Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Hillary on the Hill on Benghazi

                                            Hillary Clinton on Benghazi: "I do feel responsible"

Testifying before Congress for the first time since the September 11 attacks in Benghazi that left four Americans dead, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton today took responsibility for the failures that led to those deaths, citing a "personal" commitment to improving diplomatic security abroad. But even while conceding ongoing "deficiencies and inadequacies" within the State Department, Clinton defended her own actions and those of her staff with regard to their response to the violence, and outlined the numerous steps she says have already been implemented to prevent future similar occurrences.

Clinton, growing emotional at times during the course of her testimony, cited the inherent risk of taking an active diplomatic role in the global arena -- particularly in a moment in which "Arab revolutions have scrambled power dynamics and shattered security forces across the region." She lamented the loss of U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens and the other three Americans who died in the September attacks, and spoke tearfully of having "stood next to President Obama as the Marines [who] carried those flag-draped caskets off the plane at Andrews." 

"I put my arms around the mothers and fathers, the sisters and brothers, the sons and daughters," she said. "And the wives left alone to raise their children."

Still, Clinton argued that diplomats "accept a level of risk" in taking posts in high-risk, and that they "cannot work in bunkers and do their jobs."

"So it is our responsibility to make sure they have the resources they need and to do everything we can to reduce the risks," she said. 

In that vein, Clinton said, she has worked with the State Department to swiftly implement a series of outside recommendations aimed at ensuring that similar attacks don't occur in the future. She repeatedly stressed her responsibility for the personnel in Libya as well as in the State Department generally, and added that her commitment to protecting future diplomats stretches beyond a policy level.

"As I have said many times, I take responsibility. And nobody is more committed to getting this right. I am determined to leave the State Department and our country safer, stronger, and more secure," she said. "For me, it's personal."

Clinton called the attack in September "one of those terrible tragic times" when the State Department's security assessment of the situation failed to take into account an imminent attack, and she emphasized her commitment to increasing the department's efficacy and operational capabilities before she steps down in the coming months.

"We are constantly assessing. And sometimes we get it wrong, but it's very -- it's rare that we get it wrong," Clinton said. "This was one of those terrible tragic times when, you know, there was an assessment shared by the ambassador, shared by others, that turned out not to take into account the -- the militants attacking that night."

Clinton also said that while she had been broadly aware of security concerns in Benghazi, she had not personally reviewed an August 12 cable requesting reinforcements.

"With specific security requests they didn't come to me. I had no knowledge of them," she said. But Clinton noted that she was involved in a "constant conversation" about helping Libya overcome "a deteriorating" security environment as underwent post-Qaddafi governmental transitions.

"We sent teams out, both civilian and military experts to try to help them," she said, in response to a question from Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., about Clinton's efforts to both assess and improve the security situation in Libya. "What I found with the Libyans was willingness, but not capacity... What we've been trying to do, and you know, we need your help to help us pay for what we're trying to do, we are trying to help them build a decent security force to try to reign in the militias as best they can. So this was a constant conversation."

Even while Clinton conceded State Department shortcomings in the lead-up to the attacks, she strongly defended both her own response to the violence, as well as that of the White House and U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice. She was particularly dismissive of the controversy surrounding White House officials' early comments suggesting the attacks might have been the result of spontaneous protests spurred by an anti-Muslim video. 

"We had four dead Americans. Was it because of a protest or because of guys out for a walk one night and decided to go kill some Americans? At this point what difference does it make, Senator?" Clinton asked Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., when asked why the administration initially gave an inaccurate version of the events that took place.

In the aftermath of the attacks, much of the political controversy has surrounded Rice's September 16 television appearances, in which she suggested protests surrounding the video might have played a role in the attacks. Those comments, which turned out not to be true, were guided by a set of unclassified talking points given to Rice ahead of the appearances. Ahead of Rice's appearances, those talking points were edited to cut specific references to "al Qaeda" and "terrorism," and Republicans pounced on the discrepancies in an apparent campaign to derail Rice's bid to replace Clinton as Secretary of State.

Clinton said she did not ask Rice to go on television following the attacks, but vehemently defended the ambassador's remarks in the appearances she did make. On the suggestion that Rice had knowingly misled the people on Benghazi, Clinton said "nothing could be further from the truth."

