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4:06 pm
Thu December 20, 2012

State Department Concedes Errors In Benghazi Consulate Attack

Originally published on Thu December 20, 2012 9:18 pm

Transcript

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block.

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

And I'm Robert Siegel. We begin this hour with political fallout from the deadly attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya. The U.S. ambassador and three other Americans died in that attack back in September, and this week, a scathing report set the stage for consequences.

BLOCK: The assistant secretary of state for diplomatic security has now resigned. Three other State Department officials have been placed on leave. And today, in both the House and the Senate, Congress put questions to two deputy secretaries of State.

SIEGEL: This week's report did not touch on Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's role in the Benghazi incident and she was not available to go to Capitol Hill today. But as NPR's Michele Keleman reports, lawmakers still hope to hear from Secretary Clinton about the incident which set off a political firestorm.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: Secretary Clinton is recovering from a virus and a concussion and the man who might replace her as the next secretary of State, Senator John Kerry, was in the awkward position today of chairing a committee hearing looking into Benghazi.

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SENATOR JOHN KERRY: All of you who know Hillary know that she would rather be here today. And I assure you, it is not her choice that she is not here today and she looks forward to appearing before the committee in January.

KELEMEN: Turning to the report, Kerry says the State Department had clear warnings about the dangers in Benghazi prior to the deadly September 11th assault. But he says Congress also failed to provide sufficient funds to protect U.S. facilities. Republican Bob Corker of Tennessee says he was dismayed that the hearing was so focused on money. He says the State Department's culture needs to be transformed.

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SENATOR BOB CORKER: What I saw in the report is a department that has sclerosis, that doesn't think outside the box, that is not using the resources that it has in any kind of creative ways, is not prioritizing.

KELEMEN: Corker says the department clearly didn't give any priority to the mission in Benghazi, Libya.

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CORKER: I was on the ground in Libya right after this happened and was with our team there and witnessed the shock of them losing the colleagues they lost. But also witnessed the despair of a group that felt like, I think, they were out on a tether and did not have the support of Washington.

KELEMEN: An accountability review board says that the security posture in Benghazi was grossly inadequate and there were systemic failures in the State Department's management. Florida Republican Marco Rubio questioned why only lower level officials are being held accountable. He pressed Deputy Secretary of State William Burns on how much Clinton and her staff knew.

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SENATOR MARCO RUBIO: Do you know if anyone beyond the assistant secretary level, going up to the secretary's level, were they made aware of the more than 200 security incidents that had occurred in Benghazi in the 13 months leading up to the attack?

WILLIAM BURNS: There were certainly memos that came up to the seventh floor that talked about the deteriorating security situation in eastern Libya, yes, sir.

KELEMEN: Clinton's office is on the seventh floor of the State Department. But while Burns says everyone was aware of the general risks, he says the department failed to connect the dots.

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BURNS: There has been a tendency, not just in the case of eastern Libya, but I think across the world in recent years, for us to focus too much on specific credible threats and sometimes lose the forest for the trees. And I think that's something that, you know, we were painfully reminded of in the case of the Benghazi attack, that we need to do better at.

KELEMEN: The deputy secretary for management and resources, Thomas Nides, told members of Congress that the department is reexamining all high risk posts, sending out more Marines, and hoping to hire another 150 security personnel. But the challenge for diplomats, says Senator John Kerry, is how to do what they need to do and not get stuck in fortress embassies.

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KERRY: There will always be a tension between the diplomatic imperative to get outside the wire and the security standards that require our diplomats to work behind high walls, concertina wire, and full body searches. We do not want to concertina wire America off from the world.

KELEMEN: It's a balance he might have to help strike if, as expected, he's tapped to become the next secretary of State. Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.