Interview With Catherine Chomiak of NBC News
Secretary of State
QUESTION: Thank you so much, Madam Secretary, for doing this. I wanted to start with Libya and then move on to Pakistan. On September 11th in Benghazi, things were calm until around 9:40, officials tell us, and at that point a security officer saw dozens of heavily-armed men coming in through the front gate. And that security officer notified the Embassy in Tripoli, and then Washington as well, and then kept in contact and gave updates. I’m wondering, was it not apparent that evening that this was a coordinated terrorist attack and not just a protest spun out of control?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, that’s one of the questions that will be answered by the review once everything is looked at. Because the intelligence committee information that was available in the immediate aftermath was given to everyone, and everyone saw the same information but said, look, we will tell you what we know now but we expect it to change, we expect it to get more detail. And that’s what’s gone on over the last weeks.
I think the important thing is we were attacked. At the same time, there were protests and attacks going on across the region and even beyond. So what we had to do in the State Department was keep focused not on why something happened – that was for the intelligence community to determine – but what was happening and what could happen. And that’s what I was very much working on day and night, to try to make sure that we intervened with governments, we did everything we could to keep our people safe, which is my primary responsibility.
QUESTION: And you mention the intelligence that was given, and some have been critical and the intelligence agency has come out and revised and put out that statement. Some have called this an intelligence failure. Is that fair?
SECRETARY CLINTON: I don’t think we want to get into any blame game. I think what we want to do is get to the bottom of what happened, figure out what we’re going to do to protect people and prevent it from happening again, and then track down whoever did it and bring them to justice.
So from my perspective, I have a great deal of concern about what we have to do to make sure this doesn’t happen, and that means even while we’re doing the investigation about Benghazi, we’re constantly reaching out, making sure that our posts have what they need, doing reviews all the time so that we can try to stay ahead of whatever might happen. Because this was unprecedented – significant numbers of armed men coming into a post like that. We’ve seen things like this from Tehran to Beirut to Nairobi. We see it, but we have to constantly be learning new ways to prevent it.
QUESTION: And there has been criticism of the intelligence, and there’s also been criticism of the Administration. Yesterday, Senator Graham said this Administration is either misleading the American people or incredibly incompetent about what happened in Benghazi. That’s a very, very serious charge that he’s making. What do you say to him and to others?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I highly respect him and others who share the deep concern I do that something terrible happened, and we have to find out what it was. My only point is that the Administration has tried to provide information with the caveat that more would be learned, but everyone has done their best to get information out. What I’m interested in is getting to the facts: What did happen? And I was at the – from the time it started until this minute as we’re sitting here really focused on trying to make sure that we had everything that our people needed, and if there are changes that we have to make or that our security professionals need to do, we’re going to learn what it is and we’re going to do it.
QUESTION: One of those issues around security that has been raised is: Was the State Department too concerned with Libyan political sensitivities about contractors coming into the country after the revolution? Could you talk a little bit about that? Was there an emphasis on – in the security posture of relying on local Libyans, and could that have been an issue that led to what happened in Benghazi?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I think specifically we need to really sort that out to see whether that had any effect. It’s something that I don’t want to make a judgment about until I get all the facts. But in a more general way, we can’t bring people into any country unless we take military action against that country. But in the ordinary course of dealing with other countries, we can’t bring anybody in who doesn’t get a visa, who isn’t approved to be there by the country.
So when some people say, well, we should have just put people in, that’s not the way it works. You have to get the visas. You have to get the approval. Now, the military, as we know, they went to Afghanistan, they went to Iraq, they’ve gone other places in the past. But other than those kinds of exceptions, even they have to get approval to have what we call boots on the ground.
So I want the American people to understand more about how all of this works, but I want to do it once we get all the facts.
QUESTION: And speaking of the American people, after 9/11, when New York City was attacked, Americans really rallied together. We really haven’t seen that with Benghazi. It’s become very quickly a political issue. I’m wondering why you think that is. And do you think it serves the American public and America’s interests that Benghazi has been so politicized?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I can only say that based on my experience the last 20 years, when our country was attacked in the ‘90s and my husband was President; when we were attacked when George W. Bush was President; now, of course, I serve President Obama – we’re at our best when we rally around. That doesn’t mean that we don’t want to get to the bottom of what happened, because we should, and we should then hold people accountable, make changes where necessary.
But I really believe that tragedies like what happened in Benghazi should be viewed in a nonpolitical way. Everybody should pull together as Americans.
QUESTION: And changing topics, I imagine you’ve been following the updates of the 14-year-old girl who was shot by the Taliban in Pakistan. And I’m wondering, what would you say to her today if you could? And what do you want to say to all the other school girls just like her who have flooded the streets of Pakistan in outrage?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I think that the people of Pakistan are saying what needs to be said so eloquently now – that children, boys and girls, deserve to go to school; they deserve to have the chance to make the best of their God-given potential, to make a contribution to their society. And any country that doesn’t stand up against extremism in order to protect its children has to really take a hard look, and I think that’s what’s happening in Pakistan. And I certainly hope so because there are so many thousands of young girls who deserve to go to school, who deserve to have an education, and those who are committing these terrible acts of violence need to be brought to justice.
QUESTION: And just one quick one if I may. Madam Secretary, you’ve been in your fair share of high-profile debates. (Laughter.) I’m wondering if you have anything for the President? Any advice to give him for tomorrow?
SECRETARY CLINTON: I think he’ll do fine. I think he just has to get out there and talk about what he’s done for the country and what he wants to do for the next four years. I am out of politics, but I do care deeply about what happens to the country that I love and that I’ve served, and I think he will do fine in explaining what needs to happen next.
QUESTION: That you so much.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Thank you so much.
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