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who was one of the lawmakers most critical of Rice and has relentlessly hammered the administration over Benghazi for months, lambasted the White House for not consulting with people on the ground in Libya before speaking publicly about what happened. In agitated remarks, he called Clinton's testimony "not satisfactory."

"Here we are, four months later, and we still don't have the basic information," McCain said.  

Clinton stated her disagreement with McCain on the administration's handling of its response before turning to budget concerns -- and the congressional holds on budget requests she suggested has infringed upon the State Department's ability to adequately do its job.

"We've had frequent congressional complaints. Why are we doing anything for Libya?," she said. "Currently, the House has holds on bilateral security assistance, on other kinds of support for anti- terrorism assistance. So we've got to get our act together between the administration and the Congress. If this is a priority and if we are serious about trying to help this government stand up security and deal with what is a very dangerous environment from east to west, then we have to work together."

Not everyone took Clinton at her word. Despite a pervading sense of respectfulness toward the outgoing Secretary of State at the hearing, including among Republicans, Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., accused Clinton of accepting culpability "for the worst tragedy since 9/11." He also said he would have "relieved" her of her job had he been president at the time of the attacks. 

"I would think by anybody's estimation, Libya has to be have been one of the hottest of hot spots around the world. Not to know of the request for securities really I think cost these people their lives," Paul said. "Their lives could have been saved had someone been more available, had someone been aware of these things, more on top of the job."

Pointing to the outside Accountability Review Board (ARB) report on what went wrong in Benghazi, Clinton noted that "I am the secretary of state and the ARB made very clear that the level of responsibility for the failures that they outlined was set at the assistant secretary level and below." But she also suggested that his comments were  grounded in a political -- not diplomatic -- context. 

"The reason we put into effect an accountability review board is to take it out of the heat of politics and partisanship and accusations, and to put it in the hands of people who have no stake in the outcome," Clinton said. "The reason I said 'make it open, tell the world' is because I believe in transparency. I believe in taking responsibility and I have done so. And I hope that we're going to be able to see a good working relationship between the State Department and the committee going forward."


Testimony as prepared for delivery by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee

Mr. Chairman, Ranking Member, members of the Committee, thank you for this opportunity. The terrorist attacks in Benghazi on September 11, 2012 that claimed the lives of four brave Americans -- Chris Stevens, Sean Smith, Tyrone Woods, and Glen Doherty -- are part of a broader strategic challenge to the United States and our partners in North Africa. Today, I want to offer some context for this challenge and share what we've learned, how we are protecting our people, and where we can work together to honor our fallen colleagues and continue to champion America's interests and values.

Any clear-eyed examination of this matter must begin with this sobering fact: Since 1988, there have been 19 Accountability Review Boards investigating attacks on American diplomats and their facilities. Benghazi joins a long list of tragedies, for our Department and for other agencies: hostages taken in Tehran in 1979, our embassy and Marine barracks bombed in Beirut in 1983, Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia in 1996, our embassies in East Africa in 1998, consulate staff murdered in Jeddah in 2004, the Khost attack in 2009, and too many others.

Of course, the list of attacks foiled, crises averted, and lives saved is even longer. We should never forget that our security professionals get it right 99 percent of the time, against difficult odds all over the world. That's why, like my predecessors, I trust them with my life.

Let's also remember that administrations of both parties, in partnership with Congress, have made concerted and good faith efforts to learn from the tragedies that have occurred, to implement recommendations from the Review Boards, to seek necessary resources, and to better protect our people from constantly evolving threats. That's what the men and women who serve our country deserve. And it's what we are doing again now, with your help. As Secretary, I have had no higher priority, and no greater responsibility.

As I have said many times since September 11, I take responsibility. Nobody is more committed to getting this right. I am determined to leave the State Department and our country safer, stronger, and more secure.

Taking responsibility meant moving quickly in those first uncertain hours and days to respond to the immediate crisis and further protect our people and posts in high-threat areas across the region and the world. It meant launching an independent investigation to determine exactly what happened in Benghazi and to recommend steps for improvement. And it meant intensifying our efforts to combat terrorism and support emerging democracies in North Africa and beyond.

Let me share some of the lessons we have learned, the steps we have taken, and the work we continue to do.

