you, Mr. Chairman, on behalf of the Secretary and the men and women of the Department of State in expressing our deep respect and admiration for the many years of service of Senator Lugar to our nation.

Since the terrorist attacks on our compounds in Benghazi, State Department officials and senior members from other agencies have testified in four congressional hearings, provided more than 20 briefings for members and staff, and submitted thousands of pages of documents, including the now-full-classified report of the Accountability Review Board. Secretary Clinton has also sent a letter covering a wide range of issues for the record. So today I would like to highlight just a few key points.

The attacks in Benghazi took the lives of four courageous Americans. Ambassador Stevens was a friend and a beloved member of the State Department community for 20 years. He was a diplomat’s diplomat, and he embodied the very best of America. Even as we grieved for our fallen friends and colleagues, we took action on three fronts.

First, we took immediate steps to further protect our people and our posts. We stayed in constant contact with embassies and consulates around the world facing large protests, dispatched emergency security teams, received reporting from the intelligence community, and took additional precautions where needed. You will hear more about all this from my partner, Tom Nides.

Second, we intensified a diplomatic campaign aimed at combating the threat of terrorism across North Africa. We continue to work to bring to justice the terrorists responsible for the attacks in Benghazi, and we are working with our partners to close safe havens, cut off terrorist finances, counter extremist ideology, and slow the flow of new recruits.

And third, Secretary Clinton ordered an investigation to determine exactly what happened in Benghazi. I want to convey our appreciation to the Accountability Review Board’s chairman and vice chairman, Ambassador Tom Pickering and former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen, and also Hugh Turner, Richard Shinnick, and Catherine Bertini. The board’s report takes a clear-eyed look at serious systemic problems, problems which are unacceptable, problems for which, as Secretary Clinton has said, we take responsibility, and problems which we have already begun to fix.

Before Tom walks you through what we are doing to implement fully all of the board’s recommendations, I would like to add a few words based on my own experiences as a career diplomat in the field. I have been a very proud member of the Foreign Service for more than 30 years, and I have had the honor of serving as a chief of mission overseas. I know that diplomacy, by its very nature, must sometimes be practiced in dangerous places. As Secretary Clinton has said, our diplomats cannot work in bunkers and do their jobs. When America is absent, there are consequences: Our interests suffer and our security at home is threatened. Chris Stevens understood that as well as anyone. Chris also knew that every chief of mission has the responsibility to ensure the best possible security and support for our people.

As senior officials here in Washington, we share that profound responsibility. We have to constantly improve, reduce the risks our people face, and make sure they have all the resources they need. That includes the men and women at the State Department’s Diplomatic Security service. I have been deeply honored to serve with many of these brave men and women. They are professionals and patriots who serve in many places where there are no Marines on post and little or no U.S. military presence in country. Like Secretary Clinton, I trust them with my life.

It’s important to recognize that our colleagues in the Bureaus of Diplomatic Security and Near East Affairs and across the Department, at home and abroad, get it right countless times a day, for years on end, in some of the toughest circumstances imaginable. We cannot lose sight of that. But we learned some very hard and painful lessons in Benghazi. We are already acting on them. We have to do better.

We owe it to our colleagues who lost their lives in Benghazi. We owe it to the security professionals who acted with such extraordinary heroism that awful night to try to protect them. And we owe it to thousands of our colleagues serving America with great dedication every day in diplomatic posts around the world. We will never prevent every act of terrorism or achieve perfect security, but we will never stop working to get better and safer. As Secretary Clinton has said, the United States will keep leading and keep engaging around the world, including in those hard places where America’s interests and values are at stake.

Thank you very much.

CHAIRMAN KERRY: Secretary Nides.

DEPUTY SECRETARY NIDES: Mr. Chairman, Senator Lugar, members of the committee, I also want to thank you for this opportunity. I want to reiterate what Bill has said. All of us have a responsibility to provide the men and women who serve this country with the best possible security and support. From senior Department leadership setting the priorities, the supervisors evaluating security needs, to the Congress appropriating sufficient funds, we all share this responsibility. Secretary Clinton has said that, as Secretary of State, this is her greatest responsibility and her highest priority.

