Benghazi: The Attack and the Lessons Learned

William J. Burns
   Deputy Secretary
Thomas Nides
   Deputy Secretary for Management and Resources 
Remarks As-Prepared
Opening Remarks Before the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations
Washington, DC
December 20, 2012

DEPUTY SECRETARY BURNS: Mr. Chairman, Ranking Member, members of the Committee, thank you for this opportunity. Secretary Clinton asked me to express how much she regrets not being able to be here today.

Since the terrorist attacks on our compounds in Benghazi, State Department officials and senior members from other agencies have testified in four Congressional hearings, provided more than 20 briefings for Members and staff, and submitted thousands of pages of documents – including now the full classified report of the Accountability Review Board. Secretary Clinton has also sent a letter covering a wide range of issues for the record. So today, I would like to highlight just a few key points.

The attacks in Benghazi took the lives of four courageous Americans. Ambassador Stevens was a friend and a beloved member of the State Department community for twenty years. He was a diplomat’s diplomat, and he embodied the best of America.

Even as we grieved for our fallen friends and colleagues, we took action on three fronts:

First, we took immediate steps to further protect our people and posts. We stayed in constant contact with embassies and consulates around the world facing large protests, dispatched emergency security teams, received reporting from the intelligence community, and took additional precautions where needed. You’ll hear more about all this from my partner Tom Nides.

Second, we intensified a diplomatic campaign aimed at combating the threat of terrorism across North Africa. We continue to work to bring to justice the terrorists responsible for the attacks in Benghazi. And we are working with our partners to close safe havens, cut off terrorist finances, counter extremist ideology, and slow the flow of new recruits.

And third, Secretary Clinton ordered an investigation to determine exactly what happened in Benghazi. I want to convey our appreciation to the Accountability Review Board’s chairman and vice-chairman, Ambassador Thomas Pickering and Former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen. And also Hugh Turner, Richard Shinnick, and Catherine Bertini.

The Board’s report takes a clear-eyed look at serious, systemic problems. Problems which are unacceptable. Problems for which – as Secretary Clinton has said -- we take responsibility. And problems which we have already begun to fix.

Before Tom walks you through what we’re doing to implement fully all of the Board’s recommendations, I’d like to add a few words based on my own experiences as a career diplomat in the field. I have been a very proud member of the Foreign Service for more than thirty years, and have had the honor of serving as a Chief of Mission overseas.

I know that diplomacy, by its very nature, must sometimes be practiced in dangerous places. As Secretary Clinton has said, our diplomats cannot work in bunkers and do their jobs. When America is absent, there are consequences. Our interests suffer, and our security at home is threatened.

Chris Stevens understood that as well as anyone. Chris also knew that every Chief of Mission has the responsibility to ensure the best possible security and support for our people. As senior officials here in Washington, we share that profound responsibility. We have to constantly improve, reduce the risks our people face, and make sure they have the resources they need.

That includes the men and women of the State Department’s Diplomatic Security Service. I have been deeply honored to serve with many of these brave men and women. They are professionals and patriots who serve in many places where there are no Marines on post and little or no U.S. military presence in country. Like Secretary Clinton, I trust them with my life.

It’s important to recognize that our colleagues in the Bureaus of Diplomatic Security and Near East Affairs and across the Department, at home and abroad, get it right countless times a day, for years on end, in some of the toughest circumstances imaginable. We cannot lose sight of that.

But we learned some very hard and painful lessons in Benghazi. We are already acting on them. We have to do better.

We owe it to our colleagues who lost their lives in Benghazi. We owe it to the security professionals who acted with such extraordinary heroism that awful night to try to protect them. And we owe it to thousands of our colleagues serving America with great dedication every day in diplomatic posts around the world.

We will never prevent every act of terrorism or achieve perfect security – but we will never stop working to get better and safer. As Secretary Clinton has said, the United States will keep leading and keep engaging around the world, including in those hard places where America’s interests and values are at stake.

Thank you.

DEPUTY SECRETARY NIDES: Mr. Chairman, Ranking Member, members of the Committee, I also thank you for this opportunity.

