Transcript: Ambassador Tom Pickering’s remarks on the ARB’s report on the Benghazi consulate attack

Ambassador Tom Pickering on the Accountability Review Board's report on the Benghazi consulate attack. SOURCE: State.gov

Edited by Jenny Jiang

Transcript of press briefing remarks by Ambassador Tom Pickering on the Accountability Review Board’s (ARB) report on the Benghazi consulate attack on Dec. 19, 2012: 

Good afternoon, all of you. Thank you very much, Bill, for those wise and cogent words, which I believe very much reflect the spirit in which we worked and, indeed, the focus on which we put our efforts.

I would also like to thank Secretary Clinton for her steadfast support for our efforts and her ambitious approach to implementing our recommendations. And of course, we wish her speedy recovery.

In late September, Secretary Clinton asked me to serve as Chairman of the Accountability Review Board on Benghazi and asked Admiral Mullen to be the Vice Chairman. And let me say what a pleasure it was to work with Admiral Mullen and, indeed, all the other members of the board. But he in particular brought a special perspective, wisdom, and good sense to a very difficult and trying process.

There are three other members of the board who are not with us today but without whom this report would not have been possible: Catherine Bertini, a Professor of Public Administration at Syracuse University, and former Chief Executive of the United Nations World Food Program, and Under Secretary General for Management of the United Nations; Richard Shinnick, an experienced retired senior Foreign Service Officer who served most recently as Interim Director of the Bureau of Overseas Building Operations; and Hugh Turner, an experienced and retired senior intelligence officer who spent 22 years in the business and served last as Associate Deputy Director for Operations of the Central Intelligence Agency; and to an excellent State Department staff led by FSO Uzra Zeya, who made a major contribution to our work and without whom we wouldn’t be here with you today.

Secretary Clinton convened the Accountability Review Board, or ARB, to examine the facts and circumstances surrounding the September attacks on U.S. diplomatic facilities in Benghazi, Libya. As you all know, these attacks resulted in the tragic deaths of four brave Americans: Ambassador Chris Stevens, Glen Doherty, Sean Smith, and Tyrone Woods.

Against the backdrop of so many unanswered questions about what happened at Benghazi, I want first to make clear our board’s specific mandate. We were not asked to conduct an investigation into the attacks to find out who the perpetrators were or their motives. That is the statutory role of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the intelligence community. We enjoyed excellent cooperation with both of them throughout the report.

Under relevant statute, Secretary Clinton asked us to examine whether the attacks were security related and whether security systems and procedures were adequate and implemented properly, the impact of the availability of information and intelligence, and whether anything else about the attacks might be relevant to appropriate security management of U.S. diplomatic missions around the world. We were also asked to look at whether any U.S. Government employee or contractor breached his or her duty. Basically, we wanted to find the lessons to be learned, better to protect Americans from future attacks.

To do all that, we interviewed more than a hundred people, reviewed thousands of documents, and watched hours of video. We spoke with people who were on the scene in Benghazi that night, who were in Tripoli, who were in Washington. We talked to military and intelligence officials, including to many State Department personnel, and to experts who do not work for the United States Government. Throughout this process, we enjoyed superb cooperation from the Department of State and its interagency partners, and the decision to brief you on the report’s findings reflects a commitment to transparency at the Department’s highest levels.

Let me just give you a very brief introduction to events that night and then ask Admiral Mullen if he will share with you the findings of the report, and then I will return briefly to talk about some of the overarching recommendations.

What happened on September 11th and 12th in Benghazi was a series of attacks in multiple locations by unknown assailants that ebbed and flowed over a period of almost eight hours. The U.S. security personnel in Benghazi were heroic in their efforts to protect their colleagues, including Ambassador Stevens. They did their best that they possibly could with what they had, but what they had was not enough, either for the general threat environment in Benghazi and most certainly against the overwhelming numbers of attackers and the weapons which they faced. Frankly, the State Department had not given Benghazi the security, both physical and personnel resources, it needed.

And on that note, let me ask Ambassador – let me ask Admiral Mullen if he will please relay to you our specific findings. I keep promoting him to ambassador, and I apologize.

Thank you, Admiral Mullen. With the lessons of the past and the challenges of the future in mind, we put forth recommendations in several key areas. We are recommending that the State Department undertake an urgent review to determine the proper balance between acceptable risk and mission tasks and needs in high-risk and in high-threat areas. The answer can’t be not to go into dangerous places, but there must be: one, a clear mission; two, a clear understanding of the risks; three, a commitment of enough resources to mitigate those risks; and four, an explicit acceptance of whatever costs and risks cannot be mitigated. This balance needs to be reviewed regularly and continuously because situations change.

Next, we recommend the Department develop a minimum security standard for the occupation of temporary facilities in high-risk, high-threat environments, and that posts receive the equipment and the supplies they need to counter various types of threats. We also believe the State Department must work with the Congress to expand funding to respond to emerging security threats and vulnerabilities and operational requirements in high-risk, high-threat posts. We found that a number of recommendations from past ARBs had not been implemented fully, and they relate very much to some of the recommendations we will be making or we have made to the Secretary that the Congress will have to play its role in fulfilling.

Because Benghazi did not fit the mold of the usual diplomatic post as a result of its temporary status, this meant it was unable to get some of the security upgrades and some of the security oversight which it needed. We recommended various improvements in how temporary and high-risk, high-threat posts are managed and backstopped both on the ground and from Washington so that they have the support they need. There should be changes in the way the State Department staffs posts like Benghazi to provide more continuity and stability, and so that posts have sufficient DS agents, Diplomatic Security agents, with other security personnel as needed.

We also are recommending the Department re-examine the Bureau of Diplomatic Security’s organization and management to ensure that all posts get the attention they need from upper management. A special review should urgently look at the use of fire as a weapon and how to counter it. The State Department should establish an outside panel of experts with experience in high-risk, high-threat areas, a kind of red team, to watch changing events and make recommendations to the Department’s security officials.

We are delighted to see that the Secretary is committed to the expeditious and, indeed, urgent implementation of all of our recommendations. And now we would be happy to take your questions and appreciate your giving us this opportunity to brief you on our report.

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