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Clinton Senate Hearing: Questions from Senators Risch, Cardin, Rubio, Casey, and Shaheen

Aired January 23, 2013 - 10:00   ET

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


SEN. JIM RISCH, ( R) IDAHO: I think you probably know where I'm going with this.

(LAUGHTER)

The next sentence is -- "and I stood with President Obama as he spoke of an act of terror." And, of course, there's been a lot of debate as to the context, that the word "terror" was used in. But be that as it may, I want to move to the next Sunday morning when Ambassador Rice went to the morning -- Sunday morning talk shows. And -- and, I think, we all realize this happened at a politically charged time here in the country as we approached an election. Notwithstanding that, the American people are still entitled to be told the truth about things. Did you select Ambassador Rice to deliver the message to the American people?

HILLARY CLINTON, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: No, I -- I did not, Senator. And -- and let me take this opportunity to address this. Because, obviously, even though I haven't had a chance to testify, I certainly have seen the resulting debate and concerns about this. You're right. It was a terrorist attack. I called it an attack by heavily armed militants.

RISCH: Well done.

CLINTON: And -- and, you know, that is clearly what happened. We know that. But second, the harder question is, what caused it. And that we didn't know. We didn't know who the attackers were, what their motives were.

Third, as the ARB makes clear after their months of research, the picture remains still somewhat complicated. And I say that because in the unclassified ARB, it is, I quote, "Key questions surrounding the identity, actions, and motivations of the perpetrators remain to be determined."

I recommend that all members and staff read the classified version of the ARB, which goes into greater detail. I obviously can't speak to it, but it does goes into greater detail because there were a variety of potential causes and triggers for this attack. There's evidence that the attacks were deliberate, opportunistic, and pre-coordinated, but not necessarily indicative of extensive planning.

And -- and fourth, Senator, I would say that I personally was not focused on talking points. I was focused on keeping our people safe. Because, as I said, I have a very serious threat environment in Yemen. it turned out we had people getting over that wall in Cairo, doing damage until we got them out. We had a serious threat against our embassy in Tunis. I had to call the president of Tunisia and beg him to send reinforcements, which he did to finally save our embassy, which could have been a disaster. They burned and trashed our school.

So I was pretty occupied about keeping our people safe, doing what needed to be done in the follow-up to Benghazi. I really don't think anybody in the administration was really focused on that so much as trying to figure out what we should be doing. And, you know, I wasn't involved in the talking points process.

As I understand it, as I've been told, it was a typical interagency process where staff, including from the State Department all participated, to try to come up with whatever was going to be made publicly available, and it was an intelligence product. And it's my understanding that the intelligence community is working with appropriate committees, to kind, of explain the whole process.

RISCH: Well, thank you. I had some follow-up questions, but my time is up. But I -- I gather you still stand by the statement you made less than 24 hours, that -- that heavily armed militants assaulted our compound, and you vowed to bring them to justice. You still stand by that?

CLINTON: Absolutely.

RISCH: Thank you.

SEN. ROBERT MENENDEZ, (D) NEW JERSEY: Senator Corker.

SEN. BEN CARDIN, (D) MARYLAND: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

Secretary, Clinton, first, congratulations, and thank you for your extraordinary service to our country during these past four years as secretary of state. I believe the world is safer today, because America is better understood around the world. And you have been instrumental in integrating diplomacy in our national security agenda, and I thank you for that, because I do think it has paid off in heavy dividends for the American people.

I particularly want to acknowledge your leadership in advancing basic rights. Senator Boxer already acknowledged the gender equity issues that you have taken international leadership on. I also want to thank you for your help in dealing with corruption, particularly with transparency in the extract (ph) of industries and the progress that we've made in -- in that regard.

Benghazi was -- was a tragedy. We've all acknowledged that, the loss of American life. And we've also acknowledged the bravery of those people on the ground. They did extraordinary service and saved lives. And that's what they're trained to do. And -- and we want to make sure that we acknowledge that.

Also, let me just point out that you have been very open with the committee. We had a hearing on December 20th with your deputies, and they provided all the information, and you're here today. And we -- we thank you very much for that.

