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Daily Press Briefing

Victoria Nuland
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
October 12, 2012

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Index for Today's Briefing

Investigation of Qassim Aklan's Death in Sana'a
Awaiting Findings of Accountability Review Board and FBI Investigation
Role of Marines at U.S. Missions
Malala Yousafzai
Efforts to Create Comprehensive Peace between Israel and Neighboring States
Syrian Plane Stopped in Turkey / Discussions with Russians



12:45 p.m. EDT

MS. NULAND: All right. Happy Friday, everybody. Since the Secretary has just been out with Foreign Minister Terzi, and I know you all want to get to her speech on transitions in the Maghreb in an hour, I have nothing for you at the top. What’s on your minds?

QUESTION: Yemen, maybe. Following on from the conversation we had yesterday, is there any more details you can let us know about your investigations into the attack on Mr. Aklan in Sana’a?

MS. NULAND: I actually don’t have any further information to what we had yesterday. As you can imagine, the Yemeni investigation has only just begun. But when we have something to share, we will.

QUESTION: So we’re not any further in knowing whether it was related to his work with the Embassy or not?

MS. NULAND: The investigators may well be, but we’re not at a stage where we have anything to share.

QUESTION: Victoria, why didn’t the Secretary squarely answer the question of how she was following matters on the night of September the 11th? I mean, there are lots of things that are not known, but presumably she knows what she was doing that night and how she was getting updates and stuff. Is there some reason she didn’t want to discuss that?

MS. NULAND: Well, I mean, obviously, she knows what she was doing on that night. I think that, from her perspective, the focus needs to be on the ARB, on the lessons we learned from this, rather than on her personal tick-tock. As you know, she’s not that interested in focusing on herself. But obviously, she was here very late that night. She was getting regular updates from both the DS Command Center and the senior NEA leadership in the building, she was making phone calls to senior people, and so she was obviously very much involved. But I think she was not interested in sort of giving a personal tick-tock. It’s not the way she operates.

QUESTION: And why is it that she didn’t squarely address the question of, was there or was there not a demonstration outside? I mean, does she know – does she have a sense of whether there was or wasn’t one, or does she not know, or does she know and she feels she can’t say? I mean --

MS. NULAND: Well, as you know, we talked about that particular question ad nauseam here. I can’t remember whether it was yesterday or whether it was Tuesday.

QUESTION: Every day.

MS. NULAND: Every single day I think. (Laughter.) And again, I think she wants to have the full accounting from the ARB and from the FBI. I don’t think that she thinks it’s productive at this stage to be going back over every piece of the tick-tock. She wants-- as she said today, there are still things we don’t know and we need to let these two investigations play through.

QUESTION: Does she know the answer to the question, though? Is that one of the things she doesn’t know? She doesn’t know if there was or was not a demonstration?

MS. NULAND: I think she made clear today that she wants to get a full accounting, as a result of these investigations, before she speaks any more in public about any of these details. This has been an evolving picture. There has been a lot of sort of debate back and forth about the evolving picture. I think it’s important now to get the facts.

QUESTION: Forgive me if – because I missed the beginning; I don’t know if this came up before I got here or not. But do you know, as a bureaucratic matter, if the requests for extra security in Libya that we now know were made and which the Department acknowledges were rejected for whatever reason – were – did those ever leave this building? In other words, were other buildings in this town aware of those requests when they were made? Or is-- well, that’s the first question.

MS. NULAND: I don’t know whether there was any interagency coordination at the level that those requests were handled. I think both Charlene Lamb and Under Secretary Kennedy spoke to the process in this building. Whether there was any lateral interagency coordination, I can’t speak to that.

QUESTION: Well, as a general – in general, are such requests circulated to other parts of the Executive Branch? I mean, it would – it seemed pretty clear that the Pentagon at least was aware of the SST request, or at least that’s what Colonel Wood testified to, that AFRICOM was okay with extending the mission of the SST. But specifically – and I’m sure you know why I’m asking this question; this relates to what the Vice President said last night in the debate. Specifically, do you know if, in general, if embassy security requests or diplomatic mission security requests are transmitted to the NSC or to people at the White House, just as a – in a general matter? I mean, not necessarily Libya. It could be, I don’t know, Brasilia.

