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Read and Weep: Congressional Committee Releases Report Questioning Benghazi ARB Investigation

– By Domani Spero

We know folks are kind of Benghazi’ed out.  We’ve lost count how many hearings Congress has done this past year on Benghazi.  The Republicans can be accused of being on persistent offense, but the Democrats can also be accused of persistent defense.  Meanwhile, our people are out there. Folks are still not talking much about the fact that over 50 personnel rescued out of Benghazi, only 7 were State Department personnel and the rest are OGA people.   How many of them have appeared before Congress to answer some questions?  By the way, for those interested, the Congressional Research Service has a couple of DS-related reports: Securing U.S. Diplomatic Facilities and Personnel Abroad: Legislative and Executive Branch Initiatives, September 12, 2013 and Securing U.S. Diplomatic Facilities and Personnel Abroad: Background and Policy Issues, September 12, 2013.

In any case, you might be Benghazi’ed out, and the House Oversight Committee could easily be accused of partisan witchhunt — because 2016 — but that does not mean that this report has no meat. While this might not be the entire story of what happened inside the State Department in the Benghazi fallout, this tells part of that story.  Mr. Issa’s report used the term “accountability theater” and we can’t say we disagree. It is also not surprising that who you know makes a difference inside the bureaucracy.  While Ambassador Boswell was given access to the classified portion of the ARB, Mr. Bultrowicz did not see the classified ARB until shortly before he appeared before the Committee. Mr. Maxwell did not see the classified ARB until about 6 months later. The classified portion referencing his performance was subsequently declassified. More than a couple of officials indicate confusion as to why Mr. Maxwell was put on administrative leave.  Lee Lohman, the Executive Director for NEA described as “unfair” the treatment received by Mr. Maxwell.

We’re sure senior people would claim they were just doing their jobs in a complicated situation. Or that they were doing the best they could under the circumstances. That maybe, but their best were not/not good enough.  When somebody orders you to do something you know is inherently wrong, would you follow that order or would you rather quit?  One senior official is on the record saying she did not believe Mr. Maxwell’s actions warranted removal as Deputy Assistant Secretary but when asked if she questioned anybody about that, the answer was “no.” So people simply did their jobs and did not ask questions.  That’s that.  Welcome to a lobotomized bureaucracy where smart people do stuff and no longer ask questions.  Quotes below excerpted form the report:

 

Eric Boswell | Assistant Secretary for Diplomatic Security – 

“To answer your question, there’s no appeal process that I know of. I’m a bit disappointed that I didn’t have a chance during the ARB, if they were coming to a conclusion, the conclusion that they did, to ask me about it and ask my views about that judgment. That would happen if you were being — in any other kind of review done by inspectors or GAO or whatever, you get an opportunity to comment. I didn’t get an opportunity to comment; I just saw the conclusion, surprised to see the conclusion.”

Scott Bultrowicz | Director, Diplomatic Security Service – 

“No, look. Here is my thing. I will take responsibility for the decisions I made based on the information I had at hand, okay. I mean, and I’m not looking to point the finger, you know. Accountability cuts a wide swath, I think. So I’m not saying I had nothing to do with this. I mean, it would be shame on me if I said I was completely oblivious to everything. I’m willing to take responsibility for the decisions I made based on the information I had. But, you know, to say, well, you should have managed person A more closely, or you should have been more proactive, that’s pretty general to me. And I mean, you know, it is what it is. I respect the members of that panel. They are all very distinguished officials. But yeah, I have a problem with it. I do. I don’t think it’s something that defines me after 27 years of doing everything I’m asked, or at least to say be more direct in the questioning with me when they had the opportunity.”

Raymond Maxwell | Deputy Assistant Secretary for Maghreb Affairs —

There are people who will say that because they’ll say you’re still getting paid, and because you’re still getting paid, you don’t have any reason to complain. But you know, it’s not about the money. It’s about your reason for being, if you will. And, you know, frankly, I would have been better off had they said you are fired from the State Department. You go today. Your pay stops, and you’re out of here. I would have been better off because I could have contested that or–I mean, I would have contested it. It would have also been behind. It would have all been behind me and I could have started with the next thing. But as things now stand, I’m still employed. There’s still a possibility that I could come back, so it’s not like I can start something new.

I was scheduled to retire on April 30th, and I made the decision to withdraw my retirement request because I didn’t want to go out under this cloud of suspicion that maybe I had done something, that’s the cloud that–my fear of the cloud of suspicion no longer exists because I have embraced my administrative leave-ness, if you will, and it’s no longer a source of shame for me. It’s now–almost–it’s increasingly becoming a source of pride for me. So, it’s not that big a deal anymore. But now there’s a principle. Now there’s a principle that they did something improperly, immorally, maybe even illegally, and if I just take it laying down, guess what, they’ll do it to somebody else again.”

The House Oversight Committee report includes the following cast of characters in addition to the ARB Four, some with direct quotes from the congressional transcript. There appears to be no quotes from Ms. Lamb and Mr. Kennedy; a quick reading of the 100 99-page report did not indicate how many State Department employees appeared before the Committee, or who were requested to appear but did not.

Elizabeth Dibble

Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs

Elizabeth Dibble is the Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Near Eastern Affairs. She is Elizabeth Jones’ deputy, and the second most senior official in the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs.

Jeffrey Feltman

Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs

Jeffrey Feltman was the Assistant Secretary for the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs from August 18, 2009 until May 31, 2012. In December 2011, Feltman requested that Under Secretary for Management Patrick Kennedy approve a continued ad hoc U.S. presence in Benghazi through the end of calendar year 2012. Kennedy approved.

Gregory Hicks

Deputy Chief of Mission, Libya

Gregory Hicks is the former Deputy Chief of Mission in Libya. He testified before the Committee on May 8, 2013, describing in detail the events on the ground and his interactions with Ambassador Chris Stevens on September 11, 2012. The State Department assigned him to a desk job while he awaits an onward assignment.

Elizabeth Jones

Acting Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs

Elizabeth Jones is the Acting Assistant Secretary for Near Eastern Affairs, the most senior official in the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs. Jones was the direct supervisor of Raymond Maxwell, the former Deputy Assistant Secretary for Maghreb Affairs.

Patrick F. Kennedy

Under Secretary of State for Management

Patrick Kennedy, a Career Minister in the Foreign Service, has served as the Under Secretary of State since 2007. Kennedy approved a memorandum that requested to continue the ad hoc U.S. presence in Benghazi through the end of calendar year 2012.

Charlene Lamb

Deputy Assistant Secretary for International Programs

The ARB cited Charlene Lamb for failing to provide the requested number of diplomatic security agents at the Benghazi mission and ignoring efforts by her subordinates to improve the staffing challenges at the mission. Lamb was placed on administrative leave in December 2012.

