State Department officials concede ‘systemic failure’ during Benghazi hearings

WASHINGTON — Speaking before the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations and the House Committee on Foreign Affairs on Thursday, Deputy Secretaries of State William Burns and Thomas Nides acknowledged that a “systemic failure” led to the deaths of four Americans at the U.S. Embassy in Benghazi on Sept. 11, 2012, and vowed swift implementation of reforms recommended by the Accountability Review Board to avoid future security lapses.

The two deputy secretaries testified in place of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who was unable to appear before the committees due to an illness and concussion. (RELATED: Clinton calls in sick for a third time on Benghazi)

Some Republicans have suggested that Clinton came down with a case of “Benghazi flu,” as GOP Rep. Allen West told Fox News, but Senate committee chair John Kerry, who also happens to be Clinton’s likely successor in the State Department, defended her.

“All of you who know Hillary know she would rather be here today,” Kerry said in his opening remarks. “I know how deeply she feels the importance of the discussion that we’re having toda,y and I assure you it is not her choice that she is not here today and she looks forward to appearing before the committee in January, and I want to make that clear.”

In their remarks, Burns and Nides said that at Secretary Clinton’s direction, they were already working on implementing the 29 reforms recommended in a report released Tuesday by the Accountability Review Board.

“Implementation of each and every recommendation will be well underway by the time the next Secretary of State takes office,” Nides said in his opening remarks. “There will be no higher priority for the Department in the coming weeks and months.”

They acknowledged that the State Department had failed to adequately protect the embassy and its people inside.

“We learned some very hard and painful lessons in Benghazi,” Burns said. “We are already acting on them. We have to do better.”

“Across Eastern Libya for many months before the attack took place in Benghazi, there was a troubling pattern of deteriorating security,” Burns said later in the hearing. “Not all of which was directed at the United States. But there has been tendency, not just in the case of Eastern Libya, but I think across the board in recent years for us to focus too much on specific credible threats.”

A focus of both hearings was the potential need to reallocate more funds to the State Department to ensure that it can adequately fulfill its obligations in high-risk areas.

Nides said that the State Department is “seeking to hire more than 150 additional Diplomatic Security personnel — an increase of five percent — and to provide them with the equipment and training they need.”