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State Department: Our understanding of Benghazi attack ‘has evolved’

State Department officials will testify Wednesday that statements made in the immediate aftermath of the Sept. 11 attack on the U.S. mission in Benghazi have now been overtaken by new information, and they will give new details about the harrowing assault that resulted in the death of four Americans. The message: We don’t have all ...

State Department officials will testify Wednesday that statements made in the immediate aftermath of the Sept. 11 attack on the U.S. mission in Benghazi have now been overtaken by new information, and they will give new details about the harrowing assault that resulted in the death of four Americans.

The message: We don’t have all the answers just yet, but we do know that the Benghazi consulate faced an "unprecedented" assault despite the State Department’s best efforts to provide security in a challenging and fast-changing environment.

"No one in the Administration has claimed to know all the answers," Under Secretary of State for Management Patrick Kennedy will testify at the House Oversight Committee’s hearing Wednesday chaired by Rep. Darrel Issa (R-CA), according to his prepared statement. "We have always made clear that we are giving the best information we have at the time. And that information has evolved."

Kennedy will defend U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice, who said Sunday after the attack that, based on the best information at the time, it appeared to be a spontaneous and opportunistic assault by those taking advantage of protests about an anti-Islam video. On Tuesday, the State Department confirmed that there was no protest, but Kennedy sought to absolve Rice of responsibility for the mistaken comments.

"If any administration official, including any career official, were on television on Sunday, September 16th, they would have said what Ambassador Rice said. The information she had at that point from the intelligence community is the same that I had at that point," Kennedy will testify. "As time went on, additional information became available. Clearly, we know more today than we did on the Sunday after the attack."

Kennedy will tout Secretary of State Hillary Clinton‘s Accountability Review Board (ARB), which he has been involved in setting up. The board is led by Ambassador Thomas Pickering and includes former Joint Chiefs Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen, Hugh Turner, Richard Shinnick, and Catherine Bertini.

Kennedy will also emphasize that the State Department can’t provide full answers on the attack because the ARB and a separate FBI investigation into the attack is still underway.

"Until these investigations conclude, we are dealing with an incomplete picture. And, as a result, our answers today will also be incomplete," Kennedy will say.

Also testifying at the hearing, entitled, "The Security Failures of Benghazi," will be Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for International Programs Charlene Lamb, Regional Security Officer Eric Nordstrom, who was stationed in Libya before the attacks, and Lt. Col. Andrew Wood, a Utah National Guardsman who was leading a security team in Libya until August.

According to prepared remarks obtained by The Cable, Lamb will give a detailed account of the events on the night of the attack and she will defend the security posture at the Benghazi mission at the time of the attack.

"I work closely with 275 diplomatic facilities around the world. Determining the right level of security for each one is an intensive, ongoing, constantly evolving process — one that I appreciate and understand from my own time on the ground as a Diplomatic Security officer," she will say.

"We consult regularly with our people on the ground, with security professionals in Washington, and with the intelligence community. We use the most up-to-date information available. Together with the Regional Security Officer, we develop a comprehensive security plan, which we constantly revise and update as situations change."

Nordstrom, who was the lead security consultant for the State Department in Libya until July, will defend the security posture in Benghazi, testify on the need to balance security at diplomatic posts overseas with the need for diplomats to do their jobs, and he will speak broadly about how the State Department manages risk in dangerous parts of the world.

"The ferocity and intensity of the attack was nothing that we had seen in Libya, or that I had seen in my time in the Diplomatic Security Service. Having an extra foot of wall, or an extra-half dozen guards or agents would not have enabled us to respond to that kind of assault. I’m concerned that this attack will signal a new security-reality, just as the 1984 Beirut attack did for the Marines; the 1998 East Africa bombings did for the State Department, and 9/11 for the whole country. It is critical that we balance the risk-mitigation with the needs of our diplomats to do their job, in dangerous and uncertain places. The answer cannot be to operate from a bunker," he will say, according to his prepared testimony

"While I’d love to have had a large secured building and tons of security personnel in Benghazi, the fact is that the system we had in place was regularly tested and appeared to work as planned despite high turnover of DS[Diplomatic Security] agents on the ground."

Kennedy will begin his testimony by quoting Stevens’s own testimony at his own Senate confirmation hearing last spring.

"Libyans face significant challenges as they make the transition from an oppressive dictatorship to a stable and prosperous democracy," but, "it is clearly in the U.S. interest," and "it will be an extraordinary honor to represent the United States during this historic period of transition in Libya," Kennedy will quote Stevens as saying.

Josh Rogin covers national security and foreign policy and writes the daily Web column The Cable. His column appears bi-weekly in the print edition of The Washington Post. He can be reached for comments or tips at

Previously, Josh covered defense and foreign policy as a staff writer for Congressional Quarterly, writing extensively on Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantánamo Bay, U.S.-Asia relations, defense budgeting and appropriations, and the defense lobbying and contracting industries. Prior to that, he covered military modernization, cyber warfare, space, and missile defense for Federal Computer Week Magazine. He has also served as Pentagon Staff Reporter for the Asahi Shimbun, Japan's leading daily newspaper, in its Washington, D.C., bureau, where he reported on U.S.-Japan relations, Chinese military modernization, the North Korean nuclear crisis, and more.

A graduate of George Washington University's Elliott School of International Affairs, Josh lived in Yokohama, Japan, and studied at Tokyo's Sophia University. He speaks conversational Japanese and has reported from the region. He has also worked at the House International Relations Committee, the Embassy of Japan, and the Brookings Institution.

Josh's reporting has been featured on CNN, MSNBC, C-Span, CBS, ABC, NPR, WTOP, and several other outlets. He was a 2008-2009 National Press Foundation's Paul Miller Washington Reporting Fellow, 2009 military reporting fellow with the Knight Center for Specialized Journalism and the 2011 recipient of the InterAction Award for Excellence in International Reporting. He hails from Philadelphia and lives in Washington, D.C. Twitter: @joshrogin