Transcript: Hillary Clinton on her awareness of the warning signs of the deteriorating security condition in Benghazi prior to 9/11 attack

Transcribed and edited by Jenny Jiang

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on her awareness of the warning signs of the deteriorating security condition in Benghazi prior to 9/11 attack. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on the attacks against the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya was held on Jan. 23, 2013:

I was aware of certain incidents at our facility and the attack on the British diplomat. I was briefed on steps taken to repair the breach in the perimeter wall in the June bombing, steps taken to off-compound movements. Our team – led by security professionals but also including intelligence professionals and others – did not recommend based on those incidents abandoning Benghazi in part because over the last years we have become accustomed to operating in dangerous places – in
Pakistan, in Iraq, in Afghanistan, in Yemen and elsewhere.

And we do – as by necessity – rely on security professionals to implement the protocols and procedures necessary to keep our people safe. And as I said in my opening statement, I have a lot of confidence in them because, you know, most of the time they get it right.

But I was also engaged – and I think this is what Deputy Secretary Burns was referring to – in the issues relating to the deteriorating threat environment, particularly in Libya. There were other places
across the region we were also watching to try to see what we could do to support the Libyan government to improve the overall stability of their country to deal with the many militias. We have many programs and actions that we were working on. I had a number of conversations
with leading Libyan officials. I went to Libya in October 2011.

In fact, shortly before the attack on Benghazi, we approved Libya for substantial funding from a joint State-DOD account for border security, CT [counter-terrorism] capabilities, and WMD [weapons of
mass destruction] efforts. So I want to just clarify that there were specific instances and assessments going on primarily by the security professionals related to individual posts, including Benghazi.

[On whether Ambassador Chris Stevens ever personally asked Clinton to be involved in his security requests]

No. No. No. Any of the requests, any of the cables having to do with security did not come to my attention.

That [Aug. 16, 2012] cable did not come to my attention. I have made it very clear that the security cables did not come to my attention or above the Assistant Secretary level where the ARB placed
responsibility, where as I think Ambassador Pickering said the “rubber hit the road.”

[Question: When were you aware of this cable?]

After the ARB began to gather information and material…

[Question: Who within your office did see this cable?]

I’m not aware of anyone within my office – within the Secretary’s office – having seen the cable.

[Question: Within the National Security Council?]

I have no information or awareness of anyone in the National Security Council having seen that cable.

[Question: Was this cable a surprise to you?]

You know, Congressman, it was very disappointing to me that the ARB concluded there were inadequacies and problems in the responsiveness of our team here in Washington to the security requests that were made by our team in Libya. And I was not aware of that going on; it was not
brought to my attention, but obviously it’s something we’re fixing and intend to put into place protocols and systems to make sure it doesn’t happen again…

1.43 million cables a year come to the State Department. They’re all addressed to me. They do not all come to me. They are sorted through the bureaucracy…

I just want to clarify – with regards to the security requests subsequent to the Aug. 16th cable, our personnel in Libya had not submitted any additional security requests to Washington at the time
of the Sept. 11th attack. Now, there was an ongoing dialogue, as you know, between Libya and Washington.

The facts says we have, Congressman, and I will happy to have people give you this in detail. The Aug. 16th cable stated that security requests for Benghazi would be forthcoming. The RSO in Benghazi submitted to Tripoli a preliminary list of proposed security recommendations on Aug. 23rd but no request was submitted to Washington before the attack. Now, this sounds very complicated and, to some extent, it is. We’re trying to simplify it and avoid the kind of problems that are identified.

I have been very attuned to the environment in which threats are occurring, the intelligence that is available. Certainly not the specific requests and decision-making, which are left with the security professionals…

The number of the diplomatic security personnel requested in the cables was 5. There were 5 there that night with him plus there was a mutual understanding with the Annex that had a more heavily armed presence because of the work that they were doing in the region.

It is really difficult to in retrospect really anticipate what might have been. One of the RSOs who had served in Libya said the kind of attack the compound suffered had not been anticipated. We have gotten used to preparing for car bombs and suicide bombers and things like that but this was of a different nature.

And we even saw at the Annex, which was much more heavily fortified, had much more heavy military equipment, we lost two of our best and had one of our diplomatic security officers badly injured; he’s still at Walter Reed. So even the Annex, which had more assets, in the face of the attack was suffering losses that night.

…The increasing threat environment in eastern Libya. That was what we were trying to address with the Libyans. Remember the election in July in Libya brought to victory what we would consider moderates – people who have a very different view of the kind of future than Al Qaeda or any of these militants have. But there’s going to be a struggle. There’s going to be a struggle in this region, and the United States has to be as effective in partnering with the non-jihadists, whether they fly a black flag or any other color flag.

[Question: Can you tell me how it takes for you to read 1.4 million cables?]

[Laughs] Well, if I ever tried to read 1.4 million cables, I don’t think I’ll be sitting here today. I’d be, you know, collapsed somewhere.

You know, I appreciated what Admiral Mullen said because when you do sit on top of large organizations – and in his case the United States military, which is huge – and in my case, the State Department and USAID, you put into place processes and you have to trust the judgement, the good sense of the people in your organization. So those 1.43 million cables, they come into the State Department. You know, the tradition is they’re all addressed to me but the vast majority are funneled through these processes to get to the right people who are expected to take the right actions, and 99.9% of the time people do. I want to reiterate that. It’s an incredible organization with dedicated people, particularly our security professionals who have stopped so many attacks, protected so many people. But occasionally we see a serious problem like we’ve seen here, and that’s what we’re trying to fix.

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