MS. NULAND: If we’re talking as a general matter, my understanding of these things, which is somewhat limited, is that if the assets are all within the State Department – if that’s what we’re talking about – generally we handle it here. If there’s a policy reason for interagency coordination, then the policy team would take care of that. But if you’re talking about using other agency’s assets or coordinating with other agencies, obviously that has to be managed interagency.

QUESTION: All right. Well, so – since the – I mean, so it would have been --

MS. NULAND: I’m not in a position to talk about the details on this one. I just don’t have them. I’m sorry.

QUESTION: Right. But are you aware of any instance where this-- such a request would have been shared with the White House, considering they don’t have any-- I mean, the Secret Service is under DHS, right? So I don’t know if they have any assets that might have been used, but --

MS. NULAND: Again, it would – if you’re talking about in general --


MS. NULAND: -- it would completely depend on whether there were any policy issues to be coordinated, whether there were interagency issues that needed to be vetted more broadly than the agencies involved. It’s completely dependent.

QUESTION: And you don’t know the answer --

MS. NULAND: I do not.

QUESTION: -- to whether that was in this case? Okay.

MS. NULAND: I do not.

QUESTION: The White House says that it was not told, that it didn’t know, and that this is – that embassy security is a State Department – in the State Department’s purview and doesn’t go beyond that. That’s your understanding from what I say, unless there is some broader policy question that the security might – that might involve security. Is that an accurate assessment?

MS. NULAND: Again, if we’re talking about security that is within the State Department’s assets, if there isn’t a policy concern or a reason for interagency coordination, then we handle it routinely. If there is, then we get more other-- other agencies involved. But in terms of this particular instance, I obviously don’t have any information to contradict what the Vice President said, if that’s what you’re asking.

Mr. Fishel, welcome back. Are you feeling better?

QUESTION: Thank you, I am feeling better.


QUESTION: I hear you missed me.

MS. NULAND: I did miss you. I never know who the Foxie is in the pool.

QUESTION: Yes. Well, I’m glad to be here. So I didn’t know the briefing had started, so forgive me if this has already been addressed. But the Vice President said last night that the whole false narrative about protests outside the gate was borne out of poor intelligence. And I take it you agree with that assessment?

MS. NULAND: We’ve talked about this from this podium. Under Secretary Kennedy spoke to this a couple of nights ago when he was here.

QUESTION: Well, but not about Biden’s assessment.

MS. NULAND: Again --

QUESTION: This is the first time that we’ve heard that – the Vice President say this was bad intelligence that led us to say that. So that’s what I’m asking you about.

MS. NULAND: I’m not going to parse the Vice President’s comments in a political debate from this podium. Not at all.

QUESTION: Okay. Can you say when, then, the intelligence community changed its assessment definitively? When did you get word that that was no longer the consensus?

MS. NULAND: Again, I’m not going to give you a tick-tock of the various intelligence assessments that we had over the course of the last month. I’ll send you to the DNI for that. But we’ve been very clear – all of us – that we were receiving updated assessments and that the picture was evolving.

QUESTION: Is it your hope that the investigation determines who was responsible for this false narrative and that there’s some level of accountability there?

MS. NULAND: I think the Secretary was very, very clear again today, as she’s been all the way along, that nobody wants to get to the bottom of all of this more than she does, more than the President does, more than all of us in this Department want. So the – and she’s been very clear about what the responsibilities of the Accountability Review Board are, not only to ascertain whether we were postured properly based on what we knew, but about whether what we knew should have been broader, different, whatever.

QUESTION: She said – I think there’s two separate questions here. I don’t think that – I think the Secretary is talking about wanting to get to the bottom of what actually happened on the 11th in Benghazi. I don’t remember her saying anything about wanting to get to the bottom of who made what intelligence assessment when, or whether – or in fact, if there should be any blame, if that’s the right word, assigned to it. Are you saying – I mean, I don’t think – is that within the purview of the ARB to go over to DNI and say someone here screwed up big-time because you gave us stuff that you thought was right but turned out to be not right? I mean, is that even something that you can assign blame for?

MS. NULAND: Nobody is looking to assign blame of any kind, not before --

QUESTION: Well, apparently people are.

