By Carla Babb
The chairman of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations committee says Congress bears some responsibility for the mistakes leading to the deadly September 11 attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya.
Speaking Thursday as the Senate committee questioned Deputy Secretaries of State William Burns and Thomas Nides, Senator John Kerry (D-Mass.) said “gridlock and excesses” prevented Congress from properly authorizing and funding legislation. The State Department had said it lacked funding for increased security.
“Adequately funding America’s foreign policy objectives is not spending, it’s investing in our long-term security and more often than not it saves far more expensive expenditures in dollars and lives for the conflicts that we fail to see or avoid,” he said. “We need to invest in America’s long-term interest in order to do the job of diplomacy in a dangerous world.”
Nides noted that the department had already converted a panel’s 29 recommendations into “60 specific action items,” some of which would be completed by the end of this month.
“We get this right about 99 percent of the time. We’d like to be at 100 percent, without question,” he said. “We have over 275 posts around the world, and our men and women are in danger all over the world, and we attempt to do this 100 percent.”
The top State officials have asked Congress to increase funding to provide better security at high-risk embassies and consulates. Nides said all the assistance for the State Department equals less than one percent of the federal budget.
Funding vs. mismanagement
But Senator Bob Corker, a Republican, lashed out the State Department officials for focusing on funding rather than mismanagement. He pointed to a security team on the ground in Tripoli whose stay was not extended by the State Department despite an extension request and funding from the Defense Department.
“I assumed they would have traveled and been there [to Benghazi] when we had our ambassador there,” he said. “I just don’t understand. You talk about money, but you had 16 people there free from the Defense Department. They requested that they stay, and you denied that. I don’t understand that.”
The hearing comes after a report from an independent Accountability Review Board concluded that security at the U.S. mission in Benghazi was “grossly inadequate” at the time of the attack. The findings prompted a personnel shake-up at the State Department.
A State Department spokeswoman said Wednesday Secretary of State Hillary Clinton accepted Eric Boswell’s decision to resign as Assistant Secretary for Diplomatic Security. The spokeswoman also said three other people had been “relieved of their current duties.”
The Benghazi attack killed four Americans, including Ambassador Christopher Stephens. He was the first U.S. ambassador killed in the line of duty since 1988.
Clinton had been scheduled to testify Thursday before the House and Senate committees about the attack. However, she is under doctor’s order to rest after becoming ill last week.
The accountability board said senior-level “systematic failures and management deficiencies” within two State Department bureaus led to the failed protection of the consulate.
The panel’s recommendations include increased security at temporary facilities in high-risk areas.
The group also urged the State Department to lengthen the duty assignments for program and security personnel at high-risk posts. It said the “short-term, transitory nature” of staffing at the Benghazi mission had resulted in “diminished institutional knowledge” and lack of continuity.