White House officials have said that there was lots of conflicting information and intelligence in the early days, and that it took time for the intelligence community to sort through it all.
In recent days, the focus has been on how intelligence on the nature and cause of the attack was shared with officials, prompting Senate Select Intelligence Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., to announce Thursday that her panel will hold a series of hearings on Benghazi when Congress returns after the election, starting with a closed hearing on Nov. 15.
Several other committees in both the House and Senate also plan on examining the matter; the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee already held a rare recess hearing on the security at the Benghazi consulate that devolved into partisan finger-pointing.
‘No Silver Bullet’
Pickering and Thomas D. Boyatt, a member of the American Academy of Diplomacy and former ambassador to Colombia, agreed with Neumann Thursday that while the Benghazi attack was a tragedy, it is just one in a long line of threats facing American nationals working abroad.
“I speak not only as somebody who was hijacked once and somebody who lived a very rough life in Colombia for three years and somebody who was president of a security company that provided security services to the U.S. government and specifically to the State Department,” said Boyatt. “There is no silver bullet” for diplomatic security.
“We still have to do our missions,” Boyatt continued, “and that means that people are going to have to take chances. And that means that people are going to get killed. And that was certainly the reality when we were in the service.”
A new report on State Department personnel conducted by the Stimson Center and the American Academy of Diplomacy and released Thursday found that security staffing has increased significantly since the 1998 attacks on the U.S. embassies in Tanzania and Kenya and the aftermath of Sept. 11.
Russell Rumbaugh, Stimson’s director of budgeting for foreign affairs and defense, noted that under Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, President George W. Bush’s first secretary of State, “security personnel increased by about 700, which was almost a 50 percent increase.”
That, he said, “was where most of the growth of personnel in State Department happened” at that time. In the last five years, security personnel “increased by about 400 people, a 20 percent increase.”
According to the report, the State Department now employs more diplomatic security specialists than political and economic officers. It advises adding 722 more positions in core diplomacy and public diplomacy in its fiscal 2014 budget request. Right now, State and the U.S. Agency for International Development “operate with too few personnel for the next two decades,” it concludes.
But with more budget cuts likely coming for fiscal 2013 and subsequent years, there are concerns that Congress’ reaction to the deaths in Benghazi will be more funds for security at the cost of other personnel and programs.
Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., takes a selfie with his cut-out head during the Hoops for Youth 16th annual charity basketball game held at George Washington University's Smith Center, September 8, 2014. The members of Congress team beat the lobbyist team 46-40. Buy photo here.