Thursday, October 25, 2012
Condi Rice Cautious on Benghazi: 'We Don't Have All the Pieces'
Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice declined to jump to conclusions Wednesday on the Obama administration's handling of email traffic during the attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, saying, "it's not always easy to know" what's happening on the ground.
Rice, who had to deal with similar situations when she was running the State Department under President George W. Bush, told Fox News's Greta Van Susteren that it's best to let a congressional investigation and a government accountability review board sort it out before jumping to conclusions.
"It's probably better to let the relevant bodies do their work," she said, responding to reports that the White House and State Department were informed almost immediately about the attack, and within two hours respectively, that the al-Qaida-affiliated group Ansar al-Sharia had claimed responsibility.
The administration initially blamed the attack on demonstrators who rioted in protest of an American-made, anti-Muslim film posted on YouTube. But the email traffic to the State Department and other government agencies detailing the attack as it unfolded on Sept. 11 seemed to suggest it was initiated by an extremist group.
But Rice said, "We don't have all the pieces."
"When things are unfolding very, very quickly, it's not always easy to know what is really going on on the ground. And to my mind, the really important questions here are about how information was collected," she said. "Did the various agencies really coordinate and share intelligence in the way that we had hoped, with the reforms that were made after 9/11?
"So there's a big picture to be examined here," Rice continued. "But we don't have all of the pieces, and I think it's easy to try and jump to conclusions about what might have happened here. It's probably better to let the relevant bodies do their work."
The former secretary, who has been campaigning on behalf of Mitt Romney, stressed that a lot of information was likely "flowing in very rapidly . . . from multiple sources."
She acknowledged, however, that "with an attack of this magnitude, it would have gotten to the very highest officials."
"But the problem is," she added, "when there is a fog of war like this, there are a lot of competing stories coming in. "There's a lot of competing information coming in. And it takes a little while to know precisely what has happened."
When asked about security for U.S. ambassador Chris Stevens, who was killed in the attack along with three other Americans, Rice said she has no reason to believe at this point that security protocols "weren't followed."
She said that would be a key question for the State Department accountability review board and the House Intelligence Committee, chaired by Republican Rep. Mike Rogers, when it examines the communications about what was happening on the ground in Benghazi at the time of the attack and "what the intelligence picture" looked like in the days before.
"You can't simply keep your diplomats in a bunker. They have to get out and do their work," Rice noted. "But you want to make certain that you're taking the right safety precautions for them, as well, and that's the kind of work that the accountability review board will do."
Rice said she hopes the review board and congressional investigations will focus on the coordination between intelligence and diplomatic agencies as the attack was occurring.
"That's really the question that's on my mind . . . How good was the coordination, and did all of those changes that we made after 9/11 really serve us well?" she said.