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Clinton Testifies on Libya Attack

Aired January 23, 2013 - 09:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: Hey, good morning, Soledad.

And good morning to all of you. Thank you so much for joining us today. I'm Carol Costello.

Happening now on Capitol Hill, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton answers for the deaths of four Americans before a Senate committee. After weeks of delay, she appears before lawmakers to discuss the terrorist attack on the U.S. consulate in Libya. And already Republicans are being warned to be respectful to Secretary Clinton.

But today's public grilling will go beyond politics. Did the government do enough to protect its citizens, serving their country in a volatile region? Did the State Department ignore Security concerns voiced by Ambassador Chris Stevens? What are survivors of the attack telling investigators? And what's being done to track down the terrorist who laid siege to these American diplomatic offices?

It's likely to be a day of blunt questions and intense scrutiny and we're covering all the angles for you this morning.

CNN's Wolf Blitzer is in Washington to begin our coverage.

Good morning, Wolf.

WOLF BLITZER, ANCHOR, CNN'S THE SITUATION ROOM: Good morning, Carol.

It's going to be a very, very important day for the secretary of state this morning before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee later this afternoon before the House Foreign Affairs Committee. The secretary has a big challenge ahead of her.

She's got to convince not only members of the Senate, later the House of Representatives, that she's on top of what happened, how these mistakes occurred, why four American diplomats were killed including the U.S. ambassador to Libya were killed. She's got to explain what she was doing on that very day. What she did in the days that followed.

Jake Tapper is our chief Washington correspondent.

Jake, it's one of those hearings that we're really interested in seeing how tough some of these questions, Republicans in this particular case, wind up being. JAKE TAPPER, CNN CHIEF WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: That's right. Of course, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, this is the closing time of her tenure as secretary of state. She'll be leaving within the next few days. And so this is a rather uncomfortable swan song for her. Also on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, we have some new members including some individuals who are thinking about possibly running for president.

BLITZER: For Marco Rubio.

TAPPER: Marco Rubio from Florida and Rand Paul from Kentucky, both of whom have very divergent views on the role of the U.S. in the world, preferring a more muscular foreign policy, more interventionist. Rand Paul, of course, the son of Ron Paul, are thinking that the U.S. is involved in too many things, too many crisis abroad. We'll hear from them.

Also, of course, we have several new members on the House -- House Foreign Relations Committee, and they've already been warned, as Dana Bash, our Capitol Hill reporter, reported this morning, noted that she -- they had to be told by the chairman of the House committee to be respectful. He was concerned, perhaps, that some of them were going to try to make a name for themselves perhaps inappropriately so.

BLITZER: And the secretary is now being seated. You see that all the photographers there. Our chief congressional correspondent, Dana Bash, is up on Capitol Hill.

Dana, just walk us through the format. I assume the acting chairman, Robert Menendez of New Jersey, will open with a statement. Then what happens?

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right. He is going to have an opening statement, and then the ranking Republican of this hearing, Bob Corker of Tennessee, will as well, and then we will hear from Secretary Clinton. Then it will be open to questions.

You know, generally when we have these kinds of hearings they go on and on. In fact, Bob Menendez is beginning right now. We'll let listen to him in one second --

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: Let's listen. Let's listen to his opening statement.

BASH: Yes. Let's do that. Sure.

SEN. ROBERT MENENDEZ (D-NJ), FOREIGN RELATIONS COMMITTEE: Since the full Senate has not passed the committee resolution officially seating members, I want to ask unanimous consent of returning members to allow our prospective members to participate in today's hearing. And if there is no objection, so ordered.

Madame Secretary, let me welcome you and thank you for honoring your commitment to come before the committee after the Administrative Review Board's findings. You said you would after the findings were completed. And of course you had a bit of an intervening challenge and we're thrilled to see you here today doing well. And to take time out of your schedule in these final days to discuss the tragic events that occurred in Benghazi on September the 11th, and the lessons we -- we need to learn from that event to ensure that all American personnel are fully protected and our embassies fully secured wherever they are.

