US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton testifies before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on the September 11, 2012 attack on the US mission in Benghazi, Libya, during a hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, on January 23, 2013. (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON (USA TODAY) - Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton on Wednesday
defended her actions during and after terrorists waged their brutal
attack on the U.S. Consulate in Libya and said she is determined "to
find them and bring them to justice."
Clinton, testifying before
the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, also promised to improve
security for State Department officials in North Africa and around the
world following the attack in Benghazi that left U.S. Ambassador
Christopher Stevens and three other Americans dead.
responsibility," Clinton told the committee. "Nobody is more committed
to getting this right. I am determined to leave the State Department and
our country safer, stronger and more secure."
Clinton, who will
soon be leaving her post, said she directed the U.S. response to the
Sept. 11 attack from the State Department and stayed in close contact
with U.S. officials on the ground as well as the Libyan government.
said the deaths were "personal" for her, and was near tears when she
talked of standing next to President Obama "as the Marines carried those
flag-draped caskets off the plane at Andrews (Air Force Base). I put my
arms around the mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers, sons and
STATEMENT: Clinton's prepared text
John McCain, R-Arizona, told Clinton that when he met with Stevens on
July 7 -- more than two months before the attack -- Stevens expressed
"his deep and grave concerns about security in Benghazi... and the need
for additional assistance." The administration's "preference for a 'soft
footprint' was part of the reason for what took place" in Benghazi,
An Independent Accountability Review Board appointed
by the State Department concluded that "systemic failures" left the
consulate in Benghazi inadequately protected and confirmed that no
protest preceded the deadly attack. In a report released in December,
the board recommended that the State Department strengthen security in
Clinton said she has asked her deputy secretary
for management and resources to lead a task force to ensure that all 29
of the panels recommendations are implemented quickly and completely -
and to pursue "additional steps above and beyond" those in the board's
"Benghazi did not happen in a vacuum," Clinton said. The
instability brought on by the Arab Spring uprisings of 2011 has expanded
the reach of extremists across North Africa, she said.
Department for days after the Sept. 11 attack blamed it on a spontaneous
protest of what it called a "reprehensible" video that denigrated
Islam's prophet Mohammed, while CIA and diplomats from the scene were
reporting that no protest preceded the attack.
that on the day of the attack, before it happened, she had been at the
State Department dealing with a different crisis that evolved from
protests to a YouTube video that denigrated the prophet Mohammed.
most of the day, prior to getting notice of the attack on our compound
in Benghazi, we were very focused on the situation around our embassy in
Cairo," Clinton said. "There were attempts to scale the wall, and we
were in close contact with our counterparts in Cairo."
attack in Benghazi happened, about 4 p.m. Washington time, she called
Libyan security officials "to get assistance as quickly as possible."
testified she spoke to National Security Adviser Tom Donilon, then-CIA
director Gen. David Petraeus, who had a compound in Benghazi, and the
She said U.S. officials participated in talks about
what to do in a secure video conference with senior officials from the
White House, the intelligence community and the Defense Department.
"I spoke to President Obama later in the day," she said.
Sen. Jim Risch, R-Idaho, asked Clinton if she selected Susan Rice,
U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, to go on the Sunday talk shows
where she blamed the attack on a video days after it was clear the
attack was terrorism.
"I did not," Clinton said.
television performances five days after the attack derailed her possible
nomination to replace Clinton as secretary of state.
At the time,
"I was not focused on talking points," Clinton said. "I was focused on
keeping our people safe. We still had people attacking our embassy in
Yemen, trying to scale the walls. I had to call the president in Tunis
and beg him to send reinforcements, which he did and eventually saved
our embassy there."
Also, the classified intelligence assessment of the Benghazi attack was still cloudy about what it was, she said.
"There were a variety of potential causes and triggers," Clinton said.
were some communications and coordination before the attack, but it
still wasn't clear if it rose to the level of a pre-planned terrorist
attack, she said.
Clinton testified that her department reacted to
the attack by taking immediate steps to protect personnel and postings
in embassies and consulates facing large protests around the world.
is also scheduled to make an appearance before a House panel. Rep.
Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, noted that when Clinton ran against President
Obama four years ago, she ran a TV ad asking whether he was ready for a 3
a.m. call that requires judgment and decisive action.
call came for both of them," Chaffetz said. "The ambassador was missing
for seven hours. What was her interaction with the president? Did she
go to bed?"
Contributing: John Bacon
Oren Dorell, USA TODAY