MS. NULAND: -- not after --

QUESTION: That’s why you got the question.

MS. NULAND: -- not during.

QUESTION: That’s why there was a hearing --

MS. NULAND: Nobody is looking --

QUESTION: -- the other day on the Hill. There are a lot of people looking to assign blame, no?

MS. NULAND: That is not the posture of this Department. It has never been. What we are simply saying is that we operate on the best intelligence that we have at the time.

QUESTION: Right. But – so when she says she wants to get to the bottom of it, is she saying that she wants to get to the bottom of what happened in Benghazi, or that she thinks that there was some colossal intelligence failure or a potential cover-up, as some have suggested, in the intelligence community about this that she wants to get to the bottom of, or both?

MS. NULAND: She wants the Accountability Review Board to do the job that it’s mandated for. I was just looking to see if I have those three points here in front of me that I had in the beginning of the week about the Accountability Review Board’s responsibilities under statute. I don’t, but I’ll get them for you again.

There is no assertion here of blame of any kind by anybody, in any direction. What we want to understand is whether the decisions that were made about our security posture were appropriate to what we knew, what more might have been done, how we can improve things going forward.

QUESTION: But not how --

MS. NULAND: That is a State Department function, but it’s also a function of working within the interagency.

QUESTION: I understand that. But the question that you got was whether there was going to be some kind of inquiry or look into the intelligence post-attack.

MS. NULAND: That’s not the responsibility of the Accountability Review Board, if that’s what you’re asking.

QUESTION: So in other words, the Secretary is not – this building is not particularly interested in determining exactly how DNI reached whatever conclusions it might have reached? That’s not your issue, is it?

MS. NULAND: It is not our issue to analyze the way the intelligence community comes to its conclusions, if that’s what you’re asking.


QUESTION: I read a report today that says that al-Qaida didn’t ever declare responsibility for the attack in Benghazi. Are you aware of any reports that they were – they announced their responsibility?

MS. NULAND: I have not seen any, besides some stuff the day after, which we’re not sure about its credibility, by individual groups inside Libya. I haven’t seen any particular press reporting one way or the other. But again, we are not going to have anything to say about responsibility till we get to the end of the FBI investigation.


QUESTION: There is something on the – that came up in the debate last night. It’s more a kind of how do things work question. Congressman Ryan said that Marines should have been sent – Marines exist, guard the Embassy in Paris, and they should have been guarding the Ambassador when he went to Benghazi. Is that correct? I mean, could they have sent Marines? Is that the normal course?

MS. NULAND: Let me just stop everybody here and remind you that we don’t do politics at this podium. We don’t litigate the campaign on one side or the other.

QUESTION: No, I’m not saying it’s politics. I’m saying: How does it work?

MS. NULAND: If you’re asking me a factual question --

QUESTION: Exactly. How does it work? Where-- what do Marines protect? Would they in any case have protected that mission in Benghazi?

MS. NULAND: We’ve talked about the role of Marines from this podium several times. We talked about it in the days following the attack. I would refer you back to what we said at the time, which is that – and I can get you the precise numbers – but we have Marine security guards in about 60, 65 percent of our missions around the world. They are primarily assigned to protect classified information, classified equipment, in those posts that are classified. So – and I would also remind you of what Eric Nordstrom said when he testified on the Hill, which was that in his professional opinion, another foot of wall or another four, five, six – I can’t remember the number that he used – of American security personnel wouldn’t have been able to turn back or handle the assaults at the level of ferocity and lethality that we saw that night.

QUESTION: Except that he did not say that.

MS. NULAND: He was --

QUESTION: It was in his prepared testimony, but it was omitted from what he actually spoke.

MS. NULAND: But then he was asked whether he stood by it and he said he did stand by it.

QUESTION: Okay, so can I just ask why you’re --

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

QUESTION: Go ahead.

QUESTION: I think I just need a clarification. When you said the word missions, you mean embassies and consulates, right?

MS. NULAND: Correct. Correct.

QUESTION: Well, why are you --

MS. NULAND: All of our diplomatic missions around the world, however many we have – 175, something like that.

QUESTION: But would that include this temporary facility, which Benghazi was?