In your tenure as secretary of state and your appearances before this committee, you have always been up-front, forthright, and energetic in defending our foreign service offices and their needs, and I for one commend you for it.

Unfortunately, the tragic events in Benghazi are a sad reminder of the inherent risks that come with diplomatic engagement in parts of the world that are struggling to build new governments from what has often been a chaotic situation. And underscore the very real courage of the unsung men and women who put their lives at risk to serve this nation's interests in those areas.

Let me say I respect what you have done during your tenure as secretary of state in representing not only this nation, but all of those in our foreign service who are on the diplomatic front line in turbulent and dangerous parts of the globe.

It's a reflection of your leadership, as well as your patriotism, and your abiding belief in the power of our policies to move the world towards democracy, peace, and preservation of human rights.

Your candor before this committee has been a trademark of your service as secretary of state, and I believe that every member has always welcomed your openness and your cooperation.

Your letter on December 18th to Chairman Kerry was appreciated by members of both sides as another example of that openness and cooperation. Let me say we share your mission here today and that we look forward to a constructive dialogue today to learn from the events that occurred in Benghazi.

And to device policies to better protect the nearly 70,000 men and women serving in D.C. and more than 275 posts around the world.

Ambassador Chris Stevens, Sean Smith, Tyrone Woods and Glen Doherty, lost their lives on September 11th, 2012 during terrorist attacks on the special mission Benghazi. As a committee, we honor their service to our nation, and we grieve with their families. But we also resolve to take specific actions to prevent future incidence.

We may not be able to prevent every single terror attack in the future, but we can and must make sure that our embassies and employees, starting with high-risk, high-threat posts, are capable of withstanding such an attack. To that end, Secretary Clinton and the department have embraced and agreed to implement all 29 of the Administrative Review Board's recommendations, and today we'll hear more about the progress that the department has already made towards implementation of many of the recommendations.

But I would add that Congress is not without responsibility here. We also have an obligation to do our part to comply with the Administrative Review Board's recommendations. It is my intention to work with the members of the committee and the department in the coming months on legislation that will improve security and better protect our employees.

One of the first and easiest things that we can do is to ensure that the department's contracting rules allow for sufficient flexibility, to allow them to quickly make decisions where security is at risk and to hire local guards not only on the basis of the lower priced tactically acceptable, but on a best value basis to ensure that we are not just checking the -- the box when it comes to securing our building and protecting our people.

The state has this authority through March for Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iraq. But values should be a priority in all locations, and particularly at high-risk environments. We're also looking at where source contracting may be appropriate to respond for certain security related contacts.

The Administrative Review Board also supports expanding the Marine Security Guard program, hiring an equipment more diplomatic security personnel and of critical importance authorizing full funding for the embassy construction capital cost sharing program.

The capital cost sharing program for embassy construction was created in the aftermath of the 1998 bombing to the U.S. embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam that had resulted in 224 deaths including 11 American citizens. In its first year, it funded the construction of 13 new facilities followed by 11 in 2006 and nine in 2005.

Nearly every year since, fewer facilities have been built than in the previous year due to both funding decreases and the fact that the allocations to the account have never been indexed to inflation. Costs in the construction industry worldwide have risen tremendously. At the current anticipated funding rate for FY 2013, the department estimates it will be able to construct just three new facilities, despite the fact that there are a couple of dozen posts that have now been designated as high-risk, high-threat posts that need replacing right now.

But lessons of Benghazi aren't only about adequately resourcing our security operations. It's also about the flow of information between the department and our foreign facilities within the department itself. Among all the agencies engaged in international work, and between the department and Congress. The department should be assessing and regularly designating which post it considers to be high threat and high risk, using that information to drive decisions about security, and reporting to Congress on security conditions at these posts.