I -- I want to follow up on one area of -- of northern Africa. You point out the risk factors that we currently have in northern Africa. Algeria is a -- is a reminder of the global security concerns. We do not know, as Senator Risch pointed out, the individuals who may have been involved in Libya may have been involved in Algeria. We don't know that, but we do know there's reports from United Nations and others that weapons have gotten from Libya into Algeria, which points out our need as we look at transitions occurring in -- in -- in that region.

Syria -- Assad's not going to be there, we think, much longer. There's lots of weapons in Syria. Are we -- do we have a strategy to make sure, as we go through transition in countries, that their -- their weapons are -- we're mindful that these weapons could end up harming U.S. interests. And it needs to be part of our strategy to make sure, as we support alternative governments and -- and rebels, that there is a strong priority in protecting the source of these weapons, not ending up harming Americans or harming our interests.

CLINTON: Well, Senator, you're absolutely right. One of the reasons that we and other government agencies were present in Benghazi is exactly that. We had a concerted effort to try to track down and find and recover as many MANPADS and other very dangerous weapons as possible.

Libya was awash in weapons before the revolution. Obviously, there were additional weapons introduced. But the vast, vast majority came out of Gadhafi warehouses and were -- as they -- as they were saying, liberated, and then went on the black market, were seized by militia, seized by other groups, and have made their way out of Libya into other countries in the region, and have made their way to Syria, we believe.

It is a red line for this administration with respect to Syria concerning the use of chemical weapons. Syria, as you probably know, in addition to having the fourth largest army before this revolution has a very significant supply of chemical and biological weapons. Given the instability in Syria right now, what we are trying to do is to coordinate closely with a number of like-minded nations, neighbors, and partners to be able to work to try to prevent those from falling into the wrong hands, Jihadist hands, Hezbollah hands, but also to try to work with the internal opposition for them to understand the dangers that are -- are posed.

So this Pandora's box, if you will, of weapons coming out of these countries in the Middle East and north Africa is the source of one of our biggest threats. There's no doubt that the Algerian terrorists had weapons from Libya. There's no doubt that the Malian remnants of AQIM have weapons from Libya. So we have to do a much better job.

The final thing I would say about this is, you know, AFRICOM was stood up about ten years ago. I think a lot of people, at the time, wondered why would we have another command in the world and why in Africa. I now think we need to pay much more attention to AFRICOM, to its capacity inside Africa. It's based in Stuttgart, Germany for all kinds of complicated, logistical, and political reasons. Carter Ham has been a very dedicated leader of AFRICOM during his time there. But we're going to see more and more demands on AFRICOM, and I think that's something else that the Senate and House are going to have to address.

CARDIN: Thank you, Madam Secretary.

MENENDEZ: Senator Rubio.

RUBIO: Thank you, Madam Secretary. I know -- we all wish that we -- this had never happened so this hearing would never have had to happen. But it's good -- we're glad to see you here and -- and wish you all the best.

CLINTON: Thank you.

Secondarily, I want to share sentiments of my other colleagues of tremendous respect for the hard work and service that you've put in on behalf of our country, both as a member of this chamber and then, obviously, now in -- in the role you have.

One of the things that -- that I'm most interested in exploring with you today a little bit, is how information flows within the State Department, and, in particular, in -- in hindsight, looking forward, how we prevent some of this happening.

And so, I was curious about a number of things. First of all, did -- were you ever asked to participate in any sort of internal or interagency meeting with -- before this attack with regard to deteriorating security situation in Libya?

CLINTON: Well, Senator, you know, again, I -- I appreciate your -- your kind words. You know, and I reiterate my taking responsibility. And, as I have already said, with specific security requests they didn't come to me. I had no knowledge of them.

With regard to the situation in Libya, not just eastern Libya, across Libya, there were a number of conversations and meetings to try to see what we could do while Libya went through this transition from transitional government to interim government to elections, to try to get in there and help them with security, because it was clear that that was going to be one of their highest needs, once they finally got stabilized.

So you know, there were a number of meetings. And I personally, I went to Libya in October of 2011. I spoke with the then-leadership, I met with them in international settings. We sent teams out, both civilian and military experts to try to help them. Until recently, while they were going through their transitions, it was a very difficult conversation, because they didn't have the authority, they thought. But now we're beginning and we have a long list of ways that we're trying to help improve security in Libya.

RUBIO: For example, the October 2011 meeting. At that meeting, did this issue come up with regards to the inability of the Libyan government to protect our diplomatic institutions? Did that issue come up at all in that conversation?