First, let's start on the night of September 11 itself and those difficult early days. I directed our response from the State Department and stayed in close contact with officials from across our government and the Libyan government. So I saw first-hand what Ambassador Thomas Pickering and former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen called "timely" and "exceptional" coordination. No delays in decision-making. No denials of support from Washington or from the military. And I want to echo the Review Board's praise for the valor and courage of our people on the ground – especially the security professionals in Benghazi and Tripoli. The Board said our response saved American lives in real time – and it did.

The very next morning, I told the American people that "heavily armed militants assaulted our compound" and vowed to bring them to justice. And I stood with President Obama as he spoke of "an act of terror." You may recall that in that same period, we also saw violent attacks on our embassies in Cairo, Sanaa, Tunis, and Khartoum, as well as large protests outside many other posts where thousands of our diplomats serve.

So I immediately ordered a review of our security posture around the world, with particular scrutiny for high-threat posts. We asked the Department of Defense to join Interagency Security Assessment Teams and to dispatch hundreds of additional Marine Security Guards. I named the first Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for High Threat Posts, so Missions in dangerous places get the attention they need. And we reached out to Congress to help address physical vulnerabilities, including risks from fire, and to hire additional Diplomatic Security personnel.

Second, even as we took these steps, I also appointed the Accountability Review Board led by Ambassador Pickering and Admiral Mullen so that we could more fully understand what went wrong and how to fix it.

I have accepted every one of their recommendations -- and I asked the Deputy Secretary for Management and Resources to lead a task force to ensure that all 29 of them are implemented quickly and completely… as well as to pursue additional steps above and beyond those in the Board's report.

Because of the effort we began in the days after the attacks, work is already well underway. And, as I pledged in my letter to you last month, implementation has now begun on all 29 recommendations. Our task force started by translating the recommendations into 64 specific action items. All of these action items were assigned to specific bureaus and offices, with clear timelines for completion. Fully 85 percent are on track to be completed by the end of March, with a number completed already.

We are taking a top-to-bottom look, and rethinking how we make decisions on where, when, and how our people operate in high threat areas, and how we respond to threats and crises.

As part of our effort to go above and beyond the Review Board's recommendations, we are initiating an annual High Threat Post Review chaired by the Secretary of State, and ongoing reviews by the Deputy Secretaries, to ensure pivotal questions about security reach the highest levels. And we will regularize protocols for sharing information with Congress.

All of these actions are designed to increase the safety of our diplomats and development experts and reduce the chances of another Benghazi happening again.

Now, in addition to the immediate action we took and the Review Board process, we have been moving forward on a third front: addressing the broader strategic challenge in North Africa and the wider region. Because Benghazi didn't happen in a vacuum. The Arab revolutions have scrambled power dynamics and shattered security forces across the region. And instability in Mali has created an expanding safe haven for terrorists who look to extend their influence and plot further attacks of the kind we saw just last week in Algeria.

And let me offer my deepest condolences to the families of the Americans and all the people from many nations who were killed and injured in the recent hostage crisis. We remain in close touch with the Government of Algeria and stand ready to provide assistance if needed. We are seeking to gain a fuller understanding of what took place so that we can work together to prevent terrorist attacks like this in the future.
Concerns about terrorism and instability in North Africa are not new. Indeed they have been a top priority for our entire national security team. But after Benghazi, we accelerated a diplomatic campaign to increase pressure on al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and other terrorist groups across the region.

In the first hours and days, I conferred with the President of Libya and the Foreign Ministers of Tunisia and Morocco. Two weeks later, I met with regional leaders at the United Nations General Assembly and held a special meeting focused on Mali and the Sahel. In October, I flew to Algeria to discuss the fight against AQIM. In November, I sent Deputy Secretary Bill Burns to follow up in Algiers. And then in December, he co-chaired the Global Counterterrorism Forum in Abu Dhabi and a meeting in Tunis of leaders working to build new democracies and reform security services.

In all these diplomatic engagements, and in near-constant contacts at every level, we have focused on targeting al Qaeda's syndicate of terror – closing safe havens, cutting off finances, countering extremist ideology, and slowing the flow of new recruits. We continue to hunt the terrorists responsible for the attacks in Benghazi and are determined to bring them to justice. And we're also using all our diplomatic and economic tools to support the emerging democracies of the region, including Libya, to strengthen security forces and provide a path away from extremism.

