In her interview with ABC's Diane Sawyer last week, Hillary Clinton said "I was not making security decisions" about Benghazi, claiming "it would be a mistake" for "a secretary of state" to "go through all 270 posts" and "decide what should be done." And at a January 2013 Senate hearing, Mrs. Clinton said that security requests "did not come to me. I did not approve them. I did not deny them."
Does the former secretary of state not know the law? By statute, she was required to make specific security decisions for defenseless consulates like Benghazi, and was not permitted to delegate them to anyone else.
The Secure Embassy Construction and Counterterrorism Act of 1999, or Secca, was passed in response to the near-simultaneous bombings of U.S. embassies in Nairobi, Kenya, and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, on Aug. 7, 1998. Over 220 people were killed, including 12 Americans. Thousands were injured.
Bill Clinton was president. Patrick Kennedy, now the undersecretary of state for management, was then acting assistant secretary of state for diplomatic security. Susan Rice, now the national security adviser, was then assistant secretary of state for African affairs.
As with the Benghazi terrorist attacks, an Accountability Review Board was convened for each bombing. Their reports, in January 1999, called attention to "two interconnected issues: 1) the inadequacy of resources to provide security against terrorist attacks, and 2) the relative low priority accorded security concerns throughout the U.S. government."
Just as U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens did in 2012, the U.S. ambassador to Kenya, Prudence Bushnell, had made repeated requests for security upgrades in 1997 and 1998. All were denied.
Because the embassies in Kenya and Tanzania had been existing office structures, neither met the State Department's security standard for a minimum 100 foot setback zone. A "general exception" was made. The two review boards faulted the fact that "no one person or office is accountable for decisions on security policies, procedures and resources."
To ensure accountability in the future, the review boards recommended "[f]irst and foremost, the Secretary . . . should take a personal and active role in carrying out the responsibility of ensuring the security of U.S. diplomatic personnel abroad" and "should personally review the security situation of embassy chanceries and other official premises." And for new embassy buildings abroad, "all U.S. government agencies, with rare exceptions, should be located in the same compound."
Congress quickly agreed and passed Secca, a law implementing these (and other) recommendations. It mandated that the secretary of state make a personal security waiver under two circumstances: when the facility could not house all the personnel in one place and when there was not a 100-foot setback. The law also required that the secretary "may not delegate" the waiver decision.
Benghazi did not house all U.S. personnel in one building. There was the consulate and an annex, one of the two situations requiring a non-delegable security waiver by the secretary of state.
In October 2012 the Benghazi Accountability Review Board convened, co-chaired by Amb. Thomas Pickering (Ms. Rice's supervisor in 1998) and Adm. Michael Mullen. It failed even to question Mrs. Clinton for its report about the attacks. It also obfuscated the issue of her personal responsibility for key security decisions by using a word other than "waiver," the passive voice, and no names. Recognizing that the Benghazi consulate (like the Nairobi and Dar es Salaam embassies) was a previously nongovernmental building, the Benghazi review board reported that this "resulted in the Special Mission compound being excepted [my emphasis] from office facility standards and accountability under" Secca. No Hillary fingerprints revealed there.
Mrs. Clinton either personally waived these security provisions as required by law or she violated the law by delegating the waiver to someone else. If it was the latter, she shirked the responsibility she now disclaims: to be personally knowledgeable about and responsible for the security in a consulate as vulnerable as Benghazi.
Ms. Toensing was chief counsel for the Senate Intelligence Committee and deputy assistant attorney general in the Reagan administration.