CLINTON: Well, we obviously talked a great deal about the deteriorating threat environment in Libya. One of the reasons we had our own people on the ground and why we were looking to try to figure out how to better protect Benghazi and how to have understandings with those in the annex is because it's a host country responsibility. But you know, they were not in a position to do what we would expect from an organized country. But they did have the militias.

You know, the February 17th Brigade had proven to be responsive in the past, prior to 9/11. Other militias in Tripoli had proven to be responsive. You know, when I landed in Tripoli I was met by the Zintin militia. That was the welcome I had. All these guys dressed completely in black, holding their automatic weapons. So we knew that we were piecing together what a host nation was not yet able to do.

RUBIO: Right. And then there was another meeting on March, 2012. So just to be clear, in October 2011, then again in March of 2012, I believe that was here with the prime minister, in either one of these meetings was there a specific conversation between you and them with regards to concerns that we had that of not just the deteriorating security situation, but the inability of them as a host country to meet their obligations to provide security?

CLINTON: Of course, well, of course.

RUBIO: There was a conversation?

CLINTON: Oh, absolutely. I mean, this was a constant conversation, Senator. And what I found with the Libyans was willingness, but not capacity. You know, in Tunisia, as I told you, they had capacity, but I had to call and just tell them we had to get that capacity out there, because you know, they're still trying to figure out how to be a state without being a security state. With Cairo, we had to call and tell the Egyptians get your people out there. So with Libya it was different.

The Libyans were very responsive, very willing, but no levers to pull. And 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.

RUBIO: Before the attack in Benghazi, what had we done specifically to help them build their security capacity?

CLINTON: Well, there's a long list and I'll be happy to provide that to you, because it is filled with training, with equipment, with the kind of planning that they had not done before. And I'd be happy to send you the detail on that, Senator.

MENENDEZ: Senator Casey?

SEN. ROBERT CASEY, (D) PENNSYLVANIA: Madam Secretary, thank you for being here today to provide this testimony. I'm going to ask you a question that relates to the implementation of the accountability review board recommendations. But before I do that I want to express what I think is a widely shared sentiment today, both by way of gratitude and commendation for your work. We don't have time today to do a full listing of all the achievements that you should get credit for. But I'll mention maybe two or three in light of the work that you've done, and some of the work that we've done together.

The terribly difficult challenge in dealing with and reducing the flow of calcium ammonium nitrate from Pakistan into Afghanistan, which finds its way into the roadside bombs that kill our troops, known more popularly as IEDs. And I want to thank you for that work.

The work that was mentioned by Senator Boxer and others on behalf of women throughout the world, but also women and girls particularly in Afghanistan. And maybe thirdly, even though we are still in the throes of responding to the challenge in Syria, the great that you've done on humanitarian assistance and other elements of that strategy that we've worked together on.

And also, I want to commend not just the approach, but the words you spoke today about not retrenching, not retreating when it comes to getting that balance right between engagement and also security. Both high priorities.

I was struck by -- and I'm glad you were so specific on page 3 of your testimony about the specifics on implementation -- 29 recommendations by the board, which now has found its way into -- or I should say, which now is a set of 64 specific action items. You said in your testimony, quote, " ... fully 85 percent are on track to be completed by the end of March, with a number completed already."

I guess I'll ask you one question about that and then one follow-up. What, if any, impediments to implementation do you perceive right now? And are there impediments to meeting those deadlines that this committee and the Congress can help you with by way of meeting that deadline on implementation?

CLINTON: Well, thank you, Senator. And let me thank you for those three topics you covered, and particularly your very clear focus on the IED problem and the ammonium nitrate problem in Pakistan. You and I have talked about this. You've gone there, I've gone there and carried that message and I thank you for making it an issue.

Let me say that we need your help, we need your help, number one, to hold us accountable. You know, to keep asking whoever sits in this chair or anybody else in the department with any responsibility in this area, what are you doing and how are you doing it? And it'll to clear up misconceptions like, no, our recommendations have never been fully implemented, which I know is not the case. But it will also help to keep driving the change.

