TOPICS > Politics

Providing Appropriate Security at Embassies and Preventing Future Attacks Abroad

December 19, 2012 at 12:00 AM EST
The State Department was held responsible for the lack of embassy security and accurately measuring risks that led to attacks on the U.S. consulate in Libya. Jeffrey Brown talks to Reps. Ed Royce, R-Calif., and Eliot Engel, D-N.Y., who say what's important is not who is to blame but how to prevent such attacks in the future.
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TRANSCRIPT

JEFFREY BROWN: And, for more, I’m joined by two congressmen who were briefed by Ambassador Pickering and Admiral Mullen today.

Republican Congressman Ed Royce of California, he’s soon to take over as chair of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs.

And Democratic Congressman Eliot Engel of New York, who will become that committee’s ranking member in the next term.

Congressman Royce, let me start with you.

What’s the key thing we learned from this report? Where do you see the main failure?

REP. ED ROYCE, R-Calif.: Well, I think the main failure when you read the report is in management at senior levels, because what you had on the ground wasn’t only an ambassador, but other personnel, warning that al-Qaida camps were growing, explaining that they felt that they were at risk personally, asking for support, which wasn’t forthcoming, and coming to the conclusion that Washington wasn’t concerned about their security needs.

And so all of that comes out in the memos. And I think what has to be addressed is why not only was the preparation not there, but somebody forgot to circle the calendar on 9/11. There was no attempt or no effective way, I guess, deployed should this happen that we could come in with a quick-reaction team and assist them if they come under attack.

Eight-hour firefight, no assistance throughout that period.

JEFFREY BROWN: All right, Eliot Engel, do you read it any differently? Systemic failure was the term. So, what in the end or who in the end is to blame?

REP. ELIOT ENGEL, D-N.Y.: Well, I think what’s important is not really who is to blame. It’s that something like what happened in Benghazi never, ever happens again.

And we have to really learn from the mistakes. And there were many mistakes that were made. The important thing for me is not to play gotcha politics, but to say what went wrong and how can we fix it in the future.

I agree with everything my colleague said. I think the system broke down. I think there was a lack of coordination between the people who are responsible for diplomatic security and with these specialists in the Middle East. There has to be — that was one of the recommendations of the report. There has to be much, much more coordination.

It’s really outrageous that they were relying on local militias to protect the compound. We don’t need local militias. We need our own troops and our own protections there. We want American protections. And I think that has to change in the future, and it will.

I think that Congress has a responsibility, too. We have to appropriate the monies to implement these changes. We have been cutting back and cutting back on diplomatic security.

And there had been some proposals floating around Congress to cut back even more. That is not what should happen. We need to spend more money to protect our people who are far away from home.

JEFFREY BROWN: Well, let me ask Congressman Royce about that, because the report did criticize Congress.

It said, “The solution requires a more serious and sustained commitment from Congress to support State Department needs.”

It suggested that budget constraints were behind some of these decisions, an emphasis on savings over security.

So, is Congress to blame as well?

ED ROYCE: Well, Eliot Engel and I will work together to make certain that we have the resources there.

I think it is important to note that on the particular account that addresses personnel for embassy security, those agents that we deployed, Congress actually increased the number of agents, the funding for those agents, over the administration request over prior years, regardless of whether it was Republican or Democrat. We increased that number.

What was decreased at one point was a program, computer program account. But in terms of the type of personnel we’re talking about, which is the type that would be deployed in a situation to protect the embassy, that was actually increased. And I think, going forward, we have to make sure the security needs are met.

But during the hearing that we had last month, in testimony, senior State Department personnel said that that wasn’t the problem. In this particular case, it was the decisions, the wrong decisions being made in management that created the problem.

JEFFREY BROWN: Eliot Engel, you said earlier you don’t want to — you don’t want to play a — talk about who’s to blame, and yet today we had three officials resign.

The report doesn’t cite individuals, but where do things go? A lot of attention has been on — well, for example, on Hillary Clinton. Are you satisfied with things as they are now?

ELIOT ENGEL: Well, I think that what Hillary Clinton has said is that she is going beyond what the report recommended by appointing a head of high-risk posts person.

And I think she said she accepts full responsibility. You know, the people who are supposed to be carrying out these things, you expect them, on a lower level, on the deputy secretary level, to carry them out in a responsible way. That’s their job, to protect our diplomats.

You assume they’re doing it. If they’re not, they should resign. And if that is the case, I’m glad these people resigned.

But we in Congress have our responsibilities, too. You know, in this budget crunch, it’s very easy for us to try to cut back on foreign aid or cut back on diplomatic security or trying to do things on the cheap.

We have men and women all over the world in harm’s way, doing the best jobs possible, many on a shoestring. And I think Congress needs to take a little more responsibility and really put its money where its mouth is.

I was very pleased with Sec. Clinton’s statements, because she accepted all the findings, every one of them, and said that things have to change. And I agree with her.

JEFFREY BROWN: Ed Royce, are you satisfied that no other official, up to Sec. Clinton, should now face any further sanction or punishment?

ED ROYCE: Well, I don’t think we know the answer to that yet.

And, of course, Sec. Clinton will be testifying next year in January on this issue.

But one of the interesting aspects of this that has not been answered is the narrative, the explanation given to the American people. And that explanation, of course, at the time and for two weeks was that this was in response to a video.

We know from the report that there was no evidence whatsoever that this was anything except what the report says it was, a terrorist attack, and, indeed, those encampments were not that far from our facility, al-Qaida camps.

And, so, the real question was why maintain that position for two weeks, in face of the evidence that it was clearly what those at the consulate thought it was, an attack on the consulate by this terrorist organization that had previously carried out attacks in that area, including one on the embassy — or the consulate?

JEFFREY BROWN: Well, Eliot Engel, just a brief last word here. It sounds as though the political football — that was your term — may still be flying.

ELIOT ENGEL: Well, President Obama, on the day after it happened, used the word terrorist attack.

And I think what’s important is, again, not whether it was a terrorist attack or not. There seemed to have been a lot of confusion at the beginning. It was obviously now a terrorist attack. What’s important is that a terrible tragedy happened. Four Americans, including our ambassador, were killed.

And, you know, some people during the campaign for president tried to use it for political purposes. I mean, I think that, in a time of national tragedy, we need to embrace each other and sort of rally around each other and kind of stick together and speak with one voice.

So, I’m not concerned about whether it’s called a terrorist attack or not. Clearly, it was. I’m concerned that the people who are currently in harm’s way are protected, so what happened in Benghazi will never happen anywhere again in the future.

JEFFREY BROWN: All right, Eliot Engel, Ed Royce, thank you both very much.

ED ROYCE: You’re very welcome.

ELIOT ENGEL: Thank you.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Go online for a firsthand account from a Libyan journalist who happened to be near the scene of the Benghazi attack on September the 11th. We also have a link to the full State Department review.