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Hillary Clinton Senate Hearing: Questions from Senators Barasso, Udall, Paul, Murphy, Kaine

Aired January 23, 2013 - 11:00   ET


HILLARY CLINTON, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: And so I hope we get the transfer authority and then have a sensible budget discussion going forward.



Senator Barrasso?

SEN. JOHN BARRASSO (R), WISCONSIN: Thank -- thank you Mr. Chairman.

Madam Secretary, I want -- I want to thank you for your incredible commitment to this country as First Lady, as a member of this body as well as -- as -- as Secretary of State. And -- and as a doctor, I will tell you I have seen you work yourself to exhaustion, not for your own benefit but for the benefit of the people of this country and the country is grateful for that.

I -- I like you agree that we need to make sure that this -- something like this never happens again. And -- and I've kind of looked at like the Challenger explosion where we lost those seven astronauts because of the -- an O-ring and problems there and so we didn't see it coming but we could have seen it coming and should have seen it -- it -- it coming.

The -- as you said, you never saw the security requests, Vice President Biden in the presidential debates said no one told us. I mean the current -- the -- the concern is that we should have been seeing these sorts of things. There were the attacks on the British Ambassador. There were the attacks on the Red Cross that they pulled out of Benghazi. there were attacks on the consulate itself and yet we had no evacuation plan established in spite of the fact that months earlier in Libya, we had I think, get a -- get an -- get an Italian ferry boat to be able to get people out who were in danger, who were diplomats at the time.

So -- so those are the concerns.

We want to make sure that there is security for our ambassadors which -- which gets to the -- to the issue of -- we talk about what happened the talk shows and they said the best information was what was best available at the time.

The American people heard we had a substantial security presence.

They heard we obviously did have a strong security presence. They heard obviously there was a significant security presence. And -- and I just believe that that wasn't the case. And -- and I would ask you today if you believe that we had a significant, substantial and strong security presence in Libya at that time? Because we want that for all of our ambassadors.

CLINTON: Right. Well, Senator, we had a security presence that was mutually reinforced with the annex. We had had, as you rightly point out and others before you, previous incidents, not only against our compound but against the British, the Red Cross and others.

And what we, you know, what we have accepted from the ARB recommendation is that even though there was a back and forth in the cables and discussions, you need three D.S. agents or do you need five? We had five there but we had an unprecedented attack as one of the former RSO's regional security officers testified an attack that truly was not expected, even though at that -- on that night, we had the requisite number of D.S. agents.

So, you know, we can -- we can get mired in the -- in the back and forth but I -- I believe that we will be doing more to help prevent future tragedies and attacks if we take the ARB recommendations because after all, they had no stake in this debate one way or the other. They just wanted to look at the facts, which they did an excellent job doing and then tell all of us what we needed to do and that's what I think our highest responsibility is.

BARRASSO: Thank you, Madam Secretary.

You -- thinking about future attacks and trying to prevent those, on September 12, the president vowed to quote, "bring to justice the killers how attacked our people in Benghazi."

So, we asked the question and Senator Risch talked about were the people that perpetrated the recent attacks in Algeria. Were they part of this or -- or were they made perhaps emboldened because no one has yet paid a penalty for the attack on our facility in Benghazi and then how can we make sure that people are actually brought to justice there?

CLINTON: Well, I -- I believe that -- well I know that the FBI has been briefing some committees, I assume members or staff of this committee are included -- I don't know that, but I would assume -- about the progress of their investigation. I got the most recent update from the director just a few days ago when he returned from North Africa. They are following some -- some very promising leads and putting together cases. They would have to speak to you directly about that in a classified setting.

But I think what they are trying to determine is how best to respond and I think what the president clearly said is we will respond and we will bring those to justice and I don't think anybody should doubt this president at his word. We have some very good examples of that. It may take time, but he does not in any way divert attention from the goal of bringing them to justice.

BARRASSO: Thank you, Madam Secretary.

The president also said Al Qaida has been decimated in -- and in light of the recent terrorism -- terrorist activities that we continue to see in North Africa, around the world, would you characterize that as Al Qaida has been decimated?