The Administrative Review Board also makes clear that there were failures in Benghazi that resulted in an inadequate security posture and that responsibility for these failures was shared by Washington, by the U.S. embassy in Tripoli, and by the inexact and non-status designation of the special mission. This left unclear what the security requirements of the mission were, or should be. And left staff in the field with limited ability and resources to fix the situation. Clearly, that needs to change.

There are two other crucial points made by the Administrative Review Board that I think deserve attention on a larger scale by members of this committee.

First, the -- our placed emphasis on the growing challenge faced by all American officials operating overseas of how to remain active in high-threat environments. How to get out beyond the fortified walls of our facilities to conduct the direct local interaction required for effective diplomacy. How do we remain accessible to foreign governments, civil society and the private sector while still securing our embassies and protecting our people in these environments.

Second, the Administrative Review Board correctly points out that the department has been resource challenged for many years. And this has constrained our mission and led to the husbanding of resources to such a degree that restricting the use of resources, even for security, has become a conditioned response.

This is to say that decisions about security resources being made more on cost than on need and value. And the answer can't be to cut more from other foreign affairs accounts to fund security, that approach fails to recognize that diplomacy and foreign aid are but down payments that yield dividends to us in terms of goodwill, open borders for the export of American products, protection of our intellectual property and most importantly cooperation on security and counterterrorism.

So there's a lot to discuss, so Madame Secretary, welcome again. We very much appreciate your time. On a personal note since this is likely to be your last hearing before this committee, and your leadership will be missed, I know I speak for many when I said that you've been an outstanding secretary of state, an exemplary representative of American foreign policy and American values and interest to every leader around the world.

You have changed the face of America abroad and extended the hospitable reach of our nation to ordinary citizens in addition to world leaders.

During your tenure you steered us through economic crisis in Europe, changing relations with Asia, regime change in the Arab world, a momentous transition in Libya, and a trend towards global strength based on economics rather than arms.

I personally appreciate the fact that you've used your office to aggressively implement sanctions against Iran.

In addition to these priorities, in nearly every trip of which you were have, I think, the most traveled secretary in history, you also supported, met with and provided a voice to those individuals that don't live in the limelight. Women, children, the LBGT community and religious minorities. You made a real difference in the personal lives of so many people and for that you have the thanks of a grateful nation. I know you will not go gently from the world stage and I look forward to working closely with you in the future. We thank you for your service here in the Senate and as secretary of state, we welcome you back any time to talk about the issues of the day recognizing that you may not care to spend any more time in that chair than you already have, but we certainly appreciate your incredible service.

With that, let me turn to my friend and colleague, the new ranking member of the committee, Senator Corker.

SEN. BOB CORKER (R), TENNESSEE: Hi to Mr. Chairman, and thank you for your comments, and also for following through as we've all discussed to have this hearing today. I want to welcome the new committee members, and I know there'll be a time for us to talk a little bit about the committee going forward, in many ways, this is a closing-out business from before, but I thank you very much again for having this hearing. And I look forward to working with everybody on the committee.

Madame Secretary, I want to thank you also. I know we've had a number of conversations over the last several weeks and actually over the last four years, and I want to thank you for coming in today and honoring the commitment that you made some time ago. I know you've had some health issues, still undergoing, and yet you're here today, and I think we all do respect the tremendous amount of hard work that you put forth over the last four years.

You probably traveled more than any secretary of state in history and came at your job in the way all we -- we all thought you would with hard work and diligence, and I know all of us appreciate the transparency with which you talk to all of us and candidly irreverence from time to time which is much appreciated.

I do -- I do want to say that Benghazi, I think to all of us, represents a lot of different things. In some ways, the aftermath, in particular, of what we saw, represents the very worst of Washington. And, you know, the most bizarre briefing I think I ever attended was the briefing we had on September 20th where the intelligence community said more than nothing, and it was a bizarre briefing at best.

It happened in the middle of a political campaign, and obviously there was a lot of spin from the White House, and a lot of comments made on both sides of the aisle that heightened a lot of the focus on Benghazi. I think it also represented a sclerotic (ph) department that in many ways made decisions that weren't not based on what was best for those in the field.

