At that time, the State Department deputy spox, Marie Harf called the allegations “a crazy conspiracy theory about people squirreling away things in some basement office and keeping them secret.” She also said this:
QUESTION: Did people involved in preparing the documents for the ARB separate documents into stuff that was just whatever and then things that they thought were – made people on the seventh floor, including the Secretary, look bad?
MS. HARF: Not to my knowledge, Matt, at all. The ARB had full and unfettered access and direct access to State Department employees and documents. The ARB’s co-chairs, Ambassador Pickering and Admiral Mullen, have both repeated several times that they had unfettered access to all the information they needed. So the ARB had complete authority to reach out independently and directly to people. Employees had complete authority to reach out directly to the ARB. And they’ve said themselves they had unfettered access, so I have no idea what prompted this somewhat interesting accounting of what someone thinks they may have seen or is now saying they saw.
But the ARB has been clear, the ARB’s co-chairs have been clear that they had unfettered access, and I am saying that they did have full and direct access to State Department employees and documents.
“That allegation is totally without merit. It doesn’t remotely reflect the way the ARB actually obtained information,” he said in an email. He explained that an “all-points bulletin”-type request went out department-wide instructing “full and prompt cooperation” for anyone contacted by the ARB, and urging anyone with “relevant information” to contact the board.
“So individuals with information were reaching out proactively to the Board. And, the ARB was also directly engaged with individuals and the Department’s bureaus and offices to request information and pull on whichever threads it chose to. The range of sources that the ARB’s investigation drew on would have made it impossible for anyone outside of the ARB to control its access to information,” Gerlach said. He further noted that the leaders of the ARB have claimed they had unfettered access to information and people.
In both cases, these government officials emphasized one thing: that the Pickering-Mullen Accountability Review Board “had full and unfettered access and direct access to State Department employees and documents.”
In the September 2013 congressional hearing, the Benghazi ARB co-chair also told Congress, “We had unfettered access to State Department personnel and documents. There were no limitations.”
Shouldn’t we now consider the absent clintonemail.com server as one such limitation?
In light of reports that Secretary Clinton exclusively used a personal email account to conduct government business as secretary of state, and that her private emails were never reportedly actual residents of Foggy Bottom, would these current and former government officials now revisit their statements on the ARB’s “unfettered” access to documents?
The House Select Committee on Benghazi had its inaugural hearing on September 17 (see Battle For Benghazi in WashDC: Vroom Vroom Your Search Engines Now or Just Drink Gin). That hearing’s topic was “Implementation of the Accountability Review Board Recommendations” and the committee had as witnesses, DS Greg Starr, the Assistant Secretary for Diplomatic Security, and Mark J. Sullivan and Todd Keil, chairman and member respectively of the The Independent Panel on Best Practices. The Accountability Review Board Recommendations were issued for the State Department and not a task just for Diplomatic Security. For whatever reason, Mr. Starr, one bureau’s assistant secretary was invited to answer agency implementation questions from the Select Committee. No deputy secretary or under secretary was available to answer questions from the Hill?
On November 21, the House Intel Committee released its final Benghazi Report.
The Select Committee on Benghazi issued the following statement on the declassification of the House Intelligence Committee’s Benghazi Report:
“The Select Committee on Benghazi received the Intelligence Committee’s report on the Benghazi terrorist attack months ago, and has reviewed it along with other Committee reports and materials as the investigation proceeds. It will aid the Select Committee’s comprehensive investigation to determine the full facts of what happened in Benghazi, Libya before, during and after the attack and contribute toward our final, definitive accounting of the attack on behalf of Congress.”
Some fellow over there said that the report is full of crap.
Also, apparently, other GOP lawmakers, and Benghazi survivors were fuming over the House report and were not happy with the Intel Committee’s chairman, Republican Rep. Mike Rogers. Uh-oh.
So crap or not, the Benghazi Select Committee is charging on. The Committee will have a second hearing on “Reviewing Efforts to Secure U.S. Diplomatic Facilities and Personnel.” This time, the Committee will appropriately hear from Assistant Secretary Starr. By the way, where can we place bets on how many times A/S Starr will be invited to speak to the Committee before this is over in 2017? Because you know this won’t be over until after the 2016 elections; poor fellow was not even working at the State Department when the Benghazi attack happened.
A/S Starr will be joined by State Department Inspector General Steve Linick for this hearing. We think this is Mr. Linick’s first appearance before Congress following his confirmation.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The bill currently has 22 co-sponsorsand 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:
“(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]
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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:
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 herevia 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.