CLINTON: Well, core Al Qaida certainly has been. I think you would hear the same from the intelligence community or DOD, the work that has been done in Afghanistan and the borders areas between Afghanistan in the borders areas between Afghanistan, Pakistan, certainly has taken out a whole cadre of leadership.

What we're seeing now are people who have migrated back to other parts of the world where they came from primarily who are in effect affiliates, part of the jihadist syndicate. Some of them like Al Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb use that name, others use different names.

But the fact is, they are terrorists. They are extremists. They have designs on overthrowing existing governments, even these new Islamist governments of controlling territory. So although there has been the decimation of core Al Qaida in the Afghanistan, Pakistan region, we do have to contend with the want-to-bes and the affiliates going forward.

BARRASSO: Thank you, ma'am

MENENDEZ: Senator Udall?

SEN. MARK UDALL (D), COLORADO: Thank you, Mr. Chairman and -- and thank you Madam Secretary for being here and it's great to -- great to see you today.

You have been a, I think a real and -- and dedicated public servant for this country and your travels around the world as many here have talked about it, the million miles that you've put on and all the countries you visited. And I think you've been to many countries where they've never had a Secretary of State. And I've seen firsthand when I've been to many of these countries the different it makes to have you there on the ground.

So I first of all, just want to thank you for that and I know it does take a toll, but you are incredibly dedicated to that.

Secondly, it's great to see you here in good health, smiling and and engaging with all of us and I want to add to the list people -- Senators going down the line talked about some of your accomplishments. I know previously I talked to you about cookstoves, which I know has been one of your initiatives.

And it -- and it's once again an example of picking something where people around the world who -- who are living on a dollar or two a day. If -- if you put in a technology like a (sic) up to dated cookstove, you can make a big different on their health, in the health of their children and you can make a big difference on the environment.

So I would add that to the list that has been given here today of of very thoughtful policy making on your part.

Now one of the findings the board made in its report is that and and I'm quoting there, "the total elimination of risk is a non-started for U.S. diplomacy given the need for the U.S. government to present in places where stability and security are often most profoundly lacking and host government support is sometimes minimal to nonexistent." And I'm ending the quote there.

And this -- this report really, as -- as you know Madam Secretary, underscores the difficulty in finding the right balance between engagement and security. And -- and I fully support, as you've asked here and you've made the point to our committee the idea that we should reprogram this $1.4 billion, get our act together and respond to the recommendations.

But my -- my -- my question here revolves around these high risk posts. I think the term you've used is having 20 of them. Is this how many there are? How many high risk posts we have around the world?

CLINTON: Well, it's a sliding scale.

UDALL: Yes, but it...

CLINTON: There's, you know...

UDALL: ... well the...

CLINTON: ... there's very high and there's high. I mean it's a it's a -- it's a constantly evolving threat environment.

UDALL: Can you give us a little bit of a range? I mean, very high and...

CLINTON: Yeah, I -- my -- I -- I, you know, I would like to give you that in a classified document because I don't think it helps us to point out the ones that we think are most at risk and then the ones that would be perhaps in a secondary category.

But I think it's fair to say, Senator, we operate in Pakistan; we operate in Iraq; in Afghanistan; in Yemen. We operate in places where we know that our facilities are being surveilled for potential attacks where we have a steady intel stream of plotting against that. We know that. And we make the decision, which is a difficult decision, as to whether or not that mission continues.

And I have to say that we really rely on our security professionals to implement the protocols and the procedures. And I have to say, they do a tremendous job. The vast majority of the cases -- I could give you a long list of attacks averted, of assassinations stopped, of the kinds of daily efforts that our diplomatic security professionals are engaged in. So, I have a lot of confidence in them, but we're going to -- we're going to do what we can to make sure that they get the support within our bureaucracy that they deserve out on the ground protecting our diplomats.

UDALL: And -- and I know I want to obey the time limits here, because you -- you need to move over to the House and others want to question. But maybe you could answer this one for the record.

Does it -- does it make sense that in some of these high-risk areas, that we consolidate those particular areas with more secure areas and then be able to -- to be in a situation where our personnel would be safer? And I'm not asking you really to answer that now. My time has run out and I want others to be able to question. But if you could -- if you could give us an answer for the record, that would be great.

