18 September 2012

Egypt: U.S. State Department Daily Press Briefing: Libya & Egypt


Excerpts from the United States Department daily press briefing:



QUESTION: The Independent reports that there was a Bureau of Diplomatic Security alert in the region two days before the Benghazi attack. Can you confirm that?

MS. NULAND: I don't have anything on that. I haven't heard that or seen that one.

QUESTION: Not necessarily Libya-specific, but in the region.

MS. NULAND: Well, first of all, I don't think I would speak about specific security warnings one way or the other. But I have to say to you, that I haven't heard that. Obviously, as we have been saying for several days, all of these things are going to be looked at in the context of the FBI investigation.

QUESTION: You also said there was no contract with a private security firm in Libya, and yet apparently some British security guards were hired. Is that your way of saying you didn't contract with a firm but you did hire individual security guards?

MS. NULAND: Thank you for that, because there was an error in what I said. The external security, external armed security, as we have been saying, outside of the perimeter, was fully handled by the Libyan side. There was no contract - contracting out of that. There was a group called Blue Mountain Group, which is a private security company with permits to operate in Libya. They were hired to provide local Libyan guards who operated inside the gate doing things like operating the security access equipment, screening the cars, that kind of thing.


QUESTION: Just to clarify, they were contracted by the U.S. State Department or another agency - Blue Mountain?

MS. NULAND: They were contracted by the Department.

QUESTION: And Blue Mountain is a British company?

MS. NULAND: I'm going to let them self-identify on that front. But the people who were hired were Libyans.

QUESTION: Yes. Changing topic --

QUESTION: No, no. So that's the first thing that has been wrong - I don't know if there are others - from what we were told initially. Is there anything else that you've discovered that was incorrect?

MS. NULAND: There's nothing else that I have that needs correcting at the moment, Matt. I'll let you know.


QUESTION: Any more information on the investigation, on the timeline? There continues to be some question about whether the protests had all but dissipated before the attack in Benghazi began, or whether or not the protest was robust and ongoing and this attack at least used it for cover. And there also continue to be, frankly, some apparent differences between the characterization here that it was a coordinated attack and Ambassador Rice's assertion that it basically kind of grew out of the protest.

MS. NULAND: Well, on your last point, I spoke to this extensively yesterday, making clear that Ambassador Rice was speaking on behalf of the government with regard to our initial assessments. I don't have any more details beyond those that we've already shared, and I don't expect to because I think all of the information is going to go to the FBI for their investigation, and when they're completed, then we'll have more information.

QUESTION: The idea that it grew - that the protest may have been used as cover, can you say whether or not the protest had basically dissipated when the attacks began?

MS. NULAND: I personally have no more information than what I've given you, and I don't think that we as a government will be talking about these details until the FBI has completed its investigation so that we don't prejudice it.

QUESTION: Do you know if any of these Blue Mountain Group guards were killed or injured?

MS. NULAND: I do not. I don't have any information one way or the other on that.

QUESTION: Do you know how many there were?

MS. NULAND: I don't. I don't think we would probably talk about the number. But again, you're talking about the guys who run things like the metal detectors and that kind of thing, not the external security with the weapons.

QUESTION: Right. No, I understand. I'm concerned because we were told not once, not twice, numerous times over, that there were no security contractors involved in --

MS. NULAND: Well, that was the information I had, and it turned out not to be correct.

QUESTION: No, I understand. But I - but now my concern is that there is - that there may be other information that we were given before that is incorrect and that you are just - or that the Administration is just going to let stand out there incorrect because of this - the guise of the FBI investigation. And I think it's inappropriate and irresponsible if there - if you are aware of information that was given to us that is incorrect to let it stand out there as being incorrect. And so I just want to make sure that when you say that you're not aware, are you absolutely sure that right now, to the best of your knowledge, nothing else that was told to us on Wednesday or whenever that background call was, there's nothing else in that call that was incorrect? Or are you - or is there stuff that's incorrect and you're just not going to tell us what it is because of the investigation?

