Hearing on Benghazi: Where is the State Department Accountability?

Patrick F. Kennedy
Under Secretary for Management 
Opening Remarks Before the House Foreign Affairs Committee
Washington, DC
September 18, 2013

UNDER SECRETARY KENNEDY: Thank you very much. Chairman Royce, Ranking Member Engel, distinguished members, thank you for inviting me to testify about the tragic events of September 11th, 2012 in Benghazi, Libya.

The Department maintains a robust global presence at 285 locations, many in challenging security environments where U.S. national security interests are at stake. Every day we work to protect our people and missions by constantly assessing threats and our security posture.

In all the discussions on overseas security over the past year, one strong point of agreement is that America needs to have a robust presence abroad to advance our national security interests even in dangerous places. The Department fights terrorism, enhances the rule of law, fights disease, and promotes fair trade. These myriad activities are often accomplished by the whole of the United States Government. Over 30 different United States Government agencies have a presence overseas in a facility that the State Department manages and secures.

Almost as long as the United States has sent its diplomats out into the world, there have been those who abhor the freedoms that America represents and those who seek to do us harm. The attacks in Benghazi in September were a tragedy for the family and loved ones of these four patriots, for the Department of State, and for our nation. As the President has made clear, the United States is committed to bringing the perpetrators to justice.

We are also committed to taking necessary steps to prevent such tragedies in the future. While we can never eliminate all risk, our constant goal is to mitigate risk to the maximum extent possible. As described in my written statement, the Department mitigates risk in large part through two major security programs: physical security upgrades and construction of new facilities by the Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations; and technical, physical, and procedural security programs implemented by the Bureau of Diplomatic Security.

Following the September attacks, President Obama and Secretary Clinton immediately called on the State Department to review and improve security. State, with the assistance of the Department of Defense, deployed Interagency Security Assessment Teams to 19 high threat posts to identify security improvements that could be enhanced and implemented both in the near and longer term. Per statute, an independent Accountability Review Board was convened. On December 19, 2012, the ARB presented its findings and 29 recommendations to the Secretary of State. State has already addressed almost all of these recommendations and is working diligently with Defense and others to implement those that remain, those that require more time and resources, such as deploying the full contingent of Marine Security Guards.

Of note, the Department has already created a Deputy Assistant Secretary for High Threat Posts who is responsible for focusing attention on those particular locations; ensured all the high threat posts have adequate life safety equipment; designed an intensive 10-week Arabic Alert language course specifically for personnels in the security field that will begin next month.

We are reinforcing throughout the Department’s workforce the predicate that security is everyone’s responsibility. Over the past year, we have been working with Defense to establish 35 additional Marine Security Guard Detachments to increase the size of existing Marine Security Guard Detachments, and to establish a rapid augmentation force in Quantico to add additional marines to posts as the situation warrants.

Following the ISAT efforts in the autumn of 2012 and the ARB report, the Department requested authority to transfer $1.4 billion from one account to another for an increased security proposal. And in the 2013 Continuing Appropriations Act, Congress funded this request, for which we are deeply grateful. These funds are being used to provide facilities for the additional marine guard detachments as well as for embassy construction and security renovations. We have also began the recruitment of 151 additional Diplomatic Security personnel, and 113 have already been hired. We have made implementing the recommendations of the ARB a priority so that we can better prevent similar tragedies in the future. That’s where we are focused at the State Department, and I know this is your priority as well.

The unfortunate fact is that our diplomats and facilities abroad will face attacks again, as they just did last week in Herat, Afghanistan. Since the tragic attacks in Benghazi, the tempo of threats and attacks against us has not diminished. We will do everything we can to deter and mitigate the effectiveness of any attack, but we will not, even with the most willing and capable governments as our partners, ever stop terrorists or extremists from mounting attacks against us in all cases. And we must continue to operate in places where host governments may not always be as willing or capable of fully defending us as we would wish. The risks to the United States as a nation, however, are greater if we withdraw than the risks that the brave U.S. diplomatic, development, and military personnel on the front lines of our foreign diplomacy efforts face.

I appreciate that there is interest in Benghazi, from security to ARB implementation to accountability, and I’m here today to answer your questions. Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman.

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