Lee Lohman

Executive Director, Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs

Lee Lohman was the Executive Director of the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs. Lohman testified that Raymond Maxwell was not involved in any decisions pertaining to the security at Benghazi, and that Patrick Kennedy was highly involved with security decisions that affected Benghazi.

Raymond Maxwell

Deputy Assistant Secretary for Maghreb Affairs

Raymond Maxwell was the only individual in the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs with whom the ARB found fault for the Benghazi attacks. Several witnesses testified that both the ARB and the State Department treated Maxwell unfairly. Maxwell was placed on administrative leave in December 2012.

Brian Papanu

Desk Officer, Libya

Brian Papanu served as the Desk Officer for Libya. He was responsible for obtaining temporary duty staff for Libya and served as a liaison between Washington, D.C. and Tripoli.

William Roebuck

Director, Office of Maghreb Affairs

William Roebuck is the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Maghreb Affairs—the position previously held by Raymond Maxwell. He served as the Chargé d’Affaires to Libya from January to June 2013. Prior to that post, he served as the Director of the Office of Maghreb Affairs, where he was one of the most knowledgeable policymakers on Libya in the State Department. Roebuck considered shutting down the Benghazi mission due to lack of security.

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What’s Missing From the Accountability Review Board Reform Act of 2013 (H.R. 1768)

As we have blogged here previously, U.S. Rep. Ed Royce (R-CA), Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee (HFAC), introduced legislation on April 26, 2013, to increase the independence and transparency of future Accountability Review Boards (ARB). (See HFAC Chairman Ed Royce Introduces “Accountability Review Board Reform Act of 2013” (H.R. 1768)).

The bill currently has 22 co-sponsors and has been referred to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs.

The current regs gave the Secretary of State the authority to appoint four out of five members of the ARB.  Under the proposed legislation, the Secretary of State may now only appoint two members of the Board:

“A Board shall consist of five members, two appointed by the Secretary of State, two appointed by the Chairperson of the Council of Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency (the CIGIE Chairperson), and one appointed by the Director of National Intelligence.”

On the ARB Staff:

“(2) Staff.–

“(A) In general.–A Board may hire staff to assist the Board, and may have any Federal Government employee assigned or detailed to such Board, with or without reimbursement, to assist such Board. Any such assignee or detailee shall retain without interruption the rights, status, and privileges of his or her regular employment.

“(B) Special rule.–Any individual who is hired, assigned, or detailed to assist a Board under subparagraph (A) shall be subject to the rule relating to the avoidance of conflicts of interest under subsection (a) in the same manner and to the same extent as a Member of such a Board is subject to such avoidance under such subsection.

“(C) Office of the Inspector General.–To the maximum extent practicable, individuals assisting the Board shall be employees of the Office of the Inspector General of the Department of State.”.

Here are the ARB staff that may potentially be affected if the ARB Reform Act is passed by the House, the Senate and signed into law:

  • Under current ARB regs, the ARB Staff Officer is a member of the M/PRI staff appointed by the Director of the Office of Management Policy, Rightsizing and Innovation (M/PRI), an office that reports directly to the Under Secretary for Management
  • An ARB Executive Secretary is also appointed by M/PRI when an ARB is convened.  The Executive Secretary coordinates and facilitates the work of that Board. The Executive Secretary will normally be a senior Foreign Service officer or a retired senior Foreign Service officer who is recommended by DGHR/CDA.  DGHR is an office an office that reports directly to the Under Secretary for Management.
  • Experts, consultants and support staff: As determined by the Board the Department will provide the necessary experts, consultants and support staff to enable the Board to carry out its duties effectively and efficiently.
  • S/ES-EX will provide a full-time dedicated administrative support coordinator (detailee or WAE) to assist the Executive Secretary of the ARB, as formalized in Administrative Notice No.05-02, dated February 22, 2005.

H.R. 1768 also addresses conflicts of interest and recusals:

(c) Conflicts of Interest.–Section 302 of the Omnibus Diplomatic Security and Antiterrorism Act is amended by adding at the end the following new subsections

 “(c) Avoidance of Conflicts of Interest.–

“(1) In general.–The Secretary of State, the CIGIE Chairperson, and the Director of National Intelligence may not appoint any individual as a member of a Board if the Secretary, the CIGIE Chairperson, or the Director, as the case may be, determines that such individual has a conflict of interest concerning a person whose performance such Board reasonably could be expected to review.

   “(2) Declining appointment.–An individual shall decline appointment to membership on a Board if such individual has actual knowledge of a conflict of interest concerning a person whose performance such Board could reasonably be expected to review.

  “(3) Recusal from particular activities.–A member of a Board shall recuse him or herself from any Board activity, interview, deposition, or recommendation concerning a person with whom such member has a conflict of interest. Such member shall promptly notify the other members of such Board of any such recusal, but need not state the basis therefor.

The current regs specifies that the ARB report on its findings and program recommendations to the Secretary of State.  To those who are repeatedly harping why the Benghazi ARB did not interview Secretary Clinton, this might be the best answer.  The ARB is supposed to submit its report to the Secretary of State. Does it make sense for the ARB to interview the Secretary when the report is to be submitted to the same Secretary that convenes the Board?

12 FAM 036.3 also specifies that “The Secretary will, not later than 90 days after the receipt of a Board’s program recommendations, submit a report to the Congress on each such recommendation and the action taken or intended to be taken with respect to that recommendation. Note that the regs did not say the Secretary must provide the ARB report to Congress, only that he/she must report to Congress on the recommendations and the actions taken. There is nothing on the regs that precludes the Secretary of State from sharing the ARB report with Congress, but she is not required to do so under current laws.

On its program specification,  H.R. 1768 changes that and mandates that the ARB submits its findings and recommendations to the Secretary of State and Congress.

“(1) In general.–Except as provided in paragraph (2), not later than 90 days after a Board is convened in a case, such Board shall submit to the Secretary of State and Congress its findings (which may be classified to the extent determined necessary by the Board), together with recommendations as appropriate to improve the security and efficiency of any program or operation which such Board has reviewed.

And that’s all good improvement, but here is what’s missing –

A standing committee within the State Department actually assesses whether an ARB should be convened or not.  Whether the Secretary of State convenes an ARB or not depends on the  the recommendation of this standing committee.  Per 12 FAM 032.1, “the ARB Permanent Coordinating Committee (ARB/PCC) will, as quickly as possible after an incident occurs, review the available facts and recommend to the Secretary to convene or not convene a Board.”

