The State Dept. Deputy Secretary William J. Burns and Deputy Secretary for Management and Resources Thomas Nides on Thursday testified before the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, on the events in Benghazi, Libya, September 11, 2012 that ended with four Americans killed at the U.S. mission, including Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens.
Secretary Clinton regretted not being able to participate. She probably figured she didn’t need this on her record when she runs for the top job in 2016.
Her absence was felt at the meeting, since her two representatives were making sure to attribute to her every single bold move State will be taking in the aftermath of the Accountability Review Board’s report.
Some impolite talk radio hosts suggested Hillary’s fainting spell and consequent injury could be related to her reluctance to speak in person about the Benghazi mess. Who knows.
According to Deputy Secretary Burns, the State Dept. 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.”
That’s really nice. Still, there’s the report issued by the Accountability Review Board (PDF), with names like Ambassador Tom Pickering (chairman) and former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen at the helm, which reportedly rebuked the Administration for its utter failure in Benghazi.
But the report itself, or, rather, those two respected men who issued it, appeared at a press briefing last Wednesday, December 19, they offered different accounts of just what happened in Benghazi.
Ambassador Thomas Pickering said the terrorist attacks occurred over almost eight hours. “What happened on September 11th and 12th in Benghazi was a series of attacks in multiple locations by unknown assailants that ebbed and flowed over a period of almost eight hours,” Pickering told the press.
Except that, less than half an hour later, responding to a reporter’s question as to why the U.S. military never became involved in Benghazi, retired Admiral Michael Mullen said: “We looked at the force posture very specifically, and while we had a lot of forces in Europe both at sea and on land, it is not reasonable that they could have responded … in any kind of timely way. This was over in a matter of about 20 or 30 minutes with respect to the Special Mission specifically. And we had no forces ready or tethered, if you will, focused on that mission so that they could respond, nor would I expect we would have.”
Right-leaning CNS News pointed out that Mullen not only timed the terror attack at 20 to 30 minutes, but also defined it as only those events at the “Special Mission” compound, the State Department’s facility in Benghazi.
This conflicts with a CIA timeline of the Sept. 11, 2012 events, which shows that one hour and fifty minutes, give or take a couple minutes, elapsed between the time the “Special Mission” compound first came under attack and when a CIA rescue team was able to extract the surviving U.S. personnel from there.
As to the Accountability Review Board’s view on the fatal failure at Benghazi, CNS News notes that Ambassador Stevens and DOS officer Sean Smith died of smoke inhalation inside the “Special Mission,” in the first wave of attacks, and then, at least seven and a half hours later, former Navy Seals Tyrone Woods and Glen Doherty were killed by terrorist mortars fired on the Annex.
In other words, the event lasted seven and a half hours, and only the opening episode took “20 or 30 minutes.”
During that time, it appears that President Obama was not ordering the U.S. military to Benghazi. In fact, the U.S. Embassy in Tripoli, Libya, according to the report, was soliciting help from the Libyan military and from the Libyan militia that had been hired to protect the Benghazi mission.
Yes, you read it right: security at the Benghazi U.S. mission was shared with a local, Libyan militia.
The good terrorists.
Burns told the Senate committee: “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.
“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.”
Yes, it’s the old “Look how many cars don’t get into fatal accidents,” and “Look how many banks didn’t get robbed today.”
“But we learned some very hard and painful lessons in Benghazi,” Burns told the Senate committee, adding: “We are already acting on them. We have to do better.”
Burns concluded: “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.”
Absolutely, but come September 11, get some well armed American soldiers into our missions in those hard places, just in case.
Deputy Secretary for Management and Resources Thomas Nides spoke next, on the steps being taken at Secretary Clinton’s direction, to prevent the next Benghazi.
The review board made 29 recommendations in its report, and Nides told the committee: “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.”
He then offered “some very clear specifics.” They are worth noting, although we would have expected these changes to have been implemented immediately after 9/11 2001, not 11 years later.
“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.”
Because, let’s be honest here, the Republican House did cut a chunk out of the budget for embassy security just the year prior the Benghazi attack. They’ll have to put it back in, and then some (watch Ron Paul voting Nay on this one).
“Obviously, part of this is about resources,” Nides spelled it out. “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.”
In conclusion, we still don’t really know what happened in Benghazi; the national media blocked successfully the Romney attempt to expose President Obama’s failure to understand, much less help the situation on the ground during the very long, seven and a half hour attack (the duration of a full day at the office minus the lunch break); Obama is president again, with Sen. John Kerry the likely Secretary of State; and we know for sure that everything is being done to prevent another Benghazi.