U.S. State Dept seeks more money, vows reforms after Benghazi
* State Department says learned "painful lessons"
* Officials see progress in hunt for attackers
* Republican senator says dismayed by funding requests
By Andrew Quinn and Susan Cornwell
WASHINGTON, Dec 20 (Reuters) - The U.S. State Department will seek billions of dollars in new funds and revamp security procedures around the globe in response to a critical independent probe into the Sept. 11 attack on the U.S. mission in Benghazi, Libya, senior State Department officials said on Thursday.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's two top deputies appeared at a Senate hearing and conceded that U.S. officials had failed to "connect the dots" ahead of the attack, which killed U.S. Ambassador to Libya Christopher Stevens and three other Americans.
"We learned some very hard and painful lessons in Benghazi. We are already acting on them. We have to do better," Deputy Secretary of State William Burns said.
The State Department announced on Wednesday that its security chief had resigned and three other officials have been relieved of their posts following the report, which cited leadership and management deficiencies, poor coordination among officials and confusion over who had the authority to make decisions..
Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry, tipped to be President Barack Obama's pick to replace Clinton when she steps down next month, chaired the session and led the call for increased funding.
"We need to make certain that we are not penny wise and pound foolish when it comes to supporting America's vital interest overseas," Kerry, a Massachusetts Democrat, told the hearing.
SECURITY SPENDING EYED
Officials say Clinton, unable to appear at the hearing herself due to illness, has already asked for $1.3 billion in funds for the 2013 fiscal year to be re-allocated to improve security at U.S. diplomatic missions.
Additionally, the State Department will request $2.3 billion per year over the next 10 years to further this work.
Deputy Secretary of State Thomas Nides said the department had also formed a task force to implement 29 specific recommendations in the panel's report and sent security assessment teams to 19 U.S. missions in 13 countries.
The department, in cooperation with the Pentagon, intends to send 35 additional Marine detachments, or about 225 uniformed personnel, to beef up security at medium- and high-threat posts and to boost staffing of its own Bureau of Diplomatic Security by about 5 percent, or 150 additional agents, Nides said.
"Implementation of each and every recommendation will be under way by the time the next secretary of state takes office," Nides said.
The Benghazi incident could tarnish Clinton's four-year tenure as secretary of state. But the report does not fault her specifically, and the officials who led the review stopped short of blaming her.
U.S. officials say the assault, which occurred on the anniversary of the Sept 11, 2001, attacks on New York and Washington, was the work of Islamist extremists and have pledged to bring those responsible to justice.
"We are absolutely committed to bringing every resource of the U.S. government to bear to accomplish that," Burns said. "We don't have all the answers yet, but we are working this relentlessly and I think we are making some progress."
Republican Senator Bob Corker, an outspoken critic of the Obama administration's response to Benghazi, said the panel report revealed a "sclerotic" State Department that has failed to make good use of the resources already at its disposal.
"I am dismayed that this hearing has already focused on the need for additional money," Corker said. "We have no idea whether the State Department is using its money wisely or not, and I think that's a shame."
Nides said the department was still coming to terms with widespread changes across the Middle East, and defended the department's overall track record.
"We get this right about 99 percent of the time. We would like to be at 100 percent without question," he said.
Republicans have focused much of their firepower on U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice, who appeared on TV talk shows after the attack and suggested it was the result of a spontaneous protest rather than a planned attack.
The report concluded that there was no such protest and Rice, who had been widely seen as Obama's top pick to succeed Clinton, withdrew her name from consideration last week.
Burns said the assault highlighted the need to take a broader look at security rather than focus on "specific and credible" threats - which officials insist were absent in the case of Benghazi.
"What happened in Benghazi was clearly a terrorist attack," Burns said. "We did not do a good enough job, as the report highlights, in trying to connect the dots."