You know, I really believe that an authorization process will dramatically change the dynamic. And I strongly it be tried. And again, I go back to my Armed Services Committee experience with Senator McCain over those years. We had subcommittees. We took it very seriously. We held hearings. We brought people in. We had a 3- day markup that was sacrosanct. But we also had the Quadrennial Defense Review, the QDR, where the Defense Department submitted that, and it helped to provide a framework.

So when I got to the State Department, I said there is nothing like that at the State Department. So I started the first ever Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review, the first ever QDDR. You can help me continue that and make the department ask the hard questions if you legislate it the way the QDR is legislated for the Defense Department.

Secondly, you can help by making sure that the needs we come to you with, like what are the training needs, the budgetary needs, the bureaucratic changes that are needed, that you help support that. And certainly we've talked a little bit about the budget, but getting that transfer authority, if you can help us with the House, it's $1.4 billion, Marine security guard detachment $553 million.

We've been closely coordinating with DOD. Historically, Marine security guards do not do personal security. They only do protection of classified materials. So we're working through what the guards will do and how we can use more of them.

CLINTON: Secondly, more diplomatic security personnel, $130 million. That would fund an additional 155 D.S. personnel and related equipment. And then, facility construction and upgrades, $736 million. We're going to have periodic reviews by these teams I started, the Defense-State Interagency Security Assessment Teams. We're going to start a high-threat post review by the secretary, which had not happened before. We're going to strengthen the mutual security agreements between the State Department and other government agencies when they are not co-located.

We had a very good relationship with the annex in Benghazi. We helped them, they helped us. But there wasn't anything that was - it was more on the ground working together. It wasn't part of an overall template. So there's a lot that I think that we can take from this, because I told Ambassador Pickering and Admiral Mullen put it out there. I want to know more than anybody what happened. Don't hold any punches. Tell us what the facts are. But now we have to act on it or shame on us.

CASEY: Thanks very much.

MENENDEZ: Senator Johnson.

SEN. RON JOHNSON, (R ) WISCONSIN: Thank you Mr. Chairman and Madame Secretary I would like to join my colleagues in thatnking you for your service sincerely, and also appreciate the fact that you're here testifying and glad that you're looking in good health.

CLINTON: Thank you.

JOHNSON: Did you, were you fully aware in real time - and again I realize how big your job is and everything was erupting in the Middle East at this time - were you fully aware of these 20 incidents reported in the ARB in real time?

CLINTON: I was aware of the ones that were brought to my attention. They were part of our ongoing discussion about the deteriorating threat environment in Eastern Libya. We certainly were very conscious of them. I was assured by our security professionals that repairs were underway, additional security upgrades had taken place.

JOHNSON: Thank you.

Did you see personally the cable on, I believe it was, August 12 th specifically asking for basic reinforcements for the security detail that was going to be evacuating - leaving in August? Did you see that personally?

CLINTON: No sir.

JOHNSON: Okay.

When you read the ARB, it strikes me as how certain the people were that the attack started at 9:40 Benghazi time. When was the first time you spoke, or have you ever spoken to the returnees, the evacuees? Did you personally speak to those folks?

CLINTON: I have spoken to one of them, but I waited until the ARB had done its investigation because I did not want there to be anybody raising and issue that I had spoken to anyone before the ARB had conducted its investigation.

JOHNSON: How many people were evacuated from Libya?

CLINTON: Well, the numbers are a little bit hard to pin down because of our other friends.

JOHNSON: Approximately.

CLINTON: Approximately 25 - 30.

JOHNSON: Did anybody in the State Department talk to those folks very shortly afterward?

CLINTON: There was discussion going on afterward, but once the investigation started the FBI spoke to them before we spoke to them. And so other than our people in Tripoli, which I think you're talking about Washington, right?

JOHNSON: Yes. The point I'm making is a very simple phone call to these individuals, I think, would have ascertained immediately that there was no protest prior to this. I mean this attack started at 9:40PM Benghazi time and it was an assault. And I appreciate the fact that called it an assault. But I'm going back to Ambassador Rice, five days later going to the Sunday shows and what I would say pruposefully misleading the American public.

CLINTON: Well, since -

JOHNSON: Why wasn't that known? And again I appreciate the fact that the transparency of this hearing. But why weren't we transparent at that point in time?