MS. NULAND: Well, there are also issues around the world about the kinds of physical facilities that Marines need in order to perform their function. And it’s traditionally very difficult to meet their requirements when you’re still in a temporary facility, which is why in a number of places we handle things a different way, either with more RSOs or with calling on our interagency colleagues to support.

QUESTION: So two things.


QUESTION: One, is – it is correct that – or is it or is it-- let me start again. Do Marines ever serve as bodyguards to a specific ambassador?

MS. NULAND: They don’t perform – they are not mandated and chartered to perform --

QUESTION: So in other words --

MS. NULAND: Can I finish my sentence?


MS. NULAND: To perform a bodyguard function.


MS. NULAND: That said, when they are at post and they are protecting classified, if there is – if there occasions where they can help protect personnel, they do. But they are not bodyguards per se.

QUESTION: Are you aware of any instance, perhaps drawing from your own experience with dealing with an embassy where there were Marine guards, did they ever travel with the ambassador or the chief of mission?

MS. NULAND: I don’t have any experience with that one way or the other.

QUESTION: All right. Well, are you aware in general, maybe not from a personal experience?

MS. NULAND: If you’re talking about embassy Marine security guards or mission Marine security guards, they’re generally assigned to a particular mission. But if there is a need in country, they can be swapped out and augmented, so I don’t want to make a definitive statement one way or the other.

QUESTION: Well, are you aware of any time a Marine guard has ever traveled with any ambassador anywhere as a bodyguard?

MS. NULAND: They do not generally perform – they are not mandated for the performance of bodyguard duties.

QUESTION: All right.

QUESTION: And can I just check --


QUESTION: -- Benghazi was not a classified post?

MS. NULAND: Benghazi did not – I don’t want to get into an overly-definitive definition of Benghazi, but – and a lot of this will be covered as well in the – both the FBI and the ARB reports. So I think I’m going to say what we’ve been saying all along, which was that Benghazi was not one of our 60 percent of posts that have Marine security guards.

QUESTION: And can I ask – also ask that something that’s been niggling at me a little bit since we had that very full and very harrowing account on Tuesday night of what happened that night? We were told that at 8:30, the Ambassador had walked his Turkish guest to the compound gate and there was nothing; the streets were calm. Then at 9:40, the – on the – they heard explosions and gunfire. And on the security cameras, they saw men flowing into the compound. My question is: How did they get in? I mean, do you know how they got in? Was there an explosion that destroyed the gate to the compound? Was there – was it opened in some manner?

MS. NULAND: Again, I don’t have any information I can share at the moment with regard to issues at that level of detail. All of these kinds of things are being looked at by the FBI. Of course, they’ll also be looked at by the ARB.

Please, Justin.

QUESTION: Toria, I know you’re tired of going over the timeline, and I sympathize, but I do have to say that one of the more disturbing things I think people have picked up on here is that the attack began at around – and tell me if I have my times wrong – but the attack began around 9:40 p.m., and Glen and Tyrone were – and that was at the consulate where it began, and Glen and Tyrone were not killed until 4 a.m. by that mortar that struck the annex.

So was it the State Department’s responsibility to call in extra security, some outside security perhaps, for that – for – to protect the annex specifically? And is the investigation going to look into that perhaps was a failure, not to fortify that place more, seven hours later? Was there not enough time?

MS. NULAND: Again, I’m going to refer you back to the tick-tock that was given, I think it was Tuesday evening on background, a lot of which was repeated on the record in the congressional hearings. I’m not going to be able from this podium to give you more granularity than that. A lot of these details, as the Secretary was so clear today, are still being worked through.

But remember what was said in those briefings, that we had the attack on the first compound, then we evacuated people to the second compound. The second compound after that – sometime after that evacuation, in the wee hours of the morning, came under attack itself. There were Libyans involved in security at both compounds. There were some details given about that, but – and we also, as was made clear in those two briefings, called Tripoli to send reinforcements, which they did. So – American reinforcements.

So – but I am not in a position from this podium to say – to give you any further detail than you’ve already had. All of these things are being looked at, again, both by the FBI and by the ARB, to get to the bottom of just these kinds of things that you are asking, Justin.

Okay? Please.

