Meanwhile, the volatility of Benghazi was underscored on Thursday when four people were killed when a protest outside a base for Libyan security forces turned violent, according to an official there. On Sunday, four policemen were shot dead when militants attacked the same security compound in Benghazi.
The State Department's diplomatic security budget increased from about $200 million in 1998 to $1.8 billion in 2008, according to the Government Accountability Office. Much of that has gone into physical upgrades at embassies and consulates to meet specifications adopted after the deadly 1998 bombings of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.
Yet the GAO said in November that the bulk of the growth has been reactive in places like Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan. It also said there had been little long-range strategic planning, which has made it difficult for the diplomatic security bureau to do its job in an efficient and comprehensive way.
Nides noted that money for construction has been significantly reduced so that the number of new compounds being built has dropped from the goal of 10 per year to two.
Republicans tangled with Burns and Nides over whether warning signs of a deteriorating security situation were ignored and why the department didn't ask Congress for money to boost security at the mission in the eastern Libyan city that was left relatively lawless after the revolution that toppled strongman Moammar Gadhafi.
The fallout from the Benghazi attack and the initial explanation offered by the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice, that it was the result of a protest against an American-made, anti-Islam video has become deeply partisan. Republicans accused the administration of trying to cover up a terrorist incident to help President Barack Obama's re-election bid.
The Senate hearing was largely free of such allegations but some House members took the opportunity to accuse each other of unnecessary and destructive partisanship.
Retiring Rep. Gary Ackerman, D-N.Y., said the hearing was a "ruse" designed to make the Obama administration look bad, a statement that drew a quick rebuke from Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Calif., who said Ackerman's accusation was partisan in itself.
Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., ticked off a long list of incidents involving Westerners in Libya in the months before the raid, including attacks with rocket-propelled grenades and improvised explosive devices. Just two days before the Sept. 11 assault, Stevens had requested additional security.
Burns pointed out that the report found no "specific tactical threat," but said Inhofe was correct to identify a troubling pattern. "We did not do a good enough job in trying to connect the dots," Burns said. "We made the mistaken assumption that we wouldn't become a major target."
Stevens was killed in the attack along with information specialist Sean Smith and former Navy SEALs Glen Doherty and Tyrone Woods, who were contractors working for the CIA. Stevens was the first U.S. ambassador killed in the line of duty since 1979.
The conclusions of the Accountability Review Board that Clinton convened led to the resignation or reassignment of four State Department officials who worked in two bureaus — Diplomatic Security and Near East Affairs — that were singled out for the harshest criticism in the report.
The resignations did little to mollify lawmakers who insisted that Clinton testify in the coming weeks despite her plan to leave the administration. Kerry said she would appear before the panel in January.
"She is ultimately responsible for the department and U.S. posts around the world. Her testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee is indispensable to any effort to address this failure and put in place a process to ensure this never happens again," said Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla.
Associated Press writers Kimberly Dozier, Donna Cassata and Richard Lardner contributed to this report.
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