The Security Failures of Benghazi
12:00pm in 2154 Rayburn House Office Building
On September 11, 2012, four Americans serving their country were murdered by terrorists in Benghazi, Libya. We join all of these brave men’s family and colleagues in mourning their death and honoring their contributions to this country.
Yesterday, the State Department began the process of coming clean about what occurred in Benghazi. They made two witnesses available for interviews with this committee and, for the first time, publicly acknowledged the truth many had long suspected. Contrary to earlier assertions by Administration officials, there was no protest. The attack had nothing to do with a video made in California. The attack was a brutal and coordinated assault by terrorists on the eleventh anniversary of the terrorist attacks on New York and the Pentagon. I appreciate Secretary Clinton’s efforts to cooperate with this investigation. The steps she has taken to have those working under her tell the truth about what occurred is an important step in the right direction.
However, this hearing has been called for the expressed purpose of examining the security failures that led to the Benghazi tragedy. The “safe haven” within the compound, which some State Department officials seemed to think could protect the Benghazi compound’s inhabitants, did not work. The overall level of security at the compound did not meet the threat. This hearing is the result of concerned citizens, with direct knowledge of the events in Libya, unilaterally reaching out to the Committee. As we look back on what occurred, our challenge is to identify things that clearly went wrong and what – with the benefit of hindsight – should have been done differently.
Accounts from security officials who were on the ground and documents indicate that they repeatedly warned Washington officials about the dangerous situation in Libya. Instead, however, of moving swiftly to respond to these concerns, Washington officials seemed preoccupied with the concept of ‘normalization.’ We will ask our panel what ‘normalization’ means to them.
In the accounts we have heard, it included “artificial timelines” for removing American security personnel and replacing them with local Libyans. This occurred even as training delays, new threats, and logistical barriers seemed to present a compelling case for extending the deployment of American security forces. Requests for extensions and more security by the mission in Libya, however, appear to have often been rejected or – even more disturbingly – officials in Washington told diplomats in Libya not to even make them.
We know how the tragedy in Benghazi ended. The questions I put before our panel today are: What went wrong? What should have been done differently? What lessons must we quickly learn so terrorists do not use the attack on Benghazi as a template for other attacks?
Secretary Clinton has empanelled a blue ribbon board to fully investigate what occurred. Their work is important, and I respect the panel’s mission. The history of such panels – including those that examined the attack on the U.S. Embassy in Kenya and the bombing of the USS Cole – suggests, however, that their effort will take months if not years. State Department, however, would be unwise to delay efforts to improve how security questions are considered until after this report is complete.
This Committee wants to understand what the State Department recognizes went wrong, what it can do to avoid a reoccurrence, and how quickly it can institute changes. Protecting our diplomats has long been a bipartisan issue. Majorities of both Democrats and Republicans in the House voted to approve the bill that set the funding level for the State Department. I hope that Members today will stay focused on the dangers facing our diplomats and not allow the politics of the election season to creep into today’s hearing. Urgent attention to this security failure is required, that facts about what happened in Libya have driven this investigation and deserve to remain the focus of this hearing.
I appreciate our four witnesses appearing before us today. Each has long records of service to this nation, and we thank them for their efforts. I also express my particular thanks to the Chairman of the Subcommittee on National Security, Mr. Chaffetz, for leadership in this investigation. From traveling to Libya to get first-hand accounts from the ground to sharing his extensive expertise on national security, he has made invaluable contributions to what we have learned since we announced this hearing a little over a week ago.