MS. NULAND: Here's what I'm going to say to you: We spoke in those initial days to our initial assessment, as did Ambassador Rice. Any further information that we are, as a government, unearthing now is going to go into the FBI investigation, and they will make a complete report when they are finished. They are not going to be giving it to me and therefore I am not going to be privy to it to give it to you. I'm not even sure they're going to give it to this Department until they're completed.

So I know that is frustrating, but I have made a personal pledge to you, Matt, that if I find errors in what I have said that I can share with you and fix, I will, as I did today.

QUESTION: Okay. So that - this was one.

MS. NULAND: This was one.


QUESTION: Can you give us some context on why that happened? I mean, is it very unusual? Is this the only instance where a firm like this is contracted who then subcontract to local security guards?

MS. NULAND: My understanding is that this particular function, the hiring of local guards to do things like operate the access equipment, screen cars, et cetera, is not uncommon to use a contractor to find the best local people for that function.

QUESTION: And is this a company that you have worked with in the past or are still currently working with, or was this the first time that you worked with them?

MS. NULAND: They are still under contract pending a full assessment of the security situation is what I have here. Whether we've worked with them elsewhere, I think the issue in this particular case was that they had Libyan permits to do this kind of hiring.

So - Said.

QUESTION: And you have said that Libyans lost their lives in this attack. Were members of the security firm - were victims members of the security firm?

MS. NULAND: I do not know the answer. I think that will also come forward in the investigation.

QUESTION: Can I just ask --


QUESTION: I'm not begrudging the fact that you gave - that you told us this, but why - what's different about this bit of information than something about the timeline? How is this okay to correct --

MS. NULAND: Because I had --

QUESTION: -- and other things might not be.

MS. NULAND: I had inaccurate information, which I gave to you, which has since been corrected. So there were people who saw the transcript who were not involved in the original assembling of information for me who came forward and said, no, we need to fix this. And so we have.

QUESTION: All right. And just to the best of your knowledge at this moment, there is nothing else that needs to be corrected?

MS. NULAND: There is not to my knowledge. But again, my knowledge is not going to be complete until there's an investigation.

QUESTION: Yesterday, you said the investigation would be joint between both the Libyans and the United States. Is it --

MS. NULAND: I think I didn't quite say that, Dana. What I said --

QUESTION: You said --

MS. NULAND: What I said was that the Libyans have an investigation. We also have an open FBI investigation, and they are going to collaborate with each other. And we now have FBI in Libya starting that process.

QUESTION: And so, as the Libyans are - they've been saying a lot of things and giving, sort of, frequent updates on what they view as their investigation. Are we going to hear anything from here about that or --

MS. NULAND: You're not going to hear anything from here unless my guidance changes. Whether you're going to hear anything from the FBI, I think that's their decision. We - when we open a criminal investigation in the United States, generally, we don't brief out in pieces until the investigation is complete so we don't prejudice the outcome. I have to respect their process, obviously.

QUESTION: Just a follow-up on that. In instances like this where you have the FBI investigating in a foreign country, does the FBI operate as a completely independent entity? Or do they operate sort of under State Department rules and regulations?

MS. NULAND: Well, obviously, they come like any visiting interagency team operating with the support of the embassy platform. They will work themselves with the Libyans, but they'll obviously seek the Embassy's political support, guidance, et cetera, to the extent that they need it, and we'll hear back here in Washington if they need any further support from us.

QUESTION: And so they don't - for instance, they don't sort of become temporary embassy personnel or anything like that?

MS. NULAND: Well, they are what we call TDY-ers in-country -- temporary duty personnel in-county of the U.S. Government if that makes sense. Generally, they're expected to obviously abide by the same rules of the nation and respect for our protocols as other agencies.

QUESTION: And you mentioned that they do have staff now in Libya --

MS. NULAND: That's my --

QUESTION: -- (inaudible) that's in Benghazi. Do you know when they arrived there?

MS. NULAND: I'm going to send you to them for more details. My understanding is that they have now -- they are now there.