The ARB Permanent Coordinating Committee (ARB/PCC) according to the FAM is composed of the following members:

(1) The Director of the Office of Management Policy, Rightsizing and Innovation (M/PRI), who will chair the Committee; [M/PRI reports to the Under Secretary for Management]

(2) The Assistant Secretary for Diplomatic Security or the Principal Deputy; [Diplomatic Security reports to the Under Secretary for Management]

(3) The Senior Deputy Assistant Secretary for Intelligence and Research; [INR reports directly to the Secretary]

(4) The Coordinator for Counterterrorism [reports to the Under Secretary for Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights]

(5) The senior deputy assistant secretary (or secretaries, as appropriate) of the relevant regional bureau(s); (regional bureaus report to the Under Secretary for Political Affairs]

(6) One representative designated by and representing the DNI; and

(7) The Deputy Assistant Secretary for Visa Services [Consular Affairs reports to the Under Secretary for Management]

The FAM is clear that the  ARB process is “a mechanism to foster more effective security of U.S. missions and personnel abroad by ensuring a thorough and independent review of security-related incidents. Through its investigations and recommendations, the Board seeks to determine accountability and promote and encourage improved security programs and practices.”

An ARB is convened when there is serious injury, loss of life, or significant destruction of property at, or related to, a United States Government mission abroad, and in any case of a serious breach of security involving intelligence activities of a foreign government directed at a United States Government mission abroad.

screen-capture_tunis-after

US Embassy, Tunisia

And yet in the aftermath of the 2012 mob attacks of U.S. embassies particularly in Tunisia, Egypt, Sudan and Yemen where there were significant destruction of USG properties, no ARB was convened.

Why?

The destruction of property was not just the embassy buildings and facilities but also includes a number of  torched armored vehicles. We don’t know what type of armored vehicles were lost during last year’s attacks, but armored vehicles used in Iraq in 2005 cost at least $205,742 each.

Some of these attacks went on for hours with no help from the host country government.  Some embassy employees thought they were going to die and called loved ones to say their goodbyes.

So it makes us wonder — was the ARB/PCC  blind to what happened at these posts, and thus did not make a recommendation to convene a Board?

Or did the the ARB/PCC thought convening an ARB amidst the Benghazi debacle and the Benghazi ARB was a tad too much for the agency to handle that no ARB was recommended?

If Congress must reform the Accountability Review Board to improve its effectiveness and independence, it ought to start with a look  at the Permanent Coordinating Committee, its composition and recommendation process on whether an ARB is to be convened or not.
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Josh Rogin’s Exclusive: Benghazi ‘Scapegoat’ Raymond Maxwell Speaks Out — Duck and Cover!

Whoops! Too late!

Raymond Maxwell was placed on forced “administrative leave” after the State Department’s own internal investigation, conducted by an Administrative Review Board (ARB) led by former State Department official Tom Pickering. Five months after he was told to clean out his desk and leave the building, Maxwell remains in professional and legal limbo, having been associated publicly with the death of Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other American for reasons that remain unclear.
[...]
“The overall goal is to restore my honor,” said Maxwell, who has now filed grievances regarding his treatment with the State Department’s human resources bureau and the American Foreign Service Association, which represents the interests of foreign-service officers. The other three officials placed on leave were in the diplomatic security bureau, leaving Maxwell as the only official in the bureau of Near Eastern Affairs (NEA), which had responsibility for Libya, to lose his job.

“I had no involvement to any degree with decisions on security and the funding of security at our diplomatic mission in Benghazi,” he said.
[...]

Since the leave is not considered a formal disciplinary action, Maxwell has no means to appeal the status, as he would if he had been outright fired. To this day, he says, nobody from the State Department has ever told him why he was singled out for discipline. He has never had access to the classified portion of the ARB report, where all of the details regarding personnel failures leading up to Benghazi are confined. He also says he has never been shown any evidence or witness testimony linking him to the Benghazi incident.

Maxwell says he had planned to retire last September, but extended his time voluntarily after the Sept. 11 attack to help the bureau in its time of need. Now, he is refusing to retire until his situation is clarified. He is seeking a restoration of his previous position, a public statement of apology from State, reimbursement for his legal fees, and an extension of his time in service to equal the time he has spent at home on administrative leave.

“For any FSO being at work is the essence of everything and being deprived of that and being cast out was devastating,” he said.
[...]

The decision to place Maxwell on administrative leave was made by Clinton’s chief of staff Cheryl Mills, according to three State Department officials with direct knowledge of the events. On the day after the unclassified version of the ARB’s report was released in December, Mills called Acting Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Beth Jones and directed her to have Maxwell leave his job immediately.

“Cheryl Mills directed me to remove you immediately from the [deputy assistant secretary] position,” Jones told Maxwell, according to Maxwell.
[...]
But Jones was not disciplined in any way following the release of the report, nor was the principal deputy assistant secretary of State at NEA, Liz Dibble, who is slated to receive a plush post as the deputy chief of mission at the U.S. embassy in London this summer. In the DS bureau, the assistant secretary, principal deputy, and deputy assistant all lost their jobs. In the NEA bureau, only Maxwell was asked to leave.

Read  John Rogin’s  Exclusive: Hillary’s Benghazi ‘Scapegoat’ Speaks Out from his new home at the Daily Beast.

The somebodies appear to have miscalculated that folks would just go away quietly …

And it’s all a coincidence, of course, that on the same day that this came out, the State Department released its Benghazi Accountability Review Board Implementation and Secretary Kerry showed up at the George P. Shultz National Foreign Affairs Training Center in Arlington, Virginia to deliver Remarks to the Foreign Service Institute Overseas Security Seminar  (dear heavens! it’s open to the press and cameras!). We can’t recall a secretary of state ever showing up for that overseas seminar, can you?

– DS

 

 

 

 

 

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State Dept’s Inspector General to Conduct a “Special Review” of the ARB Process, Not/Not the ARB Panel

According to thehill.com, the State Department’s Office of Inspector General notified the State Department on March 28 that it will be conducting a “special review” of the process that the department’s Accountability Review Board (ARB) used to probe security lapses prior to and during the terrorist attack:

Doug Welty, a spokesman for the IG’s office, said the office is responsive to lawmakers’ concerns; he said this is the first time the office will review an ARB process, although it has in the past reviewed how well the State Department has followed through on the recommendations of other review boards formed after security breaches.

The review will examine “the effectiveness and accountability of the process and the resulting implementation of the recommendations,” Welty said. He couldn’t specify a time frame, but said the results would be made public: “It will take the time it needs to take to do a reliable job.”

At a State Department briefing last year, Pickering defended the ARB’s approach. He said the panel fixed responsibility “at the Assistant Secretary level, which is in our view the appropriate place to look, where the decision-making in fact takes place — where, if you like, the rubber hits the road.”

