State Department defends Benghazi decisions

Patrick Kennedy, the State Department's undersecretary for management, faced questioning for the first time since a Republican House committee report faulted him in his management role at the State Department for security lapses leading up to the Sept. 11, 2012 terrorist attacks on Americans in Benghazi, Libya.

Republicans pummeled Kennedy while Democrats largely defended him and the State Department. Questions ranged from why four of Kennedy's subordinates faced disciplinary action for "leadership" failures, while Kennedy and other more senior officials did not; to why Kennedy did not wish to deploy an inter-agency emergency response team.

A Republican House Oversight Committee report released Monday quoted State Department witnesses as saying it was Kennedy who authorized the temporary nature of the Benghazi compound, which left State Department diplomatic security "struggling" to provide adequate resources; that Kennedy approved the exemption of the Benghazi special mission from State Department physical security guidelines; and that it was Kennedy's decision to send home the 16-man military security team the Defense Department had offered to provide at no cost to the State Department.

At Wednesday's hearing, Kennedy also acknowledged publicly for the first time what CBS News reported last May: that he advised against deploying the government's interagency Foreign Emergency Support Team known as "FEST."

"The ARB downplayed Kennedy's role in the decision-making that led to the inadequate security posture in Benghazi," concluded the Republican report.

Kennedy told members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee that he did not approve U.S. Ambassador to Libya Christopher Stevens' and his security team's requests to keep the 16-man military site security team (SST) because its mission had concluded, they wouldn't have helped in Benghazi, and they were replaced with Diplomatic Security officers. But the head of the SST team, Lt. Col. Andrew Wood has told CBS News that he would likely have sent at least some of his men to Benghazi with Stevens had they been allowed to stay, and that his soldiers had specialized training in counterterrorism that the Diplomatic Security officers did not have.

"They worked their way out of a job," Kennedy told Rep. Joe Wilson, R-S.C., of the military SST, "which is the case when we borrow personnel from the Defense Department and then we replace them with State Department assets." Wilson replied, "Well, it's hard to imagine they worked their way out of a job when four people died."

Kennedy partly blamed limited funding as to why the U.S. compound in Benghazi wasn't safer. "The best defense is the ability to construct new facilities..." said Kennedy. He also said the State Department only had Marine security guard detachments to deploy to 152 out of 285 posts and Benghazi was not among those staffed.

Asked why he didn't want the FEST team deployed to Benghazi, Kennedy said there was "no need for it."

"I said no for two reasons," Kennedy told Rep. Christopher Smith, R-N.J. "I was simply asked do I need the capabilities of the FEST. And since it did not bring any military assets to bear, [and] it was based in the U.S. and would have taken at least 16 or 18" hours.

Kennedy's view of FEST is at odds with that of FEST leader Mark Thompson. He previously testified that Benghazi was precisely the sort of crisis to which his team is trained to respond, and that nobody knew at the outset how long the crisis was going to last. FEST's mission statement describes a seasoned team of counterterrorism professionals who can respond "quickly and effectively to terrorist attacks... providing the fastest assistance possible" including "hostage negotiating expertise" and "time-sensitive information and intelligence."

Obama administration officials argue FEST most certainly wouldn't have made it to Benghazi in time. But officials familiar with FEST say it could have helped pave the way for the FBI to get into Benghazi much faster than the three weeks that it ultimately took. An administration official who was part of the Benghazi response told CBS News of FEST last May: "I wish we'd sent it."

As to the location of Benghazi survivors, Kennedy said "one was seriously injured in the second attack and is still in the hospital, the other four have resumed duties" in posts around the world.

The State Department has declined to make the survivors available for interviews with congressional investigators. House Oversight Committee chairman Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., has threatened to issue subpoenas for their testimony of Secretary of State John Kerry doesn't change his mind about producing them.

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    Sharyl Attkisson is a CBS News investigative correspondent based in Washington.