I want to reiterate what Bill said: All of us have a responsibility to provide the men and women who serve this country with the best possible security and support. From senior Department leadership setting priorities… to supervisors evaluating security needs… to Congress appropriating sufficient funds – we share this responsibility. Secretary Clinton has said that, as Secretary of State, this is her greatest responsibility and highest priority.

Today I will focus on the steps we have been taking at Secretary Clinton’s direction, and that we will continue to take.

As Bill said, the Board’s report takes a clear-eyed look at serious, systemic problems for which we take responsibility and that we have already begun to fix.

We are grateful for the recommendations from Ambassador Pickering and his team. We accept every one of them – all [29] recommendations. Secretary Clinton has charged my office with leading a task force that will ensure that all [29] are implemented quickly and completely – and to pursue steps above and beyond the Board’s report. The Under Secretary for Political Affairs, Under Secretary for Management, Director General of the Foreign Service, and Deputy Legal Advisor, will work with me to drive this forward.

The Task Force has already met to translate the recommendations into [about 60] specific action items. We have assigned every single one to a responsible bureau for immediate implementation – and several will be completed by the end of the calendar year.

Implementation of each and every recommendation will be well underway by the time the next Secretary of State takes office. There will be no higher priority for the Department in the coming weeks and months. And, should we require more resources to execute these recommendations, we will work closely with Congress to ensure these needs are met.

As I said, Secretary Clinton wants us to implement the ARB’s findings – and to do more. Let me offer some specifics.

For more than two hundred years, the United States – like every other country around the world – has relied on host nations to provide security for our embassies and consulates. But in today’s evolving threat environment, we have to take a new and harder look at the capabilities and commitment of our hosts. We have to re-examine how we operate in places facing emerging threats, where national security forces are fragmented and political will may be weak.

So, at Secretary Clinton’s direction, we moved quickly to conduct a worldwide review of our overall security posture, with particular scrutiny on a number of high-threat posts.

With the Department of Defense, we deployed five Interagency Security Assessment Teams – made up of Diplomatic and military security experts – to 19 posts in 13 countries… unprecedented cooperation between our Departments at a critical time. These teams have provided a roadmap for addressing emerging security challenges.

We’re also partnering with the Pentagon to send 35 additional detachments of Marine Security Guards – that’s about 225 Marines – to medium and high threat posts, where they will serve as visible deterrents to hostile acts. This is on top of the approximately 150 detachments already deployed.

We are realigning resources in our 2013 budget request to address physical vulnerabilities and reinforce structures wherever needed, and to reduce the risks from fire. And let me add: We may need your help in ensuring we have the authority to streamline the usual processes and produce faster results.

We’re seeking to hire more than 150 additional Diplomatic Security personnel – an increase of 5 percent – and to provide them with the equipment and training they need. As the ARB recommended, we will target them squarely at securing our high threat posts.

I want to second Bill’s praise for these brave security professionals. I have served in this Department for only two years, having come from the private sector. However, as I have traveled to places like Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan, I have seen first-hand how these dedicated men and women risk their lives. We all owe them a debt of gratitude, as they go to work every day to protect our more than 275 posts around the world.

As we make these improvements in the field, we’re also making changes here in Washington.

We named the first-ever Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for High Threat Posts within the Bureau of Diplomatic Security. And we’re updating our deployment procedures to increase the number of experienced and well-trained staff serving at those posts.

We are working to ensure that the State Department makes decisions about where our people operate in a way that reflects our shared responsibility for security. Our regional Assistant Secretaries were directly involved in our Interagency Security Assessment process and they will assume greater accountability for securing their people and posts.

We will provide this Committee with a detailed report on every step we’re taking to improve security and implement the Board’s recommendations.

We will look to you for support and guidance as we do this. Obviously, part of this is about resources. We must equip our people with what they need to deliver results safely, and we’ll work with you if needs arise. But Congress has a bigger role than that. You have visited our posts, you know our diplomats on the ground and the challenges they face. You know our vital national security interests are at stake – and that we are all in this together. We look forward to working with you.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman, for your support and counsel. And for this opportunity to discuss these important matters. We would be happy to answer your questions.

PRN: 2012/2005