Fox News originally reported this and found an unnamed senior State Department official to comment on this development:

[A] senior State Department official told Fox News the IG probe is not a “formal investigation” but rather a review process, and one, moreover, that will examine previous ARBs in addition to the one established after Benghazi.

The official noted that the department had published a notice early on instructing employees on how they could furnish information to the ARB for Benghazi, and that the panel ultimately interviewed more than 100 witnesses.

The original law that established accountability review boards mandates that they act completely independently, the official said, adding that the department in this case neither sought nor enjoyed any influence over the panel’s work.

In any case, Fox News headline screams “State Department’s Benghazi review panel under investigation, Fox News confirms.

So we checked with State/OIG and was told by Douglas Welty that this is a  “special review of the Accountability Review Board process.” He pointed out that when he spoke with the reporter at Fox, he specifically said this was not an “investigation.” “When OIG uses the term “investigation,” it means we are looking into the possibility of criminal activity,” according to Mr. Welty. 

We asked Mr. Welty if this special review was specifically requested by a congressional representative or some other entity and we’re told the following:

We already had plans to conduct a review of the ARB process when we responded to Senators Lieberman’s and Collins’ post-Benghazi inquiry last year. Our current review is not a response to or the result of the recent congressional investigation or upcoming congressional hearing on the Benghazi attacks.

Reviews, inspections and audits of security issues is an important part of our oversight work. Whenever appropriate, we will check on the status of recommendations made by ARBs, as we did in our Jeddah and “mantraps” reports. The report will note if an ARB recommendation has been implemented. If so, how, and if in process, what is being done. If it has not been implemented and no progress has been made, then that will be noted, as well.

In late December, Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Chairman Joe Lieberman, ID-Conn., and Ranking Member Susan Collins, R-Maine released Flashing Red: A Special Report On The Terrorist Attack At Benghazi.

We did, in fact, blog recently about the March 2013 OIG’s review of ARB Jeddah (see 2005 Jeddah ARB Recommended “Remote Safe Areas” for Embassies – Upgrades Coming … Or Maybe Not). That’s the only OIG review of a previous ARB that we are aware of.

We would be interested, of course, to see what the OIG finds in its review of the ARB process. However, there are a couple of things that we are sort of curious about.   One is the fact that the State Department has not had a permanent IG since 2008.  If you look at this org chart, the IG (that is the Deputy IG) reports directly to the Secretary of State. We are curious how often does the IG sits with the Secretary of State – monthly, quarterly, and so on and so forth?  Two, we’re wondering if in practice the IG actually deals more directly with “M” (the Under Secretary of Management) rather than the Secretary of State?  We anticipate that whether justified or not, these two issues may bite in the post-IG review.

Also, given how politicized Benghazi has become, we’re also wondering if it might have been more wise for State/OIG to work with Council of the Inspectors General on Integrity & Efficiency (CIGIE) on this ARB process review.

Of course, even with that, there’s no way to tell if this would end the Benghazi controversy. In fact, our guess is we would be hearing about Benghazi for months to come. Whether or not all the hearings and reports would actually amount to improved security and better risk planning/mitigation for our people overseas remains a big question.

–DS

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HFAC Chairman Ed Royce Introduces “Accountability Review Board Reform Act of 2013” (H.R. 1768)

On April 26, 2013, U.S. Rep. Ed Royce (R-CA), Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee (HFAC), introduced legislation to increase the independence and transparency of future Accountability Review Boards (ARB), the temporary investigative bodies that are  convened to  review security-related incidents that result in “serious injury, loss of life, or significant destruction of property at, or related to, a United States Government mission abroad, and in any case of a serious breach of security involving intelligence activities of a foreign government directed at a United States Government mission abroad.”

According to Mr. Royce’s website the “Accountability Review Board Reform Act of 2013” (H.R. 1768) will increase the independence of future ARBs from the State Department, limiting the Secretary of State’s role.

Here is part of Mr. Royce’s reasoning:  “When then-Secretary of State Clinton testified about the Benghazi attack in January, she repeatedly referred to the ARB findings, calling it an ‘independent’ investigative body.  But the fact is, Secretary Clinton convened the ARB  and hand-picked four of its five members.  This ARB failed to assess the roles of so-called “seventh floor” State Department officials in the decisions that led to the Benghazi mission’s severely compromised security posture, despite strong evidence suggesting these senior officials were involved.  This legislation will ensure that future ARBs are, in fact, independent of State Department leadership.”

The text of the proposed legislation has not been posted yet. But according to Mr. Royce’s website, The Accountability Review Board Reform Act addresses the following:

  • increases the five-member ARB’s independence from the State Department.  Under current law, the Secretary of State appoints four of an ARB’s five members.  Under this legislation, the Secretary will appoint only two of the five members, with the Chair of the Council of Inspectors General of Integrity and Efficiency (the chief U.S. inspector general) appointing two members, and the Director of National Intelligence appointing the fifth member.
  • improves the staffing model of future ARBs.  Currently, an ARB relies on State Department employees to assist with the investigation of other State Department employees.  Under this legislation, ARB staff would be drawn from the Office of Inspector General.
  • eliminates potential conflicts of interest by banning individuals from serving as an ARB member or an ARB staffer if they have a personal or professional relationship with someone expected to be investigated.
  • enhances transparency and allows greater oversight of the ARB process.  Current law requires that the Secretary disclose only the names of the five ARB members.  This legislation requires the Secretary to disclose the names of any senior State Department employees tasked with assisting an ARB.
  • allows greater oversight.  Current law requires that the ARB submit a final report to the Secretary.  This legislation requires that the ARB also submit the final report to Congress.

According to data in congress.gov, H.R.1768 was introduced by Rep Royce, Edward R. [CA-39] on 4/26/2013. It currently has  16 cosponsors  and has been referred to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs.

We’ll post comments after we’ve seen the full text of H.R. 1768.

– DS

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House GOP Releases Interim Benghazi Report: Uh-oh, But the Kraken is Still Hungry!

The House GOP recently released its interim report on the terrorist attacks on the temporary facilities in Benghazi. The report is released under the GOP committee chairs of the Armed Services, Foreign Affairs, Judiciary, Oversight and Government Reform and the Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence.

We won’t repeat the whole long woeful report in this blog but if you want to read the 45-page  report, click here (via The Hill).

The kraken is still hungry!

Right upfront the report says this:

The Committees will continue to review who exactly was responsible for the failure to respond to the repeated requests for more security and for the effort to cover up the nature of the attacks, so that appropriate officials will be held accountable. 

