“All the changes that you’ve made in preparedness, lessons learned, if those had been in place today, would the response have been different in 2012?” Roby asked.
“Yes,” Reid responded. “There are capabilities in place now and in place on the alert status that we had them last week, modulated to the very highest level, would significantly have increased and improved our response capability.”
He clarified that four hours before getting in the air qualifies as a rapid response. “And I think it’s hard for folks to imagine, because we’re used to 911 and police and fire, but that’s not the same thing.”
Reid described today’s relationship between agencies that needed to come together the night of the Benghazi attack as “more robust.”
“The access was always there, but the focus, the intensity, the repetition and the levels at which we do it has been increased significantly over the past year,” he said.
He described their new weekly meetings to review threats like so: “All threats are briefed. All agencies, not just us and Department of State, all agencies are asked, are there any threats that you know about that weren’t mentioned or are there any threats you just heard about for the first time, and do we need to elaborate? That’s one. And the second part of that is, is everybody getting the support and cooperation from the other agencies? The question posed back to us, have we responded to all requests for security?”
“I would say that right now it’s as good as it can be, and we continue to expect that that will be the case for the future,” Roberson added. “So every day we have people very dedicated to the high threat, high risk areas, as well as around the world. And we routinely coordinate. I mean, I pick up the phone weekly if not daily with folks over at the State Department.”
Rep. Austin Scott (R-Ga.) asked if the witnesses believed Ambassador Chris Stevens or the diplomatic facility was the target in Benghazi.
“I believe the United States’s presence was my target. That’s my own personal view,” Reid answered.
“Sir, I believe that there were many people in Libya that truly loved the ambassador,” Roberson said. Still, he added later, “I’ll just say that we were postured as we thought was appropriate, and we were meeting all requirements at the time that Benghazi happened.”
“I’ll tell you, I think the ambassador was the target. I think it was an outright assassination,” Scott said. “I don’t think these guys just got that lucky and — and got — and hit the special mission when the ambassador happened to be there.”
Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.) noted that about a third of diplomatic sites around the world are in as vulnerable a setting as Benghazi.
“All facilities are not created equally as a matter of construction standards, and a matter of infrastructure, and a matter of a host nation and the physical environment, we absolutely agree with that,” Reid said. “What we have done in our cooperative assessments with chiefs of mission and with State colleagues back here in Washington is look at each one of these and participate in a dialogue about what could be done, what ought to be done, what should be done.”
Roberson noted that the ultimate approval to send a rescue team onto foreign soil still rests at the White House. “The commander will, you know, depending on the situation, again, when we get indications that we need to move forces, if we’re going to go into another country, then we have to elevate that level of decision all the way up to the president.”
“Launching a military operation into a sovereign country is a decision the president makes,” Reid added. However, “the engine of this dialogue and decision originates with the chief of mission.”
“The chief of mission is the president’s representative in that country.”