The United States must continue to lead… in the Middle East and all around the globe. We have come a long way in the past four years. We cannot afford to retreat now. When America is absent, especially from unstable environments, there are consequences. Extremism takes root, our interests suffer, and our security at home is threatened.

That's why Chris Stevens went to Benghazi in the first place. Nobody knew the dangers better than Chris, first during the revolution and then during the transition. A weak Libyan government, marauding militias, even terrorist groups… a bomb exploded in the parking lot of his hotel, but he didn't waver. Because he understood that it was critical for America to be represented in that pivotal place at that pivotal time. Our men and women who serve overseas understand that we accept a level of risk to protect this country we love. They represent the best traditions of a bold and generous nation. And they cannot work in bunkers and do their jobs.

It is our responsibility to make sure they have the resources they need to do their jobs and to do everything we can to reduce the risks they face.

For me, this is not just a matter of policy… it's personal.

I stood next to President Obama as the Marines carried those flag-draped caskets off the plane at Andrews. I put my arms around the mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers, sons and daughters. It has been one of the greatest honors of my life to lead the men and women of the State Department and USAID. Nearly 70,000 serving here in Washington and at more than 275 posts around the world. They get up and go to work every day – often in difficult and dangerous circumstances thousands of miles from home – because they believe the United States is the most extraordinary force for peace and progress the earth has ever known.

And when we suffer tragedies overseas, the number of Americans applying to the Foreign Service actually increases. That tells us everything we need to know about what kind of patriots I'm talking about. They ask what they can do for their country. And America is stronger for it.

Today, after four years in this job, after traveling nearly 1 million miles and visiting 112 countries around the world, my faith in our country and our future is stronger than ever. Every time that blue and white airplane carrying the words "United States of America" touches down in some far-off capital, I feel again the honor it is to represent the world's indispensible nation. And I am confident that, with your help, we will continue to keep the United States safe, strong, and exceptional.

So I want to thank this committee for your partnership and your support of our diplomats and development experts around the world. You know the importance of the work they do day-in and day-out, and that America's values and vital national security interests are at stake. It is absolutely critical that we work together to ensure they have the resources and support they need to face increasingly complex threats.

I know that you share our sense of responsibility and urgency. And while we all may not agree on everything, let's stay focused on what really matters: protecting our people and the country we all love.

Woods was visiting, not officially working, advanced to assist Americans under fire at the Benghazi despite an order to stand down. He covered the mile to the embassy from the CIA safe house in minutes, fired upon the perpetrators at the embassy and rescued about 30 people who otherwise may have been killed. He was undermanned and unfortunately did not discover Ambassador Stevens unconscious on the floor of the embassy safe room which was dark without power and was smoke filled.

Woods retreated the mile back to the CIA safe house presumably with all of the 30 rescued individuals where he took up a machine gun to defend all in the CIA safe house. The terrorists renewed their attack this time on the CIA safe house. Has anyone seen a report that the 6 or 7 CIA operatives at the safe house joined Woods to defend the CIA safe house?

During this second confrontation, at the CIA safe house, there was a report stating CIA announced they had a tracer on a terrorist gun or mortar emplacement, and then received a second order to stand down. They stood down.

Again Woods did not stand down and blasted away with his machine gun mounted on the roof of the CIA safe house building. The CIA safe house did take a hit from a large gun, mortar, or rocket on an upper floor, not the roof, as reported and evident in many photographs. Woods body, it is reported, was found dead slumped over his machine gun. It is reported Woods was killed by schrapnel.

Was Woods shot in the back? I hope no. Was there a credible autopsy? I hope yes.

About 6 hours after Woods attempt to rescue people at the embassy, a second rescue discovered Ambassador Stevens still alive in the safe room at the Embassy. He was taken to a hospital, died there, officially from smoke inhalation.

The US Cabinet was assembled at the White House, it is reported, watched live TV coverage of all of this delivered by 2 drones with cameras.

The 6 week long story that an LA cartoonish video is responsible for the terrorist attack and caused the death of Woods and Stevens, a story clung to by Obama, Rice, and Clinton, and millions of Obama apologists, is one of the most bizarre political spins in world history.