CLINTON: Well, first of all, Senator, I would say that once the assault happened and once we got our people rescued and out, our most immediate concern was number one taking care of their injuries. As I said I still have a DS agent at Walter Reed seriously injured. Getting them into Frankfurt Ramstein to get taken care of, the FBI going over immediately to start talking to them - we did not think it was appropriate for us to talk to them before the FBI conducted their interviews. And we did not I think this is accurate, sir, I certainly did not know of any reports that contradicted the IC talking points at the time that Ambassador Rice went on the TV shows.

And, you know, I just want to say that people have accused Ambassador Rice and the administration of misleading Americans. I can say, trying to be in the middle of this and understanding what was going on, nothing could be further from the truth.

Was information developing? Was the situation fluid? Would we reach conclusions later that weren't reached initially? And I appreciate -

JOHNSON: Madame Secretary, do you disagree with me that a simple phone call to those phone call to those evacuees to determine what happened wouldn't have ascertained immediately that there was no protest? I mean that was a piece of information that could have been easily, easily obtained.

CLINTON: Well, Senator -

JOHNSON: Within hours if not days.

CLINTON: Senator, I - when you're in these positions, the last thing you want to do is itnerfere with any other process going on.

(CROSSTALK)

JOHNSON: I realize that's a good excuse.

CLINTON: Number two, well, no it's the fact. Number two, I would recommend highly you read both what the ARB said about and the classified ARB, because even today there are questions being raised.

Now, we have no doubt they were terrorists, they were militants, they attacked us, they killed our people, but what was going on and why they were doing what they were doing is still -

JOHNSON: No, no. Again. We were misled that there were supposedly protests and then something spread out of that - an assault sprang out of that. And that was easily ascertained that that was not the fact -

(CROSSTALK)

JOHNSON: And the American people could have known that within days and they didn't know that.

CLINTON: With all due respect, the fact is we had four dead Americans. Was it because of a protest? Or was it because of guys out for a walk one night and decided they would go kill some Americans? What difference at this point does it make? It is our job to figure out what happened and do and do everything we can to prevent it from ever happening again, Senator. Now, honestly I will do my best to answer your questions about this, but the-the fact is that people were trying in real time to get to the best information. The I.C. has a process, I understand, going with the other committees to explain how these talking points came out. But, you know to be clear, it is from my perspective, less important today looking backwards as to why these militants decided they did it, than to find them and bring them to justice, and then maybe we'll figure out what was going on in the meantime. JOHNSON: OK, thank you Madam Secretary. MENENDEZ: Senator Shaheen? SEN. JEANNE SHAHEEN, (D) NEW HAMPSHIRE: Thank you very much Secretary Clinton. I want to echo the praise from my colleagues for your extraordinary service. And I want to thank you for your leadership on Benghazi. For taking responsibility for what happened there. For initiating an investigation so we would understand what happened. For moving forward to address threats in other high-risk areas, and for all of your efforts to implement the recommendations of the Accountability Review Board report, thank you. That's the kind of leadership we want to see across our government. I-I want to first go back to what I thought you said about still looking for the funding to be transferred, the $1.3 billion? CLINTON: Four. SHAHEEN: $1.4 billion from the OCO account, to address the security threats not just in Libya, but around the world. And do I understand that we still have not had that money transferred, and so that means that the $553 million for Marine security guards, the $130 million for diplomatic security, the $691 million for security installations, that is all on hold? And so we can't move forward until that has been approved by the House? CLINTON: Well, now we have to start over. Because it was in the Senate version of Sandy. It was not put into the Senate-the House version of Sandy. So, no we cannot-we cannot move money we already have to address the needs and deficiencies that the ARB has recommended we do. SHAHEEN: Well, I would just echo the comments that have been made already by this committee, and by you that this is action that we need to get moving on immediately. Because we still have people at risk around the world, and we need to take the action that's going to ensure their security. So, I would certainly urge the chairman, and the ranking member to move the committee to do everything we can to make this happen. I want to go back to something that Secretary Nides said at the hearing on December 20, because I asked him about the cooperation between the Department of Defense and State. And what the situation was on the ground before the Benghazi attack, in terms of placement of our military in the region? He talked about the unprecedented cooperation between State and Defense in response to Benghazi, but I wonder if you could talk about how we ensure that this is a standard way of doing business? And that we're acting in cooperation when we're looking at the threats facing us, particularly as we look at what's happening in Northern Africa, and across the Middle East?