I think it represented in many ways a denial of the world as it really is today. And I think after reading the ARB, it also represented to me a committee that has never done it's work, or in the six years that I've been here, never done the kind of oversight that this committee ought to do.

But I think it also represents an awakening. I know that you have known this, and I know especially many of the members on this committee have known this, but the spiking of the ball, and the thinking that when Osama bin Laden was gone that would be the end of al Qaeda. We know nothing could further from the truth.

And the Arab spring has actually ushered in a time where al Qaeda is on the rise. The world, in many ways, is even more dangerous as we lack a central command, and instead have nodes that are scattered throughout North Africa and other places. And I think this creates an opportunity for us to develop a policy that really addresses the world as it really is today.

And, thirdly, Madame Secretary, I know it was a great personal loss to you that Chris Stevens died in the way that he did and his colleagues died in the way they did. I know you know I was on the ground in Libya immediately after this, and I know you experienced this and some of the other members of the committee have. But to look at the faces of those on the ground in Libya in a state of shock, people that we sent there doing expeditionary diplomacy, who felt like they were on a tether and candidly did not have the support from Washington that they needed to do the things they needed to do.

So, I think this is an opportunity for us to examine the systemic failures. I know that you're going to be, as per conversation last night, as transparent as you have always been. I think this is a great opportunity for the incoming secretary to learn from what has happened.

And I know many times political appointees have great difficulties with the bureaucracy that exists within a department, where sometimes people they can wait you out until the next person comes along. So I think this is an opportunity for us to look at those failures.

I think it's an opportunity for us also as a committee, and also as a country to develop a foreign policy that reflects, again, the dynamics of a region as they really are today.

And then, lastly, I think this is an opportunity for this committee to finally do the work that it should have been doing for years. When you read the ARB report, and you realize that we have never done an authorization of the State Department in the six years that I have been here, we've never looked at how foreign aid has been spent. We've never done a top to bottom review.

I know that it's something that people like you look at as something that is healthy, and can be done in partnership. I know there was some mention of cost. And I was really disappointed with the ARB when the first thing that came out of the mouths of two people that I respect was money, money, money.

The fact is, this committee would have no idea whether the appropriate amount of money is being spent, or if that could have prevented what happened in Benghazi, because we've never done an authorization. So I look at this as a tremendous opportunity, and I want to close, again, by thanking you for your service, thanking you for your friendship, thanking you for your transparency, and I certainly look forward to your testimony. I know it will be presented in a way that will be constructive and helpful to us in the future. Thank you.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you, Senator Corker.

With that, Madam Secretary, we welcome your remarks.

HILLARY CLINTON, SECRETARY OF STATE: Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman, ranking member, members of the committee, both older and new. I'm very grateful for this opportunity and I thank you very much for your patience to give me the chance to come and address these issues with you.

As both the chairman and the ranking member have said, the terrorist attacks in Benghazi on September 11th, 2012 that claimed the lives of four 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 briefly to offer some context for this challenge, share what we've learned, how we are protecting our people, and where we can work together to not only honor our fallen colleagues, but continue to champion America's interest and values.

Any clear-eyed examination of this manner 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, for other agencies, and for America. 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, counsel and staff murdered in Jeddah in 2004, the Khost attack in 2009 and too many others.

Since 1977, 65 American diplomatic personnel have been killed by terrorists. Now, of course, the list of attacks foiled, crises averted, and lives saved is even longer.

We should never forget that our security officials get it right more than 99 percent of the time against difficult odds around the world. That's why, like my predecessors, I literally trust them with my life.

Let's also remember that administrations of both parties and partnership with Congress have made concerted and good faith efforts to learn from these attacks and deaths. To implement recommendations from the review boards to seek the necessary resources and do better in protecting our people from what has become constantly evolving threats. That is the least that the men and women who serve our country deserve. It's what again we are doing now with our help.

As secretary, I have no higher priority and no greater responsibility. 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.