Some Algeria Attackers Are Placed at Benghazi
Published: January 22, 201

ALGIERS — Several Egyptian members of the squad of militants that lay bloody siege to an Algerian gas complex last week also took part in the deadly attack on the United States Mission in Libya in September, a senior Algerian official said Tuesday.

The Egyptians involved in both attacks were killed by Algerian forces during the four-day ordeal that ended in the deaths of at least 38 hostages and 29 kidnappers, the official said. But three of the militants were captured alive, and one of them described the Egyptians’ role in both assaults under interrogation by the Algerian security services, the official said.

If confirmed, the link between two of the most brazen assaults in recent memory would reinforce the transborder character of the jihadist groups now striking across the Sahara. American officials have long warned that the region’s volatile mix of porous borders, turbulent states, weapons and ranks of fighters with similar ideologies creates a dangerous landscape in which extremists are trying to collaborate across vast distances.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, who is scheduled to testify before Congress on Wednesday about the Libyan attack that killed the American ambassador and three staff members, raised the specter of regional cooperation among extremists soon after the mission in Benghazi was overrun.

In particular, she said the Islamist militant takeover of northern Mali had created a “safe haven” for terrorists to “extend their reach” and work with other extremists in North Africa, “as we tragically saw in Benghazi,” though she offered no clear evidence of such ties.

Now the Algerians say the plot to seize the gas complex in the desert was hatched in northern Mali as well. Indeed, Mokhtar Belmokhtar, the veteran militant who has claimed overall responsibility for the siege, is believed to be based there.

But the Algerian official did not say why the captured kidnapper’s assertion — that some fighters had taken part in both the Benghazi and Algerian attacks — should be considered trustworthy. Nor did he say whether it was obtained under duress.

Instead, he focused on the chaos unleashed by the recent uprisings throughout the region, leaving large ungoverned areas where extremists can flourish.

“This is the result of the Arab Spring,” said the official said, who spoke on condition of anonymity because investigations into the hostage crisis were still under way. “I hope the Americans are conscious of this.”

American counterterrorism and intelligence officials have said that some members of Ansar al-Shariah, the group that carried out the attack on the diplomatic mission in Benghazi, had connections to Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, one of the militant groups now holding northern Mali. But American officials have also said that the Qaeda affiliate played no role in directing or instigating that Benghazi attack.

Similarly, Egyptian security officials said they believed that a longtime Islamist militant from Egypt was involved in the gas field attack, but the officials did not know of any connection to the Benghazi attack as well.

Algeria was firmly opposed to the Western intervention to help topple Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi in Libya in 2011, and this nation’s conservative leadership viewed the Arab Spring with deep suspicion, making no secret of its desire to avoid any such occurrences.

Small-scale demonstrations here were quickly stifled, and ever since Algerian officials have not hesitated to point at what they see as the connection between popular demands for greater democracy that have swept the Arab world and the rise of Islamist militancy in the region.

Algerian officials says the militants who seized the gas field traveled through Niger and Libya, whose border is only some 30 miles from the plant at In Amenas. Mohamed-Lamine Bouchneb, the militant leading the attack at the site, had purchased arms for the assault in the Libyan capital, Tripoli, the senior official said.

The kidnappers had also gathered, undisturbed, at the southern Libyan town of Ghat, just across the border from Algeria, he said, depicting Libya as anarchic, without an effective military force and an ideal staging ground for attacks like the one launched a week ago.

Having already experienced a large-scale Islamist insurgency in the 1990s, in which perhaps as many as 100,000 were killed, Algeria had no intention of experiencing another, the official suggested. He defended the tough Algerian military assault during the standoff and dismissed criticism by foreign leaders that they were not informed of it in advance.

“We left it all up to the military chiefs,” he said. “Myself, I was only informed a half-hour afterwards.”

His assertion squares with the widely held view of Algerian analysts that the military, and in particular a cadre of elderly generals, holds a wide degree of autonomy in the country and often acts independently of civilian leadership.

The official said that Algeria could expect more terrorist attacks, despite having delivered sharp blows to militants over a period covering nearly 15 years.

“We’re waiting for more,” he said. “We are not out of the woods yet.”

David D. Kirkpatrick contrib

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