CLINTON: I will do that, and I will say, Senator, one of the recommendations out of the East Africa ARB was to do that. And that is done, again, in the vast majority of cases, wherever it's possible to do what's called "co-locate." But we're taking a look at that as well to see what more we can do.

MENENDEZ: Senator Paul?

SEN. RAND PAUL (R), KENTUCKY: Thank you for appearing, Secretary Clinton. And I'm glad to see your health is improving.

One of the things that disappointed me most about the original 9/11 was no one was fired. We spent trillions of dollars, but there were a lot of human errors. These are judgment errors and the people who make judgment errors need to be replaced, fired, and no longer in a position of making these judgment calls.

So we have a review board. The review board finds 64 different things we could change. A lot of them are common sense and should be done. But the question is it's a failure of leadership that they weren't done in advance and four lives were cost because of this.

I'm glad that you're accepting responsibility. I think that ultimately with your leaving, you accept the culpability for the worst tragedy since 9/11. And I really mean that. Had I been president at the time, and I found that you did not read the cables from Benghazi, you did not read the cables from Ambassador Stevens, I would have relieved you of your post. I think it's inexcusable.

The thing is is that, you know, we can understand that you're not reading every cable. I can understand that maybe you're not aware of the cable from the ambassador in Vienna that asked for $100,000 for an electrical charging station. I can understand that maybe you're not aware that your department spent $100,000 on three comedians who went to India on a promotional tour called "Make Chai Not War."

But I think you might be able to understand and might be aware of the $80 million spent on a consulate in Mazar-e-Sharif that will never be built. I think it's inexcusable that you did not know about this and that you did not read these cables. 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. Their lives could have been saved had someone been more available, had someone been aware of these things, more on top of the job.

And the thing is is I don't suspect you of bad motives. The review board said, "Well, these people weren't willfully negligent." I don't think you were willfully. I don't suspect your motives of wanting to serve your country, but it was a failure of leadership not to be involved. It was a failure of leadership not to know these things.

And so, I think it is good that you're accepting responsibility because no one else is. And this is -- there is a certain amount of culpability to the worst tragedy since 9/11, and I'm glad you're accepting this.

Now, my question is: Is the U.S. involved with any procuring of weapons, transfer of weapons, buying, selling, anyhow transferring weapons to Turkey out of Libya?

CLINTON: To Turkey? I -- I will have to take that question for the record. Nobody's ever raised that with me. I don't...

PAUL: It's been -- it's been in news reports that ships have been leaving from Libya and that they may have weapons. And what I'd like to know is the annex that was close by, were they involved with procuring, buying, selling, obtaining weapons? And were any of these weapons being transferred to other countries, any countries, Turkey included.

CLINTON: Well, Senator, you'll have to direct -- direct that question to the agency that ran the annex. I will -- I will see what information is available and...

PAUL: You're saying you don't know.

CLINTON: I do not know. I don't have any information on that. And, you know, with respect to personnel, Senator, you know, first, that's why we have independent people who review the situation, as we did with the Pickering and Mullen ARB. And all four individuals identified in the ARB have been removed from their jobs.

Secondly, they've been placed on administrative leave while we step through the personnel process to determine the next steps. Third, both Ambassador Pickering and Admiral Mullen specifically highlighted the reason why this is complicated, because under federal statute and regulations, unsatisfactory leadership is not grounds for finding a breach of duty. The ARB did not find these four individuals breached their duty.

So I have submitted legislation to this committee, to the Congress, to fix this problem so future ARBs will not face the situation.

PAUL: But -- but here's the problem. The review board has all these recommendations, but there's one thing they fail to address and I think you fail to address, and it sets us up for another tragedy like this. They should have never been sent in there without a military guard. This should have been an embassy like in Baghdad in a war zone, and it should have been under military guard, significant military guard, Defense Department command.

I don't think the State Department is capable of being in a war zone and protecting these people. I still don't think that. I think another tragedy could happen. I think another tragedy could happen in another war zone around the world. I think someone needs to make an executive decision. Someone needs to take leadership. And with that leadership should be that you shouldn't send them in with no Marines. You shouldn't send them with Marines to guard records, not people. You shouldn't send them in with the same kind of ambassador or embassy staff that you have in Paris. I think that's inexcusable.