QUESTION: Change of subject?

MS. NULAND: Please.

QUESTION: On Pakistan?


QUESTION: Malala Yousafzai, has Pakistan sought any medical assistance help for her treatment from the U.S.?

MS. NULAND: We're obviously in conversations with the Government of Pakistan about what might be needed, but I don't have anything to announce at this stage.

QUESTION: And given the kind of support that she's receiving inside Pakistan, do you think this is a turning point for the country in the war against terrorism, the popular people's support against – opposition to the Taliban ideology, and things?

MS. NULAND: Well we've seen in the past in Pakistan that when the Taliban commits truly heinous and outrageous acts like this, it galvanizes popular opinion against them not only in the cities, but also in those towns and neighborhoods where they plot and hide. So obviously, the degree to which the Pakistani people turn against them help their government to go after them. That would be, perhaps, a silver lining from this horrible tragedy.

QUESTION: Why is it obvious that you are in talks with the Pakistani Government about what might be necessary? You said we are obviously –

MS. NULAND: We talked about it yesterday.


MS. NULAND: The President made clear yesterday that we –


MS. NULAND: Yeah, okay.

QUESTION: Wasn’t there some offer of--

MS. NULAND: Yes. And we spoke about it yesterday. Anybody else?

QUESTION: But his isn't from the statement of the Embassy this morning?

MS. NULAND: No, I think it was the President himself or – yeah, the President said two days ago, yeah.

QUESTION: You are aware, no doubt, of this report in Israel about U.S.-initiated attempts to get Syria-Israeli peace deal going, allegedly from Fred Hof's diary or something like that? Do you know – you're aware of this?

MS. NULAND: I've seen one press report, if that's what you're asking. Yeah.

QUESTION: That's – I said report, yeah. Not plural, just one. What do you have to say about it, if anything? Is it correct?

MS. NULAND: Well as you know, our goal has always been to have a comprehensive peace between Israel and all of her neighbors. Prior to the eruption of all of the violence in Syria, there were efforts to try to support contacts between Israel and Syrian officials. This was part of the mandate of George Mitchell. But obviously, in the current environment in Syria, that's not something that one can continue to work on, so --

QUESTION: Can you be a little more explicit about what those efforts were?

MS. NULAND: Besides saying that this was one of the focuses of work that George Mitchell was involved in, I think I'm not going to get into the details of the conversations that we had.

QUESTION: There was, I think, at the time, talk of the Turks being involved in something like this. Obviously that now has gone out the window because their relations with both Syria and Israel are pretty poor at the moment.

MS. NULAND: Well the conditions in Syria aren't suitable for a serious effort. But we all hope that we will have a new day in Syria and there will be another opportunity for her to make peace with her neighbors.

QUESTION: But were the Turks at all involved in this effort that –

MS. NULAND: I don't have any information one way or the other to share.


QUESTION: Staying on Israel, has the U.S. been in contact with Israel about the drone, the Hezbollah drone that Israel says they shot down over the weekend?

MS. NULAND: We've obviously seen the media reports about the shoot-down of this by the Israeli military of an unmanned aerial drone over the Negev. Our Embassy has been in contact with Israeli officials about the incident, but I'm going to send you to the Government of Israel for whatever details they might have about what it exactly was.


MS. NULAND: Anything else?



QUESTION: Has there been any more talk with Syria about this – sorry, with Turkey – about the Syrian plane that was stopped in Turkey, and any more information on whether there were, in fact, Russian weapons on that plane?

MS. NULAND: We've had a pretty comprehensive accounting from the Turkish side of precisely what they found. But I'm going to leave it to them to share in public what they found. I think Prime Minister Erdogan made some pretty definitive statements about that. We have no doubt that this was serious military equipment.

QUESTION: So you have raised this with the Russians?

MS. NULAND: We have been in contact with the Russians about it as well. As you know, we were pretty definitive publicly about our grave concern that this kind of activity continues, particularly by a Security Council member.

QUESTION: Right, understood. But yesterday you hadn't, but you weren't aware if you had yet spoken to the Russians about --

MS. NULAND: We have.

QUESTION: And where was that? Who was that? Do you know?