Translation #1: one assistant secretary and three DASes did not work.  The kraken is hungry for more!

Translation #2: this is going to go on and on until 2016 unless the kraken choke first or wants a different menu.

The Kraken comes to claim Andromeda

The Kragen comes to claim the offering of an assistant secretary; if not available, any deputy assistant secretary would do; no offering above the bureau level may be presented to the Kraken. (image via wikipedia)

But perhaps the most striking, and the thing that undermines this report for us, more than the fact that this is done by only one side of the house is this:

Screen Shot 2013-04-24

We certainly cannot say whether or not Secretary Clinton approved or saw these critical cables, but to cite these cables as evidence is either poor investigative work or simply aims to further obfuscate the matter.

Look, all cables that originates from the State Department when the secretary of state is in country go out under his/her name.  So in this case, whether she saw,  read, approve this cable OR not, it went out under “CLINTON.” Just because her name appears under the cable does not mean she sent it or she read it.

All cables that originated from US Embassy Tripoli when Ambassador Gene Cretz was chief of mission went out under CRETZ. Unless the cables have handling restrictions or are official-informal (slugged for a specific person, see example here via Wikileaks), you can be almost certain that neither the secretary of state nor the ambassador drafted their own cables. Or read all the cables for that matter.  They have people under them to do that, dudes! And there is a clearance procedure in place that goes on no matter what because it’s — oh, my god, the bureaucracy’s heart goes on just like in the Titanic!

Now if these committees really wanted to find out the originator of these “critical” cables, they could have asked for the cables that included the raw content – name of drafter/s, who cleared the cables, who approved the cables, the distribution and which office the cables originated from (see example here via Wikileaks, a NODIS cable from Eagelburger to Kissinger). If all that’s floating around is a routine or immediate cable with a Clinton signature at the bottom, and you call it a smoking gun or whatever,  then there are 1.2 million cables that looks exactly the same in State’s cable arsenal, and they’re all too wet to blow up.

About building leadership:

When draft talking points were sent to officials throughout the Executive Branch, senior State Department officials requested the talking points be changed to avoid criticism for ignoring the threat environment in Benghazi. Specifically, State Department emails reveal senior officials had “serious concerns” about the talking points, because Members of Congress might attack the State Department for “not paying attention to Agency warnings” about the growing threat in Benghazi.56
[...]
After slight modifications were made on Friday, September 14, a senior State Department official again responded that the edits did not “resolve all my issues or those of my building leadership,” and that the Department’s leadership was “consulting with [National Security Staff].”57 Several minutes later, White House officials responded by stating that the State Department’s concerns would have to be taken into account and asserted further discussion would occur the following morning at a Deputies Committee Meeting.5

This reaction would not be beyond the realm of possibility but it would be interesting to see which senior official did this, and if “building leadership” referenced to here went as high as the under secretaries or up to the deputies and the secretary.

Yes, go ahead and um, enhanced interrogate that senior official to find out what he/she knows about this “building leadership.” As far as we know, that’s not even a single individual with SSN. More like a Borg collective. May we know at least, if the senior official is Locutus of Borg?


Accountability Review Board Legislation Coming

While Secretary Hillary Clinton claimed she accepted “responsibility” for Benghazi, the Committees remain concerned that the ARB neglected to directly examine the role that she and her Deputy Secretaries played in overseeing the gross mismanagement or the “systemic failures” within the Department. The Committees note the Board has failed to provide a satisfactory explanation as to why it did not interview Secretary Clinton or her Deputies. In a similar vein, it is unclear why the ARB report made no reference to Under Secretary Patrick Kennedy’s decision to withdraw a SST from Libya, despite multiple warnings from Ambassador Stevens of a deteriorating security environment. The ARB’s complete omission of the roles played by these individuals undermines the credibility of its findings and recommendations.

The Committees have determined that this Accountability Review Board was staffed by current and former State Department employees. The Board’s reluctance to undertake a more comprehensive investigation, and to make more forceful recommendations, may have stemmed from the fact that the State Department’s decisions and actions were investigated internally, undermining public confidence that the review was objective and conducted by individuals free from institutional bias. The current “in-house orientation” of an ARB may have provided a built- in motivation or prejudice, even for the best-intentioned investigators, to deflect blame and to avoid holding specific individuals accountable, especially superiors. The House Foreign Affairs Committee will soon introduce legislation to increase the ARB’s independence and objectivity. Although the report did provide some helpful recommendations regarding various State Department procedures, the Committees conclude it stopped well short of a full review of the policymakers, policies, and decisions that created the inadequate security situation that existed at the Benghazi Mission on September 11, 2012.

This part on the ARB we definitely would like to see. We have written briefly about our disenchantment with the Accountability Review Board in its current form. If the ARB is to be the sole vehicle for assigning accountability, the regulation that dictates it should be improved significantly – from the composition of the council that recommends convening an ARB to the secretary of state, to how the ARB reports are released/disposed of,  as well as how and who tracks  the implementation of these recommendations. Congress might even decide that the ARB should not reside in the institution that is the subject of its investigation. And that would not be a bad thing altogether.

– DS

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Quickie: Progress on Post-Benghazi Reforms

Via WaPo:

Seven months after the deadly terrorist attack in Benghazi, Libya, the State Department says it has reorganized itself so that security concerns rise more quickly to the top and risks are more thoroughly assessed.

But some of the most substantive changes promised in the wake of the attack — including more Marines to protect U.S. embassies, a bigger diplomatic security staff, and more reliable local guards and translators for high-risk posts — will not take effect for months or even years.
[...]
Secretary of State John F. Kerry, whose budget testimony Wednesday will mark his first appearance before Congress since taking office, plans to tell lawmakers that the department has taken action on all 24 recommendations made by an independent board that reviewed the Benghazi incident, a senior administration official said.

But the official, speaking on the condition of anonymity before Kerry’s public statement, drew a distinction between those matters that have been resolved and those on which implementation has barely begun.

“Some take some time to accomplish,” the official said.

Continue reading,  Kerry to cite progress on post-Benghazi reforms, but some measures may take years.

 

Sure take some time … see  2005 Jeddah ARB Recommended “Remote Safe Areas” for Embassies – Upgrades Coming … Or Maybe Not.

 

Since you’re reading this, you may want to read Bloomberg editorial board’s piece, Breaking Congress’s Benghazi Fever:

Republicans on the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, for instance, were seized with the “lies” told by administration officials during the presidential race about the nature of the attack and its perpetrators’ possible links to al- Qaeda. Only one committee member (a Democrat) focused on an actual step to improve security, asking if Kerry supported a bill to allow the department to hire local security guards on the basis of the best-value, rather than lowest, bid.