Today I will focus on the steps we have been taking at Secretary Clinton’s direction, and that we will continue to take. As Bill said, the board reports takes a clear-eyed look at serious, systemic problems for which we take responsibility and that we have already begun to fix. We are grateful for the recommendations from Ambassador Pickering and his team. We accept every one of them – all 29 recommendations. Secretary Clinton has charged my office with leading a task force that will ensure that all 29 are implemented quickly and completely, and to pursue steps above and beyond the board’s report.

The Under Secretary of Political Affairs, the Under Secretary for Management, the Director General of the Foreign Service and the Deputy Legal Advisor will work with me to drive this forward. The task force has already met to translate the recommendation into actual 60 specific action items. We’ve assigned every single one to the responsible bureau for immediate implementation, and several will be completed by the end of this calendar year. Implementation of each and every recommendation will be underway by the time the next Secretary of State takes office. There will be no higher priority for the Department in the coming weeks and months. And should we require more resources to execute these recommendations, we’ll work closely with the Congress to ensure that they are met.

As I said, Secretary Clinton wants us to implement the ARB’s findings and do no more. Let me offer some very clear specifics. For more than 200 years, the United States, like every other country around the world, has relied on host nations to provide security for embassies and consulates. But in today’s evolving threat environment, we have to take a new and harder look at the capabilities and the commitments of our hosts. We have to re-examine how we operate in places facing emerging threats, where national security forces are fragmented or may be weak.

So at Secretary Clinton’s direction, we have moved quickly to conduct a worldwide review of our overall security posture, with particular scrutiny on a number of high-threat posts. With the Department of Defense, we’ve deployed five interagency security assessment teams, made up of diplomatic and military security experts, to 19 posts in 13 countries – an unprecedented cooperation between our Departments at a critical time. These teams have provided us a roadmap for addressing emergency – emerging security challenges.

We’re also partnering with the Pentagon to send 35 additional Marine detachments – that’s about 225 Marines – to medium and high-threat posts where they’ll serve visible deterrence to hostile acts. This is on top of the approximate 150 detachments we have already deployed. We are aligning our resources to our 2013 budget requests to address physical vulnerabilities and reinforce structures wherever needed and to reduce risk from fire.

And let me add, we may need your help in ensuring that we have the authority to streamline the usual processes that produce faster results. We’re seeking to hire more than 150 additional Diplomatic Security personnel, an increase of about 5 percent, and to provide them with the equipment and training they need. As the ARB recommended, we will target them squarely at security at our high-threat posts.

I want to second Bill’s praise for these brave security professionals. I have served in this Department for only two years, having come from the private sector. However, I have traveled to places like Iraq and Afghanistan and Pakistan, and I have seen firsthand how these dedicated men and women risk their lives every day. We owe them a debt of gratitude as they go to work every day to protect us in more than 270 posts around the world. And as we make these improvements in the field, we’re also making changes here in Washington. We’ve named the first-ever Deputy Assistant Secretary for State for High-Threat Posts within the Bureau of Diplomatic Security. We’re updating our deployment procedures to increase the number of experience and well-trained staff serving in those posts. And we’re working to ensure that the State Department makes decisions about where our people operate in a way that reflects our shared responsibility for security.

Our regional assistant secretaries were directed – directly involved in our interagency security assessment process, and will assume greater accountability for securing our people and our posts. We will provide the Congress with a detailed report on every step we’re taking to improve security and implement the board’s recommendations. We’ll look to you for support and guidance as we do this.

Obviously, part of this is about resources. We must equip our people with what they need to deliver results safely, and will work with you as needs arise. But Congress has a bigger role than that. You have visited our posts. You know our diplomats on the ground and the challenges they face. You know our vital national security interests are at stake, and that we are all in this together. We look forward to working with you.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman, for your support and counsel and for this opportunity to discuss these important matters. We’d both be happy to take your questions.

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