CLINTON: Well, Senator, the reason I'm here today is to answer questions the best I can. 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.

The administration has sent officials to the Hill more than 30 times. We've given as much information. We've been as transparent as we can. Obviously, we will continue to brief you and others to answer any and all questions that you have about going forward.

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. 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.

MENENDEZ: Thank you.

Senator Murphy?

SEN. CHRIS MURPHY (D), CONNECTICUT: Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman.

Secretary Clinton, I approached this hearing with some degree of sadness. It's my first and your last, but I am so appreciative of your service. You've done such credit to this nation. And though we will be sorry to see you go, we know that you will continue to give us good counsel and good advice in the coming years. I think if some people on this committee want to call the tragedy in Benghazi the worst since 9/11, it misunderstands the nature of 4,000 Americans-plus lost over 10 years of war in Iraq, fought under false pretenses. It was fought under false pretenses, but it was also fought, I think, because we had a misunderstanding of what we could do and what we could manage in that region for what was under our control.

And I guess my question to you, Secretary Clinton, is about what our expectations are going forward in North Africa. And I think you referenced this in your opening remarks about actually what is under our control. One of the criticisms in the review board was that we didn't have a full understanding of this complicated set of allegiances between jihadist groups that are shifting on an almost daily basis.

And I worry sometimes that when we do this retrospective hand-wringing over a tragedy like this, that we sometimes give the impression to the American people that, you know, we can know-all and see-all and control-all in a region that we certainly are just beginning to stand up the kind of presence that we may ultimately need and want.

And so, I guess I present this as that open-ended question to you is, as we move forward and especially for new members of this committee who are probably going to be spending a lot more time on Africa and North Africa than this committee has ever spent before, what are the expectations that we should set for the American public as to what we can control, what we can know, and potentially what changes on the diplomatic backside we need to make in order to have a more solid footprint in relationship to neighbors there who may be willing to help us when it comes to intelligence and intervention with this very complicated landscape of jihadist groups?

CLINTON: Senator, you're going to make an excellent member of this committee based on that question, because it's a multipart question, but it raises really the heart of the challenge we face.

We are in a new reality. We are trying to make sense of changes that nobody had predicted, but which we're going to have to live with. I can't do justice in the time I have left here to the really important issues that you have highlighted. But I think first and foremost let's be honest. Let's be honest with ourselves. Let's avoid turning everything into a political football.

Let's instead try to just say, look, this is unprecedented. We don't know what's going to happen in this new revolutionary environment across North Africa and the Middle East. But let's see what lessons we can learn from what worked in the past, see what is applicable, and then let's bring people together who will really have the kind of open discussion that used to be the hallmark of this committee and of the Senate.

I mean, people used to have hearings where it wasn't to just have the administration officials come up and ask the questions, and go on from there. But really, to delve into what works and what doesn't work. Bring in outside experts. Let them debate in front of you. Try to figure out what the best information going forward is.

I mean, you know, over the last weeks I've pulled writings from what you would call very conservative and very liberal commentators who kind of reached the same conclusion about what we should be doing in this region. We have to approach it with humility. But we've got some real assets if we deploy them right. And helping to rebuild security is essential.

You know, we did it in Columbia. It took a decade. We did it directly in Columbia. We did it as a partner with others in Somalia. And there are a lot of other examples all the way across the world. Let's be smart and learn from what we've done in the past and see what can be transferred into the present and the future. And let's be honest in trying to assess it to the best of our abilities.

And I think with the new chairman and the ranking member, from my conversations with both of them, I think this committee could play such an essential role in trying to answer your questions and put forth a policy that wouldn't go lurching from administration to administration, but would be a steady one, like we did with Columbia, like we did in the Cold War. Let's be smart about this. We have more assets than anybody in the world, but I think we've gotten a little bit off track in trying to figure out how best to utilize them.

MENENDEZ: Thank you.

Senator Kaine?

