May 16, 2013

Menendez Speaks out on Benghazi: “We Have Fully Vetted this Issue”

Menendez on Senate Floor: “Our focus . . . should be on doing all that we can to protect our personnel serving overseas and provide the necessary oversight and legislative authority to carry out the Accountability Review Boards’ recommendations.”

WASHINGTON, DC – U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez, Chairman of the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee, spoke on the Senate Floor today, taking issue with characterizations that the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and others have not sufficiently investigated the tragedy in Benghazi. 

The statement, as prepared for delivery, follows:

“I rise as Chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, outraged at the implication that we – in the Senate -- have not done enough to investigate what happened in Benghazi, that we have not investigated it thoroughly, that we have not looked at the details, that we have not analyzed the information – classified and unclassified – that has come before us.

The Committee has held 4 hearings on the attack on Special Mission Benghazi. The very first hearing I chaired in January was on this topic with Secretary Clinton.

In fact, we postponed the nomination hearing of Senator Kerry so that Secretary Clinton could come before us and explain what happened and why – despite her medical condition at the time.

Let’s make that very clear. One of the first things we did, despite a pending nomination of a new Secretary, and the sitting-Secretary’s medical concerns... was to hold a hearing on this topic and to air the facts.

Prior to that, Chairman Kerry, held a hearing of the Committee on December 20 on the event that transpired Benghazi with Deputy Secretaries Burns and Nides.

There were also 2 classified briefings in December specifically on the circumstances surrounding the attack.

The December 13th briefing included a video of the attack with high-level officials from State, the Joint Staff, Defense Department, the FBI and the Intelligence Community:

  • Patrick Kennedy, Undersecretary of State for Management at State
  • Matthew Olsen, Director of the National Counterterrorism Center
  • Major General Darryl Roberson, Vice Director of Operations  at the Joint Staff
  • Gary Reid, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Special Operations and Low Intensity Conflict
  • Jenny Ley, Deputy Assistant Director at the FBI

On December 19th there was a high-level classified briefing with the Accountability Review Board with Ambassador Pickering and Admiral Mullen. At his nomination hearing in January, Secretary Kerry also fully addressed this issue and then again at the Committee’s annual budget hearing in April.

Last week, the nominee to be our new Ambassador to Libya, Deborah Kay Jones, testified before the full Committee - another opportunity for my friends on the other side to ask questions, to get the truth, not create their own truth for political purposes.

That hearing was yet another opportunity to ask questions about the security situation on the ground, and yet Republican participation was limited to just a handful of members.

We have fully vetted this issue. We have held hearing after hearing. We have all – on both sides – had the opportunity to have our questions answered.

Our focus now should not be on the work product of the CIA or State on draft talking points we’ve seen in hundreds of emails released by the White House yesterday. It should not be to score political points at the expense of the families of the four victims.

It should be on doing all we can to protect our personnel serving overseas and provide the necessary oversight and legislative authority to carry out the Accountability Review Boards’ recommendations.

I would remind my friends -- and the American people, nothing has changed. The facts remain the facts. They’re the same today as they were in September, October, November, December and January -- it’s the rhetoric and the political calculus that has changed.

In fact, the e-mails released by the White House further demonstrate that point.

The original CIA produced talking points -- notably produced for the House Intelligence Committee for media interviews – clearly show that, in the days immediately after the attack, the intelligence community was not sure what exactly happened or who was responsible.

The points produced by the CIA said the Agency's belief that the events in Benghazi were spontaneously inspired by the protests at the US Embassy in Cairo and evolved into a direct assault against the US diplomatic post in Benghazi and subsequently its annex.

That point stays in the talking from beginning to end of the inter-agency process -- with no debate and is conveyed to the House Intelligence committee. Throughout the email discussions the Agency makes clear that their information is limited and that there is a lot that they don't know.

In fact, the National Counter-Terrorism Center says in one email, “At this point we are not aware of any actionable intelligence that this attack was planned or imminent.  The intelligence community is combing through reporting from before and after the attack to determine the full extent of who was involved." 

It became clear over time that this was in fact a calculated terrorist attack, but there was no political calculation involved in the initial assessment.

Let’s be honest about what’s happening here.  It’s not about doing all we can to find the truth and making sure it never happens again, it’s about political-gamesmanship and finding someone to blame.

I would remind my friends -- and the American people, nothing has changed. The facts remain the facts.

They’re the same today as they were in September, October, November, December and January -- it’s the rhetoric and the political calculus of my friends on the other side who want to that has changed.

They want to make this a political issue to drive a purely political agenda.

Our real focus -- our honest focus -- what the American people truly care about -- is the security of our missions and safety of our personnel, and that has been – and will remain -- the clear focus of the Foreign Relations Committee going forward, and I hope we have the support of our Republican colleagues.

In my view, the Monday morning quarter-backing on this issue is politically driven – a perspective shared by former Republican Defense Secretary Gates who said on Sunday: "Frankly … I think my decisions would have been just as theirs were” with regard to sending in Special Forces teams or over-flights by fighter aircraft based in Italy.

Former Secretary Gates said, “without knowing what the environment is, without knowing what the threat is, without having any intelligence in terms of what is actually going on the ground, would have been very dangerous."

I think we have common interests here.

I have been working to ensure full implementation of all 29 recommendations made by the Administrative Review Board, recommendations that to ensure that – going forward -- we are providing adequate personnel and resources to meet local conditions at more than 280 facilities in over 180 countries around the world -- specifically where host nations are unable to provide adequate protection to our diplomats.

And I call on our Republican colleagues to join in that effort. Today, I am introducing that legislation -- and hope we will be able to count on the support of all of our colleagues -- to enact this crucial, time sensitive legislation without delay, without obstruction, without political grand-standing.

The bill will provide authority to fund the Capital Security Cost Sharing Program to permit us to move forward with construction at high-risk, high-threat posts.

This account was created following the U.S. Embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania and at that time it allowed us to construct 8-10 facilities per year.

It presently provides funding for construction of just 2 to 3 facilities per year despite the fact that there are at least 2 dozen posts that fall into that high-risk, high-threat category.

At that rate it will take us at least 8 years to get around to construction at just the posts at highest risk of attack.

It authorizes funding for Arabic language training, and for a Foreign Affairs Security Training Center to train diplomatic security personnel, provides contract authority to the State Department to allow it to award contracts on a best value basis rather than to the lowest bidder where conditions require enhanced levels of security.

At the Administration’s request, the bill will authorize disciplinary action in cases of unsatisfactory leadership by senior officials related to a security incident. This will allow appropriate disciplinary action to be taken against any future official in a circumstance, like Benghazi.

It requires planning to incorporate additional Marine Security Guards at overseas facilities and it requires extensive reporting on State’s implementation of the ARB recommendations and on the designation of high risk, high threat posts.

I hope that we can work together to do what has do be done to protect those who serve this nation abroad. If you want to address the problem, let’s do it. If you want to score political points... fine, but do not do it at the risk of American lives. Let’s work together to fix the problem – not use it for political advantage.”


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