QUESTION: Can you --

QUESTION: Just the last one on this, had the question not been asked, how were you going to relate this correction to us?

MS. NULAND: I was going to talk to you about it afterwards on background.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Is there a commitment from the U.S. Administration that this - the findings of this investigation will be made public?

MS. NULAND: I don't know the answer to that. I think we need to do the investigation first. Clearly, there's going to be a lot of interest, but I think we're - it's premature to talk about whether any, all, or most will be able to be made public. We have to see what we find, I would guess. But I'll talk to the - I would send you to the FBI for their protocols on these things.

QUESTION: Yes, please, Egypt?

MS. NULAND: Egypt, yeah.

QUESTION: It was reported today that negotiations or the talks about the stimulus or the economic program package is - are on hold. Is it a right characterization this, or what's going on?

MS. NULAND: I have to say that we found that particular piece of reporting pretty puzzling, given the fact that I'm quoted in the story from yesterday making clear how absolutely committed we are to moving forward to support reform and economic restoration in Egypt. So we are continuing to work with the Congress on these issues. As you know, we had the delegation led by Under Secretary Hormats about two weeks ago to talk to the Egyptian side about the needs that they see. Then we had Deputy Secretary Nides in Egypt with the business delegation. And we're also looking at how we support prosperity and growth there.

So as I said yesterday, particularly in the light of this kind of extremist and spoiler activity that wants to sort of turn back the clock now, we think it is absolutely essential that we support those forces in Egypt who want to build a peaceful, stable, democratic country with prosperity restored, jobs for people, et cetera. And that's what the assistance that the President has pledged and that we are working with the Hill on is for.

QUESTION: So when you say puzzling, I mean is this a diplomatic --

MS. NULAND: Sorry?

QUESTION: When you say puzzling, is this --

MS. NULAND: As in wrong. (Laughter.) As in wrong.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) the talks on - have not been delayed then (inaudible)?

MS. NULAND: They have not.

QUESTION: So the - my next question is regarding - so you talk about negotiations or talks are going to be done within the coming days. Still these talks are on?

MS. NULAND: Well, we are working with the Congress now on how we will move forward on this. We've talked to - we've made an initial budget request. As you know, we have worked with the Egyptians on precisely how we see breaking down this support. And now we have to work with the Congress on ensuring we can move forward.

QUESTION: One, is it not correct that members of Congress have expressed concern about this money?

MS. NULAND: Well, obviously you've seen the press reporting that we've seen, which is why the Secretary is looking forward to having an opportunity to talk through these issues with members of Congress.

QUESTION: All right. And then secondly, there is still a certification requirement on this - on some of the - not the - perhaps not the debt relief, but on the aid. Is that - that is correct, right?

MS. NULAND: Well, she made her waiver earlier.


MS. NULAND: There are notification requirements, but those go up --

QUESTION: But there's - okay. So all the certifications that are needed for this money have already been done?

MS. NULAND: To my knowledge, yes. But if I didn't get that right, we'll get back to you.

QUESTION: Because - I don't know for sure, but can you check to see if it wasn't for the last fiscal year and not --

MS. NULAND: I think it was for FY12 is my understanding. The ones that we made in March or April were for FY12.

QUESTION: Right. Which includes this?

MS. NULAND: Correct.

QUESTION: What's the difference between certification and notification?

MS. NULAND: The Secretary had certain requirements that the Congress put on last year, where she had to make certifications to them with regard to democracy progress, with regard to their commitment to their international obligations, including vis-à-vis Israel. Those were the certifications that were made earlier in the spring. Notification is when you tell the Congress how you intend to spend money that they've already agreed to.

QUESTION: Could you quickly tell us what is the situation of the U.S. Embassy in Cairo today?

MS. NULAND: Yeah. The U.S. Embassy in Cairo is open today. I think we are - we even have - had visa services today. Our consulate general in Alexandria is still closed.

Okay. In the back.

(The briefing was concluded at 1:54 p.m.)

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