Transcript: Clinton’s response to Sen. John Barrasso’s questions on the security arrangements in place before the 9/11 Benghazi attack

Transcribed and edited by Jenny Jiang

Partial transcript of Q&A between Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wy.) 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. John Barrasso (R-Wy.): 

Madame Secretary, I want to thank you for your incredible commitment to this country as First Lady, as a member of this body as well as Secretary of State.

As a doctor, I will tell you I have seen you work yourself to exhaustion – not for your own benefit but for the benefit of the people of this country, and the country is grateful for that.

I, like you, agree that we need to make sure that something like this never happens again. And I’ve kind of looked at it like the Challenger explosion – the way we’ve lost those 7 astronauts because of an O-ring and problems there. And so we didn’t see it coming but we could have seen it coming and should have seen it coming.

As you said, you never saw the security requests. Vice President Biden in the presidential debates said no one told us. The concern is that we should have been seeing these sorts of things. There were the attacks on the British Ambassador; there were the attacks on the Red Cross that they pulled out of Benghazi; there were attacks on the consulate itself. Yet we had no evacuation plan established in spite of the fact that months earlier in Libya we had been given an Italian ferry boat to be able to get people out who were in danger, who were diplomats at the time.

So those are the concerns. We want to make sure there are security for our Ambassadors, which gets to the issue of – we talked about what happened on the talk shows and it said the best information was – what was best available at the time – the American people heard we had a substantial security presence. They heard we obviously had a strong security presence. They heard obviously there was a significant security presence. And I just believe that that wasn’t the case.

And I would ask you today if you believed that we had a significant, substantial, and strong security presence in Libya at that time because we want that for all of our Ambassadors.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton:

Right. Well, Senator, we had a security presence that was mutually-reinforced with the Annex.

We had had – as you rightly point out and other before you – previous incidents not only against our compound but against the British, the Red Cross, and others.

And what we have accepted from the ARB [Accountability Review Board] recommendation is that even though there was a back-and-forth in the cables and discussions – you need 3 DS [diplomatic security] or do you need 5. We had 5 there but we had an unprecedented attack as one of the former RSOs – Regional Security Officers – testified – an attack that truly was not expected even though on that night we had the requisite number of DS agents.

So we can get mired in the back-and-forth but I believe we will be doing more to help prevent future tragedies and attacks if we take the ARB recommendations because after all they had no stake in this debate one way or another. They just want to look at the facts, which they did an excellent job doing, and then tell all of us what we needed to do. And that’s what I think our highest responsibility is.

Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wy.): 

…You know, thinking about future attacks and trying to prevent those. On Sept. 12th the President vowed to “bring to justice the killers who attacked our people in Benghazi.” So we asked the question and Sen. Risch talked about – were the people that perpetrated the recent attacks in Algeria. Were they part of this? Or were they made, perhaps, emboldened because no one has yet paid a penalty for the attack on our facility in Benghazi? And how can we make sure that people are actually brought to justice there?

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton:

Well, I believe that – well, I know that the FBI has been briefing some committees. I assume members or staff of this committee are included. I don’t know that but I would assume.

About the progress of their investigation, I got the most recent update from the Director [Mueller] just a few days ago when he returned from North Africa. They are following some very promising leads and putting together cases. They would have to speak to you directly about that in a classified setting.

But I think what they are trying to determine is how best to respond. And I think what the President clearly said is we will respond and we will bring those to justice, and I don’t think anybody should doubt this President at his word. We have some very good examples of that. It may take time but he does not in any way divert attention from the goal of bringing them to justice.

Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wy.): 

The President also said that Al Qaeda has been decimated, and in light of the recent terrorist activities that we continue to see in North Africa, around the world, would you characterize that as Al Qaeda has been decimated?

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton:

Well, core Al Qaeda certainly has been. I think you would hear the same from the intelligence community or the DOD [Department of Defense]. The work that has been done in Afghanistan and the borders areas between Afghanistan, Pakistan certainly has taken out a whole cadre of leadership.

What we’re seeing now are people who have migrated back to other parts of the world where they came from primarily who are, in effect, affiliates – part of the jihadist syndicate. Some of them like Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb use that name; others use different names. But the fact is they are terrorists; they are extremists; they have designs on overthrowing existing governments – even these new Islamist governments – are controlling territory.

So although there has been the decimation of core Al Qaeda in the Afghanistan, Pakistan region, we do have to contend with the wannabes and the affiliates going forward.



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