MS. NULAND: My understanding is we've talked to them both in Moscow and from here, but I know we've talked to them from here, but I'm not sure whether in that conversation this particular issue came up. But certainly in Moscow, it has.

QUESTION: What – well, then if it wasn't this issue, was there something else that – they were talking (inaudible)?

MS. NULAND: There was a conversation yesterday on the CTR issue, among other things. Yeah, please.

QUESTION: Just to make sure. Is that – is your understanding that it was – let's say military equipment coming from the government, or a private company taking it into Syria?

MS. NULAND: I'm going to let the Turks characterize exactly what they – where they think the stuff originated from, and where they think it was going.

QUESTION: You also said that this was very troubling because it came from a Security Council member.

MS. NULAND: Right.

QUESTION: Is that right?

MS. NULAND: Correct.

QUESTION: But in fact, there are no Security Council sanctions on Syria, are there?

MS. NULAND: There are no Security Council sanctions on Syria because Security Council members Russia and China continue to block those.

QUESTION: Right. But I mean, this isn't a violation of anything.

MS. NULAND: No. But everybody else on the Security Council is doing what it can unilaterally to ensure that the Assad regime is not getting support from the outside.

QUESTION: So, I mean, what – you're saying that the Russians did something wrong here?

MS. NULAND: We are saying, as we have been saying for almost a year now, that no responsible country ought to be aiding and abetting the war machine of the Assad regime.

QUESTION: Fair enough, but I mean --

MS. NULAND: And particularly those with responsibilities for global peace and security, as UN Security Council members have.

QUESTION: Right. But regardless of why the Security Council hasn't imposed any sanctions on Syria, on Assad – the Assad regime, there still are no sanctions on the Assad regime.

MS. NULAND: You are legally correct and –

QUESTION: Well, you know then --

MS. NULAND: -- the policy's still morally bankrupt.

QUESTION: So the Russians are morally bankrupt?

MS. NULAND: I did not put it that way.

QUESTION: Well, you just said that – (laughter) –

QUESTION: Well, we all know that.

QUESTION: Morally bankrupt, you’re not talking about the United States policy are you? Or that of the 13th –

MS. NULAND: I am not.

QUESTION: So you are talking about the Russians and the Chinese --

MS. NULAND: So there was some reason to have this briefing today.

QUESTION: -- policy.

MS. NULAND: Go ahead, Goyal.


MS. NULAND: Very nice tie. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Indian navy has test-fired a cruise missile which can reach 290 or more kilometers. Any comments, or if U.S. knew in advance or was informed?

MS. NULAND: Sounds like a question for our Pentagon brothers. I don’t have anything for you on the Indian navy today.

QUESTION: And sisters.

MS. NULAND: And sisters, yes. Thank you.

QUESTION: And China?

MS. NULAND: China.

QUESTION: China, quickly. China has rejected a U.S. House panel report and – saying that the U.S. doing business in China is a security risk, and also, at the same time, many Chinese companies and – are taking all the U.S. secrets and obtaining from here and also applying in China. So do you have any comments on this, China’s –

MS. NULAND: We talked about this – I think it was Monday or Tuesday, Goyal, and at the time I suggested that you talk to the House committee because they’re the ones who were the authors of the report.

QUESTION: But my question is: China is saying that China is not a security risk for the U.S. business between West and China. It’s just a hoax.

MS. NULAND: Well, I also gave a long comment – I think it was Monday – with regard to our bilateral dialogue on cybersecurity and how important we consider that not only in government-to-government affairs, but also in protecting the intellectual property and other – of our business sector.

QUESTION: And quickly on Pakistan, Imran Khan, the famous cricketer and also now politician, is leading and has led an anti-U.S. demonstration from all the way from Islamabad to around the country against U.S. drone attacks, and he said that U.S. drone attacks are killing, basically, the innocent Pakistanis.

MS. NULAND: Was there a question in there, Goyal?

QUESTION: I mean, any comments on his mission and message or kind of his leading the mass demonstrations?

MS. NULAND: Well, obviously that we support the right of peaceful protest here in this country, but I’m not going to comment at all on any intelligence matters.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MS. NULAND: Okay. Thanks.

(The briefing was concluded at 1:41 p.m.)

DPB #175

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