Next Ambassador to Libya Says She'll Call Washington If She Has Security Concerns

May 8, 2013 - 9:45 AM

Deborah Kay Jones

Veteran diplomat Deborah Kay Jones is expected to be confirmed as the next U.S. ambassador to Libya.

(CNSNews.com) - "What have you done to cause people to send you to Libya?" Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) joked at Deborah Kay Jones's confirmation hearing on Tuesday.

President Obama has named Jones to succeed Ambassador Chris Stevens, who was murdered in the terror attack in Benghazi on Sept.11, 2012. She told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that major challenges remain in Libya, including the security of Americans posted there:

"An ambassador doesn't wake up without considering security," Jones told the three senators who showed up for the hearing. "That just goes part and parcel with the job. And you know, when I was the ambassador in Kuwait, even though it's a very different situation, I didn't wake up one morning without thinking what possibly could happen to us that day."

If security concerns do arise, Jones said she'll reach out to Washington, something the late Chris Stevens also did, without result.

"I have, throughout my career... certainly in later years, and certainly as ambassador and principle officer, always had a direct connection and picked up the phone with Washington -- worked very closely with security at post, worked very closely with (Diplomatic Security) and other agencies at post who have access to intelligence and other assets," Jones said.

"It is the role of Ambassador -- the Ambassador is the principle security officer at post. And it's the ambassador who has to decide whether to allow people to travel here or there, whether to ask for additional assets, whether to insist on additional assets; and if you don't get the answers you need, you pick up the phone and speak to the people who are responsible for that. That's what I intend to do -- that's what I have always done."

Starting in July 2012, two months before he and three other Americans were killed in Benghazi, Stevens sent several cables to the State Department requesting extra security, but apparently he did not call Washington.

In an Aug. 2 cable, Stevens described the situation in Libya "unpredictable, volatile and violent."

Months later, a State Department report on the terror attack in Benghazi pointed out lapses in Washington: "The Board found that certain senior State Department officials within two bureaus demonstrated a lack of proactive leadership and management ability in their responses to security concerns posed by Special Mission Benghazi, given the deteriorating threat environment and the lack of reliable host government protection."

The Accountability Review Board report also noted that "Security in Benghazi was not recognized and implemented as a 'shared responsibility' by the bureaus in Washington charged with supporting the post, resulting in stove-piped discussions and decisions on policy and security. That said, Embassy Tripoli did not demonstrate strong and sustained advocacy with Washington for increased security for Special Mission Benghazi."

Defeating Libya's "volatile and rogue militias" will prevent a repeat of the tragedy in Benghazi, Jones told the committee on Tuesday. Those who killed Stevens "must be brought to justice," she said, adding that she "will work closely with the Libyan government to see that justice is realized."

Jones also told the Senate panel it's in the best interests of the American people and the Libyan people to get another ambassador on the ground as soon as possible:

She mentioned that after President Obama nominated her, she received a number of emails from private Libyan citizens, "welcoming me to Libya and offering their hopes for the relationship to continue strongly. And we've lost a lot of time...we need to get going on this."

Jones said she plans to get out as much as she can, beginning with a "terrain walk" with her security detail.

And while she may not be able to mingle with ordinary Libyans as much as she would like, Jones noted there are "other ways of connecting with people, such as Skype and other media connections.

Earlier in her testimony, Jones described the major challenges in Libya as rebuilding democratic institutions and civil society organizations that were suppressed under 40 years of Gaddafi rule; consolidating control over militias -- "some clearly hijacked by those whose purposes have nothing to do whatsoever with the well-being of the Libyan people"; and ensuring that all Libyans are "represented and respected" in the new government.

Asked if she thinks the United States has underestimated the challenges in Libya, Jones said she won't know until she gets there: "I certainly know that we've had a setback in these last 8, 9  months without having an ambassador on the ground. It's certainly set us back in our efforts to support the government there.

"You know, beyond that...did we underestimate? I think that again, progress after these kinds of transitions, it is unpredictable, it is organic, it is not linear, it is not formulaic, and I think we just have to double our efforts because what I do know is that if we're not there making the effort, we most certainly will lose out. You know, we've never won a battle we haven't shown up for."