The State Department Did Not Meet Its Responsibility to Our Personnel in Libya, Ros-Lehtinen Says

The ARB Report is Just the Beginning of Our Efforts to Provide the American People with Answers

Thursday, December 20, 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 Attack, Part II: The Report of the Accountability Review Board.” Opening statement by Ros-Lehtinen:

“Secretary Clinton was originally scheduled to be here today, but we have had to reschedule her appearance due to the unfortunate injury, from which we all wish her a speedy and healthy recovery. She has confirmed, once and again, that she has every intention of testifying before our Committee by mid-January, and we look forward to welcoming her then.

“Before I begin my opening statement, I would like to raise the case of U.S. citizen Jon Hammar, a proud Marine and Iraq and Afghanistan war veteran who is being unjustly incarcerated in Mexico. I am giving you a bipartisan letter addressed to Secretary Clinton, signed by close to 70 of my House colleagues, asking for the Administration’s immediate intervention with Mexican authorities to secure Jon Hammar’s release, as well as a letter from Jon’s parents, who are constituents of my district.

“When Secretary Clinton transmitted the report of the ARB -- the Accountability Review Board -- to our Committee, she noted in her accompanying letter that: ‘All of us…have a responsibility to provide the men and women who serve this country with the best possible security and support. Most of all, it is my responsibility as Secretary of State.’ Tragically, the Department did not meet its responsibility to our personnel in Libya.

“The lethal attack on our diplomatic mission in Benghazi was not the result of a protest against an obscure video, as was initially claimed. Instead, and as the evidence makes clear, the attack was coordinated and carried out by terrorists targeting U.S. personnel. After the attack that killed Ambassador Stevens, Seth Smith, Tyrone Woods and Glen Doherty, the Secretary of State convened an ARB which is required by statute due to the fatalities at the post.

“The ARB states that the attacks on our U.S. Special Mission in Benghazi on September 11th of this year were, and I quote: ‘terrorist attacks.’ Contrary to initial assertions by the Obama Administration, the ARB states that the attacks were ‘security related’ and did not involve a ‘protest prior to the attacks, which were unanticipated in their scope and intensity.’

“Dispatches from the command center of the State Department’s Bureau of Diplomatic Security on the day of the attack clearly reported it as ‘a terrorist event.’ Yet, officials in Washington refused to recognize and label the attack—both during and after September 11th—for what it was. The ARB finds that the failures in leadership and management reached senior levels and resulted in a security posture at the diplomatic compound that was ‘inadequate for Benghazi and grossly inadequate to deal with the attack that took place.’ This was not the result of insufficient information nor lack of warning.

“As the ARB clearly states, the responsible officials at the State Department: overlooked mounting evidence that the security situation in Benghazi was deteriorating; they ignored the series of attacks against Western interests in the months and weeks leading up to 9/11; and failed to respond to the urgent requests and pressing needs of those on the ground. Given the extensive series of Emergency Action Committee reports and Diplomatic Security spot reports that indicated the security situation in eastern Libya was going from bad to worse, why was the State Department unprepared for an assault there, especially on the anniversary of the worst terrorist attack in United States history?

“The report provides the beginning of an answer when it states that there was a ‘pervasive realization among personnel who served in Benghazi that the Special Mission was not a high priority when it came to security-related requests.’ If security was not a priority, just what was the priority of the State Department in Libya, and in Benghazi in particular? But we should be careful not to focus our attention entirely on the tragic failure in Benghazi and regard it as an isolated incident.

“One cannot look at the evidence and conclude anything other than that there was a systemic failure, with far broader and more worrisome implications. We cannot expect the same bureaucracy at State, whose management failures are now manifest, to objectively review the Department’s organization, procedures, and performance. Nor can we have any confidence in their assessment of what went wrong and what actions are needed to prevent a repeat.

“Unfortunately, the closer one looks, the more troubling the situation is and the resignation yesterday of Eric Boswell, Charlene Lamb, and Raymond Maxwell should not shift our attention from the broader systemic failures at the State Department bureaucracy in Washington that this report has clearly revealed. Why, for example, has State ignored the longstanding recommendation of the Government Accountability Office that the Department perform a strategic review that will enable it to adequately plan and carry out the necessary security mission for our diplomats abroad?

“Using the ARB as a guide, our priority must be to uncover the root causes of this tragedy and ensure that all necessary actions are taken to prevent a recurrence. I know there will be an attempt to shift the responsibility for this tragedy to a shortage of resources. Requests for more money are a familiar refrain in previous State Department ARB reports. But budgetary constraints were not a factor in the Department’s failure to recognize the threats and adequately respond to the situation in Benghazi. The problem was and is about misplaced priorities.

“If the State Department intends to blame its long string of failures on inadequate funding, then perhaps it should take a closer look at the money that is being lavished on global climate change, culinary diplomacy programs, and other favored projects. This money could have been used for providing Diplomacy Security, including hiring additional personnel and providing them with adequate equipment and training.

“This report and this hearing are just the beginning of our efforts to provide the American people with answers as to why this tragedy occurred and how to protect our diplomats and other personnel serving overseas from unnecessary risks in the future. For in their devotion to duty, these brave men and women are putting their lives on the line for us and we, on this Committee, and in this Congress, have no less a duty to them.”




VIDEO: Chairman Ros-Lehtinen Opening Statement

VIDEO: Chairman Ros-Lehtinen Questions State Department Officials

HEARING VIDEO: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3

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