This is a shame, because history suggests that the State Department isn’t going to fix the security challenges it faces without strong support and scrutiny. More fundamentally, as threats grow and budgets decline, Congress needs to vigorously debate the best way for the U.S. to conduct diplomacy in dangerous places.
[...]
Ferreting out a supposed White House election-year coverup might have immediate partisan appeal, but it won’t advance the safety of U.S. diplomats in the future.

Thanks Bloomberg View for linking to our piece on the Jeddah ARB and the missing remote safe areas.

– DS

 

 

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Zabul Attack: Walking But Not Lost, More Details But Not Official; Plus Update on Kelly Hunt

On Friday, April 12, the AP citing a senior State Department “not authorized to speak to the news media” reported that the initial reports that members of the group were in vehicles, as well as subsequent media reports that they were lost, are incorrect.

The official reportedly provided the details on condition of anonymity.  This report contradicted the eyewitness account of an Afghan reporter cited by McClatchy news on Wednesday, April 10.

You may read the full AP report here.

Last weekend, The Skeptical Bureaucrat  (TSB) posted about this here:

It’s quite bad enough already, judging by the details that have come out so far. Let’s see … the book donation visit to the Sheik Baba Metti school by a team from the U.S. Embassy and PRT Zabul was announced to the press one day in advance. But, despite that lack of operational security, the team was allowed to walk to the school from the PRT’s base at FOB Smart rather than use protected vehicles. The roughly 100-meter long route to the school evidently wasn’t swept before the team’s walk, or blocked to traffic during the movement. The team’s military escort didn’t know which gate to use to enter the school – a school that the PRT itself funded and regularly visited – which required the team to double back to FOB Smart and further expose themselves to attack.

Lastly, the attack reportedly involved a roadside bomb as well as a suicide driver in a bomb-laden vehicle. If that’s true, it means that the Taliban were able to plant a command-detonated bomb in the street immediately outside FOB Smart despite the surveillance that street was undoubtedly under by both the U.S. and Afghan military.

There is reportedly an ongoing FBI investigation. The FBI investigates bombings in the U.S. and overseas where incidents were acts of terrorism against U.S. persons or interests. But this is the war zone. Was there also an FBI investigation on the suicide bombing that killed a USAID officer and wounded an FSO in Kunar Province last year? (Update: We’re told by a blog pal in Afghanistan that the FBI investigates a lot of different incidents in Afghanistan and that there is “nothing unusual” with them investigating the April 6 attack.  Was also asked about an ARB for Camp Bastion.  Camp is under military control so that’s a clear exception to ARB regs; nothing to keep DOD from pursuing its own inquiry but we haven’t heard anything moving on that direction. Read this piece by Rajiv Chandrasekaran on the Taliban attack that resulted in the deaths of two Marines and the largest loss of allied materiel in the 11-year-long Afghan war).

No way to tell right now if there will be an Accountability Review Board. As TSB pointed out, there is a limited exception for convening an ARB if the security incidents involving serious injury or loss of life occurs in Iraq or Afghanistan. We found an exemption for incidents between October 1, 2005-September 30, 2009. In December 2009, that exemption remained in effect through September 30, 2010.

Following the findings of “accountability” from the ARB on Benghazi, we are not holding our breath on an ARB on this latest incident. After not seeing any ARBs convened for several attacks on embassy properties with significant damages last year, we’re starting to think that an ARB in its current authority is not the best use of time/resources to assign accountability.

The notion that an ARB is convened to investigate security incidents that result in “serious injury, loss of life, or significant destruction of property” and then keep the result secret and the interviewees secret is absurd. Add to that the fact that the Secretary of State did not even convene an ARB for all the mob attacks last year which resulted in significant destruction of embassy properties, makes one think that the ARB on its present form is not as useful or effective as it should be.  It also leaves the recommendation on whether or not the Secretary of State should convene an ARB on the hands of the Permanent Coordinating Council in the State Department, staffed by people who answer to their chain of command.

So - we’d much rather see the FBI conduct these investigations.

Also last Thursday, Lt. Col. Justin Kraft, the Zabul Provincial Reconstruction Team commander released the following statement via FB:

We recently lost three of our nation’s finest warriors. They were sons, brothers, one was a father, and all were men who lived, served and died with honor. They gave to their country and their brothers and sisters in arms the last full measure of their courage. 

We are less for this loss. 

Please keep their families in your thoughts and prayers at this difficult time.

DOD identified the three soldiers killed in the April 6 attack but to-date the identity of the DOD civilian who perished in the same attack had not been released. Who was he/she? Did he/she leave behind a family?

On April 14, Staff Sgt. Chris Ward was buried at Oak Ridge. According to knoxnews.com, Maj. Gen. Jeffory Smith, commander of Fort Knox, Ky., presented  the Purple Heart and the Bronze Star to Ward’s mother. The passing of these casualties was heartbreaking  to their loved ones, fellow soldiers and largely ignored by the public. The death of  three  soldiers in the battlefield of Afghanistan … not much was said.

On April 18, knoxnews.com also reported that Kelly Hunt, the State Department employee wounded in the attack arrived earlier this week at the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Washington.  Friends of Ms. Hunt at her home state are organizing a fund-raiser online to help the family.  You can check it out here. We have been looking but have not been able to find a contact email for the organizers.  The family Friends of Ms. Hunt have also put up a Facebook page – Kelly Hunt’s Road to Recovery , it includes updates from Dinah Hunt, Kelly’s mother.

 

– DS

 

Updated on April 22@1720 PST with info on ARB

Updated on April 22 @21:41 PST with FB page correction; page put up by friends not family.

 

 

 

 

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2005 Jeddah ARB Recommended “Remote Safe Areas” for Embassies – Upgrades Coming … Or Maybe Not

The results of the Accountability Review Board convened after the terrorist attack of the U.S. Consulate General in Jeddah was never released to the public. So the only recommendation that we know of, which to-date has not been remedied is that one about the construction of safe areas within the embassy compounds.  And the only reason we know about this? The OIG posted its 5-page review online.

A remote safe area, cited by a March 2013 5-page OIG review is “a designated area within a building that serves as an emergency sanctuary and provides at least 15- minute forced-entry and ballistic-resistant (FE/BR) protection, emergency power, ventilation, communications, and emergency egress (12 FAH-5 H-040, Glossary).”

Correct me if I’m wrong, but I think the intent for this is to have a temporary sanctuary for people who are not able to get into the safe haven which offers a longer FE/BR protection.

