Defense & National Security

Benghazi under scrutiny

Benghazi under scrutiny

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton arrived on Capitol Hill Wednesday morning with some encouraging news: the State Department had already started to take steps to improve security at high-threat U.S. diplomatic posts across the globe, and officials at the helm were committed to doing the job.

Less satisfactory to many lawmakers was Clinton’s account of why four individuals named in an independent accountability review board audit of the aftermath of the Benghazi attacks were still on the State Department’s payroll, and why Clinton herself had taken so little heat for department missteps that may have left the U.S. consulate in Benghazi critically unprotected.

Clinton began the day by establishing her own involvement in the aftermath of the attacks that would leave four Americans dead.

Not privy to the cables

“I directed our response from the State Department and stayed in close contact with officials from across our government and the Libyan government,” she said. “…The very next morning, I told the American people that ‘heavily armed militants assaulted our compound’ and vowed to bring them to justice. And I stood with President Obama as he spoke of ‘an act of terror.’”

But, Clinton said, she was not privy to the cables from U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens and other regional site officers in Libya requesting additional security personnel to deal with growing threats in the region—requests that were ultimately and regrettably denied.

Clinton said she was unable to read all of the millions of communiqués addressed to her attention at the State Department each year, but acknowledged being part of broader conversations about deteriorating security and stability in Libya.

None of these answers were good enough for Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.)

“Had I been president at the time and I found that you did not read the cables from Benghazi, you did not read the cables from Ambassador Stevens, I would have relieved you of your post,” he told Clinton. “I think it’s inexcusable.”

Backing up Paul’s point was a set of recommendations from the most recent previous Accountability Review Board (ARB), completed after bombings of the U.S. embassies in Nairobi, Kenya and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania in 1998.

“The Secretary of State should personally review the security situation of embassy chanceries and other official premises… First and foremost, the Secretary of State should take a personal and active role in carrying out the responsibility of ensuring the security of U.S. diplomatic personnel abroad,” the ARB, allegedly implemented by the State Department, found.

The Benghazi ARB nonetheless determined that culpability for botched calls prior to the consulate attacks rested with assistant secretaries of state, not with Clinton herself.

But even at the assistant secretary level, Benghazi errors were largely without consequence.

Explaining that failures in leadership were not alone cause for firing, Clinton acknowledged that the four high-ranking officials removed from their positions in the wake of the ARB—including State Department security chief Charlene Lamb, who took responsibility for refusing requests for additional security—were still at the State Department.

“No significant action had or has occurred,” said Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) as Clinton testified before the House Foreign Affairs Committee Wednesday afternoon.

“There’s just been a shuffling of the deck chairs.”

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