Transcript: Clinton’s response to Sen. Tim Kaine’s questions on the temporary status of the Benghazi consulate & the practice of hiring local security guards

Transcribed and edited by Jenny Jiang

Partial transcript of Q&A between Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) 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. Tim Kaine (D-Va.):

… I think the country’s at its strongest when we balance military strength with diplomatic strength, economic strength, and strengths of our moral examples…

A few questions – detailed questions – that troubled me. In the unclassified version of the ARB [Accountability Review Board], there’s a comment – a brief one – “In December 2011, the Under-Secretary for Management approved a one-year continuation of the U.S. Special Mission in Benghazi, which was never a consulate and never formally notified to the Libyan government.” Why wasn’t this special mission notified to the Libyan government? Is that a common practice? That the lack of the notification have any connection with the weak Libyan governmental response on the 11th? And are there any changes in connection with the ARB recommendations to the idea of special missions that are not notified formally to the host governments?

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton:

…The United States notified to the Libyan government the specific names of people who were serving in Libya in both Tripoli and in Benghazi. That in no way affected the legal obligation of Libya under the Vienna Convention. The problem, as I said, was not their willingness; it was their capacity.

And as you know, from the first time Chris Stevens arrived before the fall of Qaddafi, he relied not only any Libyan governmental security but on the February 17th Brigade and then we supplemented that after Qaddafi’s fall with DS [diplomatic security] agents, with private security contractors. So there was no effect on anything from the Libyan government that was related to that.

However, we do think that it needs to be looked at going forward. The ARB made a very important point that the so-called “temporary nature” of the mission did prove to be confusing to people down the chain, responsible for reading those cables. We get about – I don’t know – how many millions of cables do we get and I have to confess I do not read all of the cables that come into the State Department. That’s why we have a huge workforce of people who are given responsibility and expected to carry forward that responsibility. And I think designating it as temporary – in the ARB’s findings – did cause an extra level of uncertainty to some extent.

You know, as the Chairman said at the very beginning, quoting from the ARB there has been an acculturation in the State Department to husband resources, to try to as careful in spending money as possible. And then I think adding to that the fact that it was “temporary” probably did lead to some of the confusion that we later saw played out in the cables but not the status of it for the Libyan government.

Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.):

How common is it for us to rely on local non-governmental security as was the case with the Blue Mountain and February 17th Brigades in Benghazi?

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton:

Well, it’s very common. We employ privately-employed security guards in a very high number of our posts around the world. I mean, if you go to the Embassy in Baghdad or you go to the Embassy in Kabul or really many of our high-threat places you will see private security guards.

Now, because of problems with private security guard contracts that came to light in Iraq, where as you remember there were a lot of difficulties for private security guards who were protecting diplomats and development experts other civilians, many countries have put very stringent requirements on private security guards. And in fact, in Libya, the transitional government prohibited private security guards, which is why there’s this – unless they approved them. So they approved this Blue Mountain company that was a joint Libyan-British organization.

But we use private security guards in many places because as I said historically Marine guards do not protect personnel. Their job is to take care of classified material and to destroy it if necessary. We had no classified material at Benghazi [consulate]. And it was unfortunate that we evacuated all the Americans and unclassified material was left behind but we had no classified material.

So there’s going to be an effort because of this work that I have directed to really sort this out so that you know, that everybody knows exactly what the protocols and the rules are and we act accordingly.




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2 Comments on “Transcript: Clinton’s response to Sen. Tim Kaine’s questions on the temporary status of the Benghazi consulate & the practice of hiring local security guards

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