The brief OIG document published online details the background:

During the December 6, 2004 terrorist attack at the U.S. consulate in Jeddah, gunmen killed four locally employed staff members and injured nine others working outside the consulate building. An ARB determined that these employees were killed or injured because the general services annex building did not have a safe area to which the employees could retreat. The Department concurred with the ARB recommendation to construct safe areas throughout compounds at posts worldwide. It planned to address first the most vulnerable posts with critical and high terrorist threat levels and proposed that the OSPB address compound safe areas as a formal security standard for all posts.

Here is a clip of that attack:

Why is this coming up now?

Apparently the OIG did four inspection cycles in 2012 where inspectors visited 17 missions.  65 percent of the missions visited  (11 out of 17) did not have remote safe areas.  What more, “none of the RSOs could identify a safe area that was constructed as a result of the Jeddah ARB.”  The inspectors also found that four missions rated high or critical for terrorist threat or political violence “lack of a compound emergency sanctuary.”

During four inspection cycles in 2012, security inspectors visited 17 missions and made several significant observations. The inspectors identified 11 missions that did not have remote safe areas and made formal or informal recommendations to construct compound emergency sanctuaries on the compounds. Of the remaining six posts, three had sufficient safe areas and three were small enough that employees could quickly access the chancery safe areas during an emergency. Security inspectors noted the lack of a compound emergency sanctuary at each of four missions rated high or critical for terrorist threat or political violence. In addition, none of the regional security officers in the 17 posts could identify a safe area that was constructed as a result of the Jeddah ARB.

The OIG document only indicates review of 17 missions out of over 283 compounds worldwide.  A high percentage of the 17 missions reviewed, about 65% did not have the recommended safe areas.  So if we expand that to cover all post worldwide, that’s potentially 185 compounds around the world with no safe areas.  The OIG says:

Inspectors also found that new embassy compounds constructed after the Jeddah attack did not include remote safe areas. OIG subsequently learned that the Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations (OBO) will implement the standards for all new embassy compound projects planned after FY 2012.

$200 million needed to upgrade 283 compounds, but then it gets tricky ….

The FY 2013 Department budget request to Congress included $688 million for security upgrades, including $87.7 million for CSUP. According to the budget request, the program funds comprehensive security upgrades, major FE/BR door and window replacements, chemical/biological retrofit projects, emergency egress projects, and security upgrades for soft targets. The budget request does not specifically mention compound emergency sanctuaries as one of the projects; however, the action memorandum signed in 2011 identified CSUP as the source of funding for the estimated $200 million necessary to upgrade 283 compounds. The memorandum also notes that funding for compound emergency sanctuary upgrades would be provided in competition with other worldwide priorities.

Funding for CSUP has declined over the past 5 years from a high of $108 million in FY 2008 to the current level of $95 million under the continuing resolution. Adding another $200 million security program to the CSUP without a corresponding increase in funding will likely result in many embassies not receiving a compound emergency sanctuary upgrade for many years.

And that’s where we’re at on a 7-8 year old Jeddah ARB recommendation. How many more accepted recommendations from that ARB alone are languishing in dark binders labeled “implementations?”  How many more from other unreleased ARBs?

Doesn’t it make you wonder if an ARB is just a pretty harmless paper hammer.

– DS

 

Related post:

A ‘Rocking Affair’ and Finally Watching the Terror Attack on U.S. Consulate Jeddah

 

Related item:

Review of Department of State Implementation of Jeddah Accountability Review Board of Recommendation to Consider Remote Safe Areas at Missions Worldwide (pdf)

 

 

 

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Benghazi Hearings with Hillary Clinton: Some Take Aways

So after months of endless chatter and lots of ink spilled on Secretary Clinton testifying on Benghazi, the moment finally arrived on January 23, 2013. You’d think that after over four months waiting for the Secretary of State to appear in Congress to answer questions about the Benghazi attack, that our elected representatives had the time to craft questions that would help inform us better.  Unfortunately, that was not the case.    Did we learn anything new from the hearing? Well, not really but we did have a few take aways.

I.  Folks elected to Congress apparently do not need to know basic information before coming to a hearing and asking questions. Uh-oh, brains going commando!  But that’s part of the perks of being an elected representative.  You don’t have to know anything or a lot.

Rep. Joe Wilson asked why there were no Marines in Benghazi.  Oh, Joe!

Rep. Kinzinger suggested that an F-16 could/should have been have flown over Benghazi to disperse the mob/crowd or whatever you call those attackers.

We’ve heard of things called pepper sprays, tear gas, even pain rays for crowd control but this is the first time we’ve heard of the suggestion of using F-16s for crowd dispersal.  You need to get one of those for your post asap.

Rep. Juan Vargas asked again why there were no Marines in Benghazi. Ugh! Juan, do your homework or dammit, listen!

Rep. McCaul asked why Stevens was in Benghazi on September 11, 2012.  Did he bother to read this report, or did he read it and did not believe it?

Rep. Marino on State Dept personnel who were put on administrative leave in the aftermath of the ARB report: “Why haven’t they been fired?” Clinton: “There are regulations and laws that govern that.”

Well, dammit, who wrote those regulations and laws?  Oooh!

 Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen on the Benghazi ARB not having interviewed Clinton: “I think that’s outrageous.”

The good congresswoman from Florida would have wanted the ARB Benghazi to interview the Secretary of State for a report that will be submitted to the Secretary of State. That would have been certainly outrageous, too, no?

She also asked: Why did State not immediately revamp our security protocols prior to the September 11th attacks?

Huh?

Sen. Jeff Flake  asked if Clinton was consulted before Susan Rice was chosen to go on Sunday morning shows.

Rep. Matt Salmon: “Eric Holder has repeatedly misled about an international gun-trafficking scheme.”

Gawd, no more Rice, pleeeeaase! And did somebody scramble Matt’s hearing schedule again?  Was Eric Holder in the building?

At the SFRC hearing, the more deliberative kind, Senator Rand Paul gave himself a lengthy talk and then asked: “Is the U.S. involved in shipping weapons out of Libya to Turkey.”

Clinton’s response: “To Turkey? I will have to take that question for the record. That’s … Nobody has ever raised that with me.”

Dear Senator Paul, please check with OGA, the Annex people may know.

Of course, President Senator Paul will also be remembered for stealing the thunderbolts from Senator McCain with his: “Had I been president at the time and I found out that you did not read the cables … I would have relieved you of your post.”

Hookay!

Senator Paul was only topped by Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin with his inquiry which started a heated exchange with Clinton:  “Did anybody in the State Department talk to those folks [people evacuated from Libya] very shortly afterwards?”

With all due respect, the fact is we had four dead Americans,” Clinton told him angrily. “Whether it’s because of a protest or whether a guy out for a walk decided to go kill some Americans, what difference at this point does it make?”

