Transcript: Testimony of Under Secretary of State Patrick Kennedy before the House Oversight Committee on the “Security Failures in Benghazi”

Edited by Jenny Jiang

Transcript: Testimony of Under Secretary of State Patrick Kennedy before the House Oversight Committee on the “Security Failures in Benghazi” on Oct. 10, 2012:

Under Secretary of State Patrick Kennedy before the House Oversight Committee on the “Security Failures in Benghazi” on Oct. 10, 2012. SOURCE: House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform

Thank you very much.

Chairman Issa, Ranking Member Cummings, members of the Committee.

I would like to share a few words with you:

“Libyans face significant challenges as they make the transition from an oppressive dictatorship to a stable and prosperous democracy,” but, “it is clearly in the U.S. interest,” and “it will be an extraordinary honor to represent the United States during this historic period of transition in Libya.”

Those were Ambassador Chris Stevens’ words at his confirmation hearing this past Spring, and they help us understand why he went to Libya, his passion for the country, its people, and the mission. He believed that no challenge was too big or too hard if our national security interests and our values were at stake. And that is what’s at stake in Libya.

At your request and in the spirit of cooperation, we’re here today to do our best to answer your questions. But I ask you to understand that we do not yet know all the answers or results of ongoing reviews. And there may be, as the Chairman has noted, information that is classified and can only be dealt with in classified session.

As Secretary Clinton has said, the American people — especially the families who lost loved ones — deserve a full and accurate accounting. We at the State Department are determined to get this right, and nobody will us hold us more accountable than we hold ourselves. We lost friends and colleagues, a cross section of those who put their lives on the line every day in the inherently dangerous work of diplomatic service to our nation.

The Secretary has already appointed an Accountability Review Board and has begun to determine whether our security systems and procedures were appropriate in light of the threat environment, whether they were properly implemented as well as any lessons that may impact our work around the world. The Secretary has asked [the Board] to work as quickly and transparently as possible, without sacrificing diligence and accuracy.

This is a complicated review that will take time. As we learn more about what actually happened, we will be able to better assess the facts and information we have. Until then, it’s an incomplete picture and, as a result, our answers today will also be incomplete.

No one in the Administration has claimed to know for certain all the answers. We have always made clear that we are giving the best information we have at the time. And that information has evolved.

For example, if any administration official, including any career official, were on television on Sunday, Sept. 16th, they would have said what Ambassador Rice said. The information she had at that point from the intelligence community is the same that I had at that point.

Clearly, we know more today than we did on the Sunday, Sept. 16th after the attack. But we will continue consulting with you throughout this process.

I would like to address a broader question that may be on your minds: Why is the United States in Benghazi when there are real dangers there? This question does go to the heart of what we do at the State Department and America’s role in the world.

Ambassador Stevens arrived in Benghazi during the height of the revolution, [when] the city was the heart of the opposition to Colonel Gaddafi and the rebels there were fighting for their lives. It was dangerous. A bomb exploded in the parking lot of his hotel. The transitional authorities struggled to provide basic security. Extremists sought to exploit their own agenda.

But Ambassador Stevens understood that the State Department must operate in many places where our military cannot or does not, where there are no other boots on the ground, and where there are serious threats to our security. He understood that the new Libya was being born in Benghazi and was critical that we have an active presence there.

That is why Ambassador Stevens stayed in Benghazi in those difficult days and returned as Ambassador as the Libyans began their difficult transition to democracy. He knew his mission was vital to our interests and values, and was an investment that would pay off in a strong partnership with a free Libya.

After the Sept. 11th attack, the Libyan people showed how right he was. Thousands marched in the streets of Benghazi mourning their fallen friend with signs saying “Chris Stevens Was a Friend to All Libyans.” They overran extremist bases. Civilians insisted that militia disarm and support the new democracy. They confirmed what Chris Stevens knew so well: The United States is better off because he went to Benghazi.

We must review the security procedures in place and improve them, asking ourselves if our people had what they needed and how we can reduce the risk of this happening again.

But one thing is not up for debate today or any other day: Those who risk their lives in the service of our country are heroes and we must support them, particularly those who provide security in an unsecured environment.

Diplomacy must be practiced in dangerous places. The United States sends people to more than 275 diplomatic posts. No other agency has to stretch so far. We do this because we have learned that when America is absent – especially from the dangerous places – there are consequences: extremism takes root, our interests suffer, and our security is threatened.

As the Secretary says, leadership means showing up. So that’s what we do – that’s how we protect this country and sustain its global leadership.

We can, and we will, reduce the risk to the brave men and women who serve – but we cannot eliminate it. Our facilities must be protected, but not all are fortresses.

I want to be clear: We regularly assesses risk and allocation of resources for security – a process that involves the considered judgments of experienced professionals on the ground and in Washington, using the best available information. The assault that occurred on the evening of September 11, however, was an unprecedented assault by dozens of heavily armed men.

We must continue deploying our diplomats and development professionals to dangerous places like Benghazi. There is no alternative.

As the Secretary said, “We will not retreat. We will keep leading, and we will stay engaged everywhere in the world.”

All of us at the State Department will honor our fallen colleagues by continuing their work with the same purpose and resolve they demonstrated.

Mr. Chairman, thank you again for this opportunity. The Congress is a crucial partner in providing diplomatic security, so I look forward to working with you and the members of this committee to continue providing America’s diplomats with the support and resources needed to carry out their important work. Thank you, sir.


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