Our Frontline Posts and Diplomatic Personnel Deserve Better Security, Ros-Lehtinen Says

The Administration's Failures on Benghazi Must Not Be Repeated

Thursday, November 15, 2012

(WASHINGTON) – U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, made the following statement today at a Full Committee hearing titled “Benghazi and Beyond: What Went Wrong on September 11, 2012 and How to Prevent it from Happening at other Frontline Posts, Part I.”.  Opening statement by Ros-Lehtinen:

“Before I begin my opening statement, I want to state, for the record, that my remarks and questions were written prior to an interagency classified briefing that the Committee held yesterday. Further, I would like to note that I have spoken to Secretary Clinton’s Counselor and Chief of Staff, Cheryl Mills, and the Secretary has committed to testifying before our Committee and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on the Accountability Review Board’s report, which is expected to be concluded by early to mid-December.

“Also, before beginning, I want to assure the families and the friends of the four brave Americans killed in the attack on the consulate in Benghazi, and our diplomatic personnel serving in high-risk posts worldwide, that we are committed to identifying what went wrong and what needs to be done to prevent any further American lives from being lost in such attacks.

“Our thoughts and prayers are also with those wounded during the attack, as they face a long and difficult recovery.   

“The coordinated, preplanned and brazen attack against the U.S. consulate in Benghazi on September 11th was an outrage. Also disgraceful is the sad parade of conflicting accounts of the attack that we have received from Administration officials in the weeks and months since.  Successive revelations in public reports indicate that the Administration failed to adequately protect the American consulate and denied consulate requests for additional security.

“It has come to light that the Administration was warned of the deteriorating security situation in Benghazi one month before the attack on September 11th, with the personnel stationed at the post asserting they could not withstand a coordinated assault.  We also know that our consulate sustained two previous attacks this year and that there were ‘approximately 10 Islamic militia and extremists training camps’ nearby.  Yet, the Administration denied repeated requests for additional security measures. 

“We have also learned that the consulate alerted both Libyan authorities and the Administration about members of the Libyan security forces possibly compromised with ties to extremists, as they were caught photographing the consulate prior to the attack, and still the consulate’s requests for additional security were ignored. The consulate even warned that the situation was ‘trending negatively’ and that the daily pattern of violence was the ‘new normal,’ given the minimal capabilities of the Libyan security forces. 

“These revelations make clear that the security situation was deteriorating and the Administration was aware that security was grossly inadequate.  Under Secretary Kennedy publically testified that the assault on September 11 was an ‘unprecedented attack by dozens of heavily armed men.’ This explanation is unsatisfactory.

“You have: the Al-Qaeda attacks against our embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998; and more recently, the 2008 assassination of US diplomat, John Granville in Sudan; as well as repeated attacks in Pakistan, including: the 2008 attack on our U.S. Consul General’s armored vehicle; the April 2010 attack by militants against the U.S. Consulate, killing 3 Pakistani security officers and a civilian in a gun battle outside the building; and the bomb attack on the vehicle of two U.S. consulate employees just days before Benghazi, on September 4th.

“Adding to that the now publicly documented string of incidents in Libya prior to 9/11/12, how could the Benghazi attack have come as a surprise or be deemed ‘unprecedented’? Unfortunately, the legitimate security concerns from personnel on the ground sometimes go unheeded by Executive Branch officials.  For example, prior to the 1998 Nairobi attack, Ambassador Prudence Bushnell had warned of the extreme vulnerability of the embassy but her concerns were discounted based on a faulty threat assessment and inadequate intelligence.

“In an oped in the aftermath of the Benghazi attack, Ambassador Bushnell stated that: ‘For two years before…my team and I fought (‘nagged’ was the word State Department colleagues used) to have security threats and vulnerabilities addressed. We were too close to the street, an easy target. Washington’s assessment was that things were O.K.’  The events leading up to the attacks of September 11th of this year appear to repeat the same disastrous pattern. This time, we must learn the lessons and fix the problems.  In addressing these underlying issues, we must move past the perennial question of ‘what did the Administration know, and when did they know it,’ and toward actually defining the problem. 

“In this respect, I would ask our witnesses to consider the following:

"What are your recommendations for improving both the security assessment process within Diplomatic Security, and overall embassy security?

"What systemic issues do to believe need to be addressed?  

"How do you believe the State Department should re-evaluate the risk assessment process for other vulnerable U.S. sites overseas as a result of the Benghazi attack?

"What are the critical components of any reassessment regarding attacks against Benghazi, as well as our posts in Egypt andYemen, on 9/11 and ensuing days and weeks?

"What are your thoughts on what can be done to ensure greater interoperability and coordination between U.S. agencies, including embedding other agencies in high risk diplomatic posts, with an expertise in security—such as the FBI beyond traditional roles? 

"What are your thoughts on altering individual missions within the Embassy structure—such as changing the Marine Corps detachment’s mission within high-risk posts?   

“The Government Accountability Office has been looking into this issue for some time and has repeatedly stated that the Diplomatic Security Service continues to face staff shortages and operational challenges that tax its ability to provide protection over an increasing number of dangerous posts.  GAO has called for the State Department to perform a strategic review of Diplomatic Security so that it can properly allocate its resources and balance security needs with the diplomatic mission.  However, the State Department has failed to follow-up on this recommendation with the result, according to GAO, that diplomatic security, or DS, fails to perform adequate training and oversight.  Among other things, without strategic planning, DS is forced to utilize stopgap measures including detailing domestic officers to unfamiliar overseas posts to make up for shortages in protective details.  Realistic security assessments need to be conducted and we must ensure that our frontline diplomats are provided the necessary protection to do their jobs effectively. 

“Our frontline diplomats should be secure in the knowledge that the United States Government will provide for their safety while they carry out their duties on behalf of our country.  Safety must not be sacrificed on the altar of vague and uncertain agendas or other pet projects—from climate change to bailouts for the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt--whose value is questionable.  Our diplomatic personnel deserve no less.”






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