Condi Rice Downplays Benghazi Criticism

The former secretary of state anticipates review board findings, while a security expert says cost of security at Baghdad, Kabul embassies to blame

Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice
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Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice believes the death of the U.S. ambassador to Libya and three other Americans was not due to any breaches in protocol, pointing instead to the fog created by chaotic situations like the attack on the Benghazi consulate.

Rice, now a professor at Stanford University, told Fox News that it's difficult to know exactly what is going on in situations like this, made more complicated by the necessity of diplomats to often step from behind security walls to do their work effectively.

Her comments come days after the release of emails from the U.S. diplomatic mission in Libya asking Washington for increased security. Republicans and other political opponents of President Barack Obama have framed these documents as an example of the administration's failure to anticipate and handle the situation. Rice, a Republican, served in the administration of President George W. Bush and was briefly mentioned as a possible vice presidential running mate for GOP nominee Mitt Romney.

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"It is not very easy in circumstances like this to know precisely what's going on as it's unfolding," she told Fox's Greta Van Susteren. "There are protocols in place, I have no reason to believe they weren't followed, but it is not very easy in circumstances like this to know precisely what's going on as it's unfolding."

Rice also noted the inherent dangers of diplomacy in insecure countries like Libya.

"You can't keep your diplomats in a bunker, you want them out doing their work," she says. "You want to make certain you're making the right safety precautions for them, as well."

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But one expert tells US News & World Report that protecting diplomats and allowing them to do their work are not mutually exclusive.

"I don't think it's antithetical to diplomacy to have security," says Scott Stewart, a retired Diplomatic Security Special Agent involved in hundreds of terrorism investigations.

Stewart points to the extreme measures taken by groups such as Hezbollah to target their enemies. In 2005, for example, the militant organization and Syrian operatives were suspected of killing former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafic Hariri by detonating roughly 1,000 kg of TNT in a car bomb, effectively leveling a city block.

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"If (they) want to take you out, there's little you can do to protect yourself," Stewart says. "If your embassy is a smoking hole in the ground, or if your ambassador is dead, you can't do any diplomacy."

"There's a balance that needs to be maintained," he says. "There needs to be common sense there."

Stewart says the facility in Benghazi was not a fortified embassy compound, but a rented villa protected by a small group of British and local contractors. It didn't have any "layered security measures," such as a rooftop escape hatch that is standard issue for all embassies following the 1979 attack on the embassy in Islamabad.

"People on the ground were asking for more security, and the department was not responding to those requests," says Stewart. "One of the reasons for that is the budget."

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The incredible costs of maintain diplomatic presences in Baghdad and Kabul take away from the resources at all other embassies worldwide, he says.

"Lower profile people are suffering," he adds.

Current State Secretary Hillary Clinton has been deferring criticism of Obama's response to the Benghazi crisis by citing the department's review board, which will conduct a full investigation of the incident and how it could have been prevented.

"The accountability review board will want to look at what the embassy was communicating about the situation on the ground," Rice said on Fox, "What the State Department was doing in response to the communication about what was going on on the ground, and not just what happened that particular night, but what signs there were early on – what the intelligence picture looked like."