Now taking responsibility meant moving quickly in those first uncertain hours and days to respond to the immediate crisis, but also to 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 figure out effective ways to support the emerging democracies in North Africa and beyond.

Let me share some of the lessons we learned, the steps we've taken, and work we continue to do. First, let's start on the night of September 11th itself and those difficult early days. I directed our response from the State Department, stayed in close contact with officials from across our government and the Libyan government.

So I saw firsthand what Ambassador Pickering and former Chairman Mullen called timely and exceptional coordination. No delays in decision making, no denials of support from Washington or from our 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 the 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. I vowed to bring them to justice, and I stood with President Obama in the Rose Garden as he spoke of an act of terror.

It's also important to recall that in that same period, we were seeing violent attacks in our embassies, in Cairo, Sana'a, Tunis, Khartoum, as well as large protests outside many other posts where our thousands of our diplomats serve.

So, I immediately ordered a review of our security posture around the world with particularly scrutiny for high threat posts. I 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 risk from fire, and to hire additional diplomatic security personnel.

Second, even as we took these steps, I hurried to appoint the Accountability Review Board led by Ambassador Pickering and Admiral Mullen so we could more fully understand from objective, independent examination, what went wrong and how to fix it. I have accepted every one of their recommendations. 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 pursuing additional steps above and beyond the recommendations.

I also pledged in my letter to you last month that implementation would begin, and it has. Our task force started by translating the recommendations into 64 specific action items. They were assigned to bureaus and offices with clear timelines for completion, 85 percent are now on track to be completed by the end of March. A number are already completed, and we will use this opportunity to take a top to bottom look and rethink how we make decisions on where, when, and whether people operate in high threat areas and how we respond to threats and crises.

We are initiating an annual high threat post review chaired by the secretary of state and ongoing reviews by the deputy secretaries to ensure that pivotal questions about security do reach the highest levels. We will regularize protocols for sharing information with Congress. These are designed to increase the safety of our diplomats and development experts, and reduce the chances of another Benghazi happening again.

We've also been moving forward on a third front, addressing the broader strategic challenge in Africa and a wider region because after all, Benghazi did not happen in a vacuum. The Arab revolutions scrambled power dynamics and shattered security forces across the region. 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 our deepest condolences to the families of the Americans and all of the people from many nations who were killed and injured in that recent hostage crisis. We're in close touch with the government of Algeria. We stand ready to provide assistance. We are seeking to gain a fuller understanding of what took place so we can work together with Algerians and others to prevent such terrorist attacks in the future.

Concerns about terrorism and instability in North Africa are, of course, not new. They have been a top priority for the entire administration's national security team. But we have been facing a rapidly changing threat environment. And we have had to keep working at ways to increase pressure on al Qaeda and the other terrorist groups in the region.

In the first hours and days, I conferred with leaders, the president of Libya, foreign ministers of Tunisia and Morocco, and then I had a series of meetings at the United Nations General Assembly where there was 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, in my stead, he co-chaired an organization we started to respond to some of these threats, the Global Counterterrorism Forum, which was meeting in Abu Dhabi, as well the meeting in Tunis of leaders working to build new democracies and reform security services.

We have focused on targeting al Qaeda syndicate of terror, closing safe havens, cutting off finances, countering extremist ideology, slowing the flow of new recruits, and we continue to hunt the terrorists responsible for the attacks in Benghazi and are determined to bring them to justice. We are using our diplomatic and economic tools to support these emerging democracies and to strengthen security forces and help provide a path away from extremism.

But let me underscore the importance of the United States continuing to lead in the Middle East, in North Africa, and around the world. We've come a long way in the past four years and 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 I sent Chris Stevens to Benghazi in the first place.

Nobody knew the dangers better than Chris -- first, during the revolution, then during the transition. A weak Libyan government, marauding militias, terrorist groups, a bomb exploded in the parking lot of his hotel, but he did not waver, because he understood it was critical for American to be represented there at that time.

Our men and women who serve overseas understand that we accept a level of risks to protect the country we love.