SEN. TIM KAINE (D), VIRGINIA: Madam Secretary, I also regret that our overlap will be so brief. I think the country is at its strongest when we balance military strength with diplomatic strength, economic strength, and strength of our moral example. And I can't think of a person that exemplifies that balance in a public service career as well as you do. And I appreciate that.

A few questions, sort of detailed questions, that trouble me. In the unclassified version of the ARB there's a comment, a brief one. In December 2011, the undersecretary for management approved a one year continuation of the U.S. Special Mission in Benghazi which was never a consulate and never formally notified to the Libyan government.

Why wasn't this Special Mission notified to the Libyan government? Is that a common practice? Did the lack of the notification have any connection with the weak Libyan governmental response on the 11th? And are there any changes in connection with the ARB recommendations to the idea of Special Missions that are not notified formally to their host governments?

CLINTON: Well, Senator, congratulations to you as well. And welcome to this committee.

The United States notified to the Libya government the specific names of people who were serving in Libya in both Tripoli and in Benghazi. That in no way affected the legal obligation of Libya under The Hague -- under the Vienna Convention.

The problem, as I said, was not their, you you know, their willingness it was their capacity and, as you know, from the first time Chris Stevens arrived before the fall of Gadhafi, he relied not on any Libyan governmental security but on the -- the February 17th Brigade and then we supplemented that after Gadhafi's fall with D.S. agents, with private security contractors.

So there was no affect on anything from the Libyan government that was related to that. However, we do think that needs to be looked at going forwarded.

The -- the ARB made a very important point that the so called temporary nature of the Mission did prove to be confusing to people down the chain, responsible for reading those cables. We get about, I don't know how many millions of cables do we get and I have to confess, I do not read all the cables that come in to the State Department. That's why we have a huge workforce of people who are given responsibility and expected to carry forward that responsibility and I think designating it as "temporary" in the ARB's findings did cause an extra level of uncertainty to some extent.

You know, as the chairman said at the very beginning quoting from the ARB, the has been an enculturation in the State Department, the husband (ph) resources to, you know, try to be as -- as careful in spending money as possible and then I think adding to that the fact that it was quote, "temporary" you know, probably did lead to some of the confusion that we later saw played out in the cables, but not the -- the status of it for the Libyan government.

KAINE: How -- how common is it for us to rely on local nongovernmental security as was the case with the Blue Mountain and February 17 brigades in Benghazi?

CLINTON: Well, it's very common. We -- we employ -- privately employed security guards in a very high number of our posts around the world. I mean if you go to the -- the embassy in Baghdad or you go to the embassy in Kabul, are really many of our high threat places, you will see private security guard.

Now because of problems with private security guard contracts, it came to light in Iraq where, as you remember, there were a lot of difficulties. These were private security guards who were protecting diplomats and development experts, other civilians. Many countries have put very stringent requirements on private security guards and in fact, in Libya, the -- the transitional government prohibited private security guards, which is why there was this -- unless they approved them. So they approved this Blue Mountain company that was a joint Libyan-British organization.

But we use private security guards in many places because, as I said, historically Marine guards do not protect personnel. Their job is, you know, to really take care of classified material and to destroy it if necessary.

We had no classified material at Benghazi and it was unfortunate that we evacuated all the Americans and unclassified material was left behind but we had no classified material.

So there's -- there's going to be an effort because of this work that I have directed to really sort this out so that you know, that everybody knows exactly what the protocols and the rules are and we act accordingly.

KAINE: Thank you, Madam Secretary, Mr. Chair.

MENENDEZ: Thank you.

Madam Secretary, thank you for your thorough, thoughtful and forthright answers. It's what we've become accustom to from you. I understand we're going to be able to welcome you one more time when you come tomorrow to be part of introducing the Senator Kerry to the committee so we look forward to welcome you there as well.

I think that there are several takeaways here that are incredibly important.

One is that we have to look at the totality of the threat environment versus just looking for a specific credible threat when we are thinking about the protection of our foreign service personnel and I -- I see that we are moving in that direction.

The other one is the changes in the department have clear lines of authority and responsibility for security matters instead of silos and looking more at a horizontal nature. And I understand that that is underway.

A lot has been said about resources here. You know, Secretary Gates used to famously argue that there are more people in military bands than in the entire Foreign Service.