And perhaps because of that heated exchange, we will forever remember Senator Johnson as the guy who got Hillary mad, and got a public spanking in the process.  His response? “Thank you, Madame Secretary.”

II.  2016 looming large in their minds, oh my!

Tom Udall of New Mexico praised Secretary Clinton for her work on “cookstoves” which  improve lives for third world people.

Were there cookstoves in Benghazi?

Rep. Ami Bera said: “I think I speak for all the freshmen that we’re not gonna get much time to serve with you, but we hope in a few years we’ll get that chance to serve again.”

Rep. Juan Vargas said: “I have to say that because it’s true, one, and secondly, I don’t think that my wife, my 16-year-old daughter or my nine-year-old daughter … she’d probably even turn on me and wouldn’t let me in the house if I didn’t say that.  You are a hero to many, especially women ….”

That’s just a sampling of the other extreme reception that Secretary Clinton received from one side of the aisle while the other side were reportedly “grilling” her.  If you call what she got a grilling, we hate to see what a real roasting is like.

III.  1.4 million cables

Secretary Clinton told Congress that about 1.4 million cables go to the State Department every year, and they’re all addressed to her.  All you need to do is peek at those Wikileaks cables and you’ll quickly notice that almost all cables going back to Washington are addressed to  SECSTATE.  The Secretary doesn’t read all of them because that would be a crazy expectation; that’s why there are tiered leadership within that building.  There’s a cable reportedly floating around the net sent by Ambassador Stevens to the State Department about security. From best we could tell, the cable was drafted by one officer, cleared by one officer, and released by one officer under Ambassador Stevens’ signature. He is the chief of mission. All cables that went out of Tripoli were sent under his signature.

The question the reps should have asked is how many NODIS cables did Ambassador Stevens send from Tripoli?  Cables captioned NODIS identifies messages of the highest sensitivity between the chief of mission and the Secretary of State.  All other regular cables marked Routine, Priority or Immediate would have gone through the appropriate distribution channels, and up the offices and bureaus within State.  Security request cables would have been received at Diplomatic Security, any deliberation beyond the bureau would have gone up to the Under Secretary for Management (“M”).  That’s within their pay grades.  We doubt very much that any would have gone to the Secretary’s office.  Note that this is not the first time that an ambassador’s request for additional security was not seen by the Secretary of State. Ambassador Bushnell prior to the bombing of the US Embassy in Nairobi made a similar request to Secretary Albright. In the aftermath of the bombing  Secretary Albright told the ambassador she never saw the letter.

 

IV.  Iraq and Afghanistan sucked out resources

Okay, we all know this already. But here the Secretary of State, for the first time publicly acknowledged that an emphasis on security in Iraq and Afghanistan in the past decade diverted resources from other outposts around the world.

 

V. Accountability Review Boards. 

Since 1988 there have been 19 Accountability Review Boards investigating attacks on American diplomats and diplomatic facilities worldwide.   Of those 19 ARBs only the ARB for the East Africa Bombings and the ARB for Benghazi are available for public view.  Can some media or accountability group please FOIA the remaining 17 ARBs? Better yet, if Congress can get its act together, it should update the regs to allow for the automatic publication of the ARBs after a certain length of time deemed appropriate.

We should note that the Accountability Review Boards are not “independent” bodies as they are often described in news reports. They are composed of individuals recommended by the Permanent Coordinating Committee (PCC) inside the State Department. A committee so transparent that you can’t find it listed in any of the DoS telephone directory.  In almost all of them, the chairman is a retired ambassador, with former, retired or current members from the federal bureaucracy.

The PCC composition itself is interesting.  Are we to understand that the PCC did not/not recommend to Secretary Clinton convening ARBs for the embassy breaches in Tunis, Sana’a, Cairo and Khartoum despite significant destruction of properties? Four ARBs in addition to Benghazi would have been too much, huh? Do please take a look at the PCC membership, and perhaps there’s the reason why.

 

VI. High Threat Posts. 

Secretary Clinton told the panel that she named the first Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for High Threat Posts, “so Missions in dangerous places get the attention they need.”  She’s talking about the newly designated 17 (20?) diplomatic posts considered high threat, which obviously need its own assistant secretary and an entirely new support staff.

That’s good and that’s bad. Perhaps we need to remind the somebodies that when the US Embassy Kenya was bombed, it was not a high threat post.  Nobody seems to know how or what factors were used in determining which post get into this list.  Even folks who we presumed should know are scratching their heads; they are in the dark.  As we have pointed out previously, some posts on this high threat list are not even considered danger posts.  And some posts considered dangerous enough that the Government pays employees a danger differential to be there are not on this list. Go figure.

Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Egypt, Indonesia, Iraq, Jordan, Kenya, Libya, Mauritania, Nigeria, Pakistan, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, Syria, Tunisia, Yemen.

One other reminder. In the aftermath of the East Africa Bombing in 1998, and upon recommendation of the ARB for that incident, the State Department kicked off its Crisis Management Exercise program for its worldwide posts. The Crisis Management Training Office (CMT) went from a one-person shop ran for years by, if we remember correctly, a retired Special Forces colonel and Vietnam vet, to a big shop with lots of trainers and travel money ran by an FSO who was not a crisis management professional.  Yeah, you should read some of the scenarios they table-top sometimes where there’s a plane crash, and an earthquake and hell, a tsunami and a hostage taking, too, all on the same day, why not?

See if you can find an assessment on how much impact the CMEs have on mission preparedness. Particularly, if the local employees who play a large part in any catastrophic event overseas are not included in the exercise.  Did any of the CMEs ever written in the last 10 years imagined any of the events that played out in the last two years?

In the immediate aftermath of a terrorist attack, Congress often is lax with its purse strings. It does not want to be perceived as functioning on the wrong side of the story. It’s bad for reelection.  We have no doubt that Congress will increased funds for building new embassy compounds or hardening old ones, as well as increase US Marine Guards and Diplomatic Security personnel.  We don’t know if the MOU between DOD and State has been updated to allow the active use of force. Because what does it matter if you have more Marines if they are only allowed to engage in a passive response? Did anyone ask that during the hearing?

Perhaps the important take away in all this is that once you create and fund something in the bureaucracy, it lives almost to perpetuity; it is easier to stand up an office than remove an old one.  Has the Crisis Management Office served its purpose in the last decade? Maybe, maybe not. We have no way of knowing but it continue to exist.  Was the new directorate for High Threat posts within Diplomatic Security well thought of? Maybe, maybe not. But the office now exist and will operate with new authority, staff, funding and  the accompanying high profile within and outside the building.  Until the next big one happens, in which case, a new program or office will be quickly created in direct response to the incident.

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