Transcript: Clinton’s responses to Sen. Bob Corker’s questions on the Benghazi ARB & emerging threats in North Africa

Transcribed and edited by Jenny Jiang

Partial transcript of Q&A between Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on the attacks against the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing was held on Jan. 23, 2013: 

Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.): 

… I have to say in reading all the cables as many of us have done there were systemic deficiencies and I know that you know that. And I implore you to just speak to that for a moment. To my knowledge no one has been held accountable.

These officials were screaming out for more security. And I’m just wondering if you might mention one reform that would be helpful so that you would have known of the needs there of security that went undone.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton: 

Well, obviously I have thought about this almost constantly since that date, Senator, because, you know, I do feel responsible. I feel responsible for the nearly 70,000 people who work for the State Department. I take it very seriously.

The specific security requests pertaining to Benghazi, you know, were handled by the security professionals in the department. I didn’t see those requests. They didn’t come to me. I didn’t approve them; I didn’t deny them. That’s obviously one of the findings that Ambassador [Thomas] Pickering and Admiral [Mike] Mullen made. You know, these requests don’t ordinarily come to the Secretary of State.

Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.): 

…But they did come in to folks. We did have SST people on the ground at no cost to the State Department. They were asked to be extended by the Ambassador. Someone at the State Department turned that down. They were at no charge – 16 officers. So I just wonder what has happened inside to make sure that that never happens again?

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton: 

Well, several things. Not only are we on the path to implement all of the ARB [Accountability Review Board] recommendations, but we’ve gone beyond that.

We did immediately do this high threat assessment using DOD [Department of Defense] assets as well as our own. That had never been done before.

We have asked the Congress to help us reallocate funds. The Senate has given us that authority – we don’t yet have it from the House – so that we can get more Marine guards, we can get more diplomatic security guards, we can try to put more money into the maintenance, the upgrades constructions that’s needed.

I created the first ever – it sounds like it should have been done years ago – but first ever Deputy Assistant Secretary for High Threats.

I’m also recommending that there be a regular process that includes the Secretary and the Deputies in these decisions, because nobody wants to sit where I am and, you know, have to think now what could have, should have, would have happened in order to avoid this.

Now, as I’ve said, we’ve had 19 ARBs. Only 2 have ever been unclassified: The one coming out of the East Africa bombings, where there was full transparency, there was a set of recommendations – many of which have been implemented along with other ARBs.

But this committee never had a public hearing about the 17 other ARBs because they were classified.

So we’re putting into actions steps that we think will help the next secretary be able to make these decisions, be part of these decisions, have more insight into what is going on. And we would obviously welcome the opportunity to work closely with a subcommittee or a set of members to make sure that that’s what’s happening.

Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.): 

…The 19 or 17 [ARBs] that have been done, I will say none of them have ever been fully implemented.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton: 

Senator, that’s not accurate. I heard you say that when Bill Burns and Tom Nides were here, and it shocked me. So we did – we went back and we did a full and thorough investigation. The vast majority have been implemented and we will give you a report to that effect, because that’s the kind of – to go back to your point, Senator, if there were an authorization process, that’s the kind of information that would be shared. And I see my former compatriots in the Armed Services Committee – there’s always an Armed Services authorization and there needs always to be a foreign relations committee authorization.

Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.): 

…It’s my sense that as a nation, we were woefully unprepared for what happened in northern Africa in general…It seems to me that Benghazi symbolizes just the woeful unpreparedness that our nation had as it relates to issues in North Africa and I hope you’ll address that as you move ahead.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton:

Well, Senator, let me just briefly address what is, I think, one of the key issues for this committee, for the administration, for our country. When I was here 4 years ago testifying for my confirmation, I don’t think anybody thought that Mubarak would be gone, Qaddafi would be gone, Ben Ali would be gone – that we would have such revolutionary change in this region. There were hints of it. Several of us said that institutions were sinking in the sand as I said in Doha shortly before Tahrir Square. So there was some feeling out there but I don’t think any of us predicted this – least of all the people in these countries who then were given a chance to chart their own futures.

This is a great opportunity as well as a serious threat to our country. I hope we seize the opportunity. It’s not going to be easy because these new countries have no experience with democracy. They don’t have any real experience among their leaders in running countries, in doing security.

So yes, we now face a spreading jihadist threat. We have driven a lot of the AQ [Al Qaeda] operatives out of the Fatah, out of Afghanistan, Pakistan – killed a lot of them, including of course Bin Laden. But we have to recognize this is a global movement. We can kill leaders but until we help establish strong democratic institutions, until we do a better job communicating our values and building relationships, we’re going to be faced with this level of instability and I do have a lot of thoughts about what more we can and should do given this new reality we face.

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3 Comments on “Transcript: Clinton’s responses to Sen. Bob Corker’s questions on the Benghazi ARB & emerging threats in North Africa

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