Carney: White House, Congress must cooperate on embassy security reform

Four senior State Department officials have resigned in the wake of an independent review of the Benghazi attack, which left four Americans dead including U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens. 

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The Accountability Review Board (ARB), led by former U.S. Ambassador Thomas Pickering and former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen, found “systemic failures and leadership and management deficiencies at senior levels” of the State Department, but it also placed blame on Congress for cutting funds.

Top State Department officials appeared before the House and Senate Foreign Relations committees on Thursday to respond to the board's findings. 

However, the White House is already moving forward with instituting the recommendations put forth by the ARB, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney told reporters on Thursday. 

"We have an obligation to them, to their families, and all other Americans serving abroad to figure out exactly what happened, and learn from those mistakes so that we can prevent this from happening again," Carney told reporters on Thursday. "That was the purpose of the establishment of the Accountability Review Board."

Carney noted that President Obama had been briefed on the board's findings but could not confirm whether the president had read the report itself. 

The report's findings showed the chain of events leading up to the Benghazi attack were "unacceptable" and indicated "a problem that needs to be fixed," Carney said. 

"The board has put forward a set of clear recommendations, and . . . we will have implementation of every recommendation underway by the time the next Secretary of State takes office," the White House spokesman said. 

That said, further disciplinary and oversight efforts called for by the ARB will require congressional participation and consent, Carney noted, adding that such would will require cooperation from both ends of Pennsylvania Ave. 

"Some of it will have to do with working with Congress to ensure that Congress provides the necessary funds to allow for enhanced security at our diplomatic missions around the world," he said. 

Defense conferees on Tuesday included language to add 1,000 Marines to the Pentagon’s embassy security force, assigned to protect American diplomatic outposts across the globe, as part of the Pentagon's fiscal year 2013 budget policy bill. 

However, "there is obviously more action that needs to be taken. But this is a very serious report," Carney added. 

Sens. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.), John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) are expected to shed a little more light on how that cooperation will take place during a press conference on Capitol Hill scheduled for Friday. 

All three lawmakers have been highly critical of the administration's response to the Benghazi attack and the management of its aftermath. 

At one point, McCain accused the White House of "a massive cover up" of the Benghazi incident, noting the administration's shifting stories on exactly who was responsible for the strike. 

Initially administration officials claimed the attack was the result of a protest that got out of control. Later, White House officials admitted the attack was the work of Islamic militants operating in Benghazi. 

Despite that confusion, Carney reiterated that "accountability [is] being upheld" by the White House, noting the recent resignations of State Department leaders and the administration's willingness to adopt the ARB's findings. 

"The report has been assessed . . . to have been sharply critical and very blunt and clear-eyed about both problems that exist, problems that need to be fixed, and the need for accountability, and actions are already have been taken," Carney said in response to recent State Department resignations. 

"Four people have already, in one way or another, been held accountable -- fairly senior people,"  Carney added. "The President believes that the recommendations and the actions taken have been the right ones."