The Cable

Clinton promises answers on Benghazi attack

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton wrote to House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrel Issa (R-CA) Tuesday afternoon to pledge the State Department's full cooperation with Congress in getting to the bottom of the Sept. 11 attack on the Benghazi consulate that killed Amb. Chris Stevens and three other Americans.

"I appreciate that you and your committee are deeply interested in finding out what happened leading up to and during the attacks in Benghazi, and are looking for ways to prevent it from happening again. I share that commitment," Clinton wrote in the letter, obtained by The Cable. "Nobody will hold this department more accountable than we hold ourselves -- we served with Chris Stevens, Sean Smith, Glen Doherty, and Tyrone Woods."

Clinton said that the State Department's Accountability Review Board will begin work this week and the letter revealed the names of all five board members. In addition to former Deputy Secretary of State Thomas Pickering, who will lead the board, the other members will be former Joint Chiefs Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen (ret.), Catherine Bertini, Hugh Turner, and Richard Shinnick.

Clinton asked Issa to withhold any final conclusions about the Benghazi attack until the review board finishes its work and reports to Congress, which could come as early as November or as late as early next year. She pledged to work with Issa's committee and asked him to submit any requests for information or witnesses at hearings to the State Department's Office of Legislative Affairs.

Clinton was responding to a Monday letter from Issa, first reported by The Daily Beast, claiming that committee had received information "from individuals with direct knowledge of the events in Libya" that the Sept. 11 attack was "the latest in a long line of attacks" on Western diplomatic assets in Benghazi.

The Benghazi consulate was attacked two other times in 2012, Issa wrote, including one previously disclosed bomb attack that shattered an outer wall of the compound in June and a newly disclosed incident where an attacker threw a bomb over the compound wall in April.

"It was clearly never, as Administration officials once insisted, the result of a popular protest," Issa wrote. "In addition, multiple U.S. federal government officials have confirmed to the committee that prior to the Sept. 11 attack, the U.S. mission in Libya made repeated requests for addition security in Benghazi. The mission in Libya, however, was denied these resources by officials in Washington."

Clinton did not address any of those claims in her response, except to say that she would provide those answers to Congress pending the results of the investigation.

In his letter, Issa said that the House Oversight Committee plans to hold a hearing on the security conditions at the consulate leading up to the attack and asked for State Department officials to attend.

State Department Spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told reporters at Tuesday's briefing that State would provide witnesses, but the Clinton letter made no promises to that effect. Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Beth Jones was in Tripoli today to meet with Libyan officials and urge cooperation in the investigation.

"We want to get to the bottom of precisely what happened and learn any lessons that we need to learn from it. We're taking this very, very seriously," Nuland said. "I think it's fair to say that we are still working through what we have in this building in terms of documentation, in terms of information about what we knew, who knew it, when they knew it, and that's part of the process that we have to go through."

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The Cable

Taiwan gets into Visa Waiver Program but no senior officials attend Taiwan business conference

Taiwan has officially been admitted to the U.S. Visa Waiver Program, allowing Taiwanese to more easily visit the United States, but no senior State or Defense Department officials attended the annual U.S.-Taiwan business conference this week.

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano announced Taiwan's admittance Tuesday, adding the island to the list of 36 countries that have already joined the program.

"Today's announcement is a major step forward in our long-standing economic partnership with Taiwan," Napolitano said. "Taiwan's participation in the VWP will not only stimulate tourism in the United States, it will also enable us to work together to maintain the strictest security standards."

A senior State Department official speaking to reporters on background touted the economic benefits of Taiwan's entrance into the Visa Waiver Program and commented on the Obama administration's decision not to send any high-level officials to the annual U.S.-Taiwan Business Council meeting late last month in Hershey, PA.

Taiwanese and American organizers were notified in September that despite the participation of senior State Department and Defense officials at the conference in previous years, this year Assistant Secretary of Defense for Asian and Pacific Affairs Mark Lippert and Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Kurt Campbell would not attend due to "scheduling issues."

The State Department official said the department sent officials from the Office of Taiwan Coordination, the section of EAP that deals with Taiwan issues.

"We did have a number of folks from the State Department and I understand from the Department of Defense attend yesterday and today," the official said. "Even though we did not have a formal speaker there, we did have a number of participants."

Meanwhile, President Obama's 2010 promise to admit Poland into the program remains unfulfilled. Poland is the only member of the 25-country "Schengen area" not able to travel to the United States without obtaining a visa in advance.

A senior DHS official said that a key reason Poland was not admitted to the program was because its visa refusal rate -- the percentage of people rejected for tourism visas because they are judged to be immigration violation risks -- had not fallen below 3 percent.

President Obama has expressed support for legislation called the Jolt Act, which would speed Poland's admittance into the program, but Congress hasn't passed the bill.

Obama's 2010 promise came in a press conference with Polish President Bronislaw Komorowski.

"I am going to make this a priority," Obama said, sitting alongside Komorowski. "And I want to solve this issue before very long. My expectation is, is that this problem will be solved during my presidency."