Tag Archives: Benghazi Consulate Attack

State Dept on Issa Subpoenas: Received “Out of the Blue”… Witnesses “Need Time to Review and Prep”

—By Domani Spero

Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa spells out his complaints on his June 24 letter to Secretary Kerry hereAccording to the Oversight Committee:

Issa details the Committee’s months-long efforts to arrange interviews with officials possessing direct knowledge of the events. On April 29, 2013, Committee staff contacted State Department officials to request their assistance in arranging interviews. The request was reiterated on May 17, 2013, however investigators have only been able to interview one of the 13 individuals with whom they requested interviews and the meeting was arranged without the State Department’s help.

The May 17 letter requested that the following former and current employees of the State Department be made available for a transcribed interview. This is the first time we’ve seen the list.  We have added the titles as best we can determine.

  1. David Adams, former Assistant Secretary of State for Legislative Affairs
  2. *Eric Boswell, former Assistant Secretary of State for Diplomatic Security (on administrative leave, pending further action)
  3. *Elizabeth Dibble, former Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs; rumored to be the next Deputy Chief of Mission for US Embassy London
  4. Jeremy Freeman, State Department lawyer, an expert in Congressional subpoenas (via NYT)
  5. *Elizabeth Jones, Acting Assistant Secretary, Bureau Near Eastern Affairs
  6. Patrick Kennedy, Under Secretary of State for Management
  7. Raymond Maxwell, former Deputy Assistant Secretary of State, Bureau Near Eastern Affairs (on administrative leave, pending further action)
  8. Cheryl Mills, former Counselor and Chief of Staff to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton
  9. Victoria Nuland, former Spokesperson of the Department of State; nominated as A/S for the EUR Bureau
  10. Philippe Reines, former Senior Advisor to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton
  11. William Roebuck, former Director for the Office of Maghreb Affairs, NEA Bureau; appointed Chargé d’ Affaires to Libya from January-June 2013
  12. Wendy Sherman, Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs
  13. Jacob Sullivan, former Director of Policy Planning and Deputy Chief of Staff to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton; Currently National Security Advisor to VPOTUS

One name not on this list but was served a subpoena by the Issa Committee is Scott Bultrowicz, the former Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary and Director of the Diplomatic Security Service in the Bureau of Diplomatic Security (one of the four officials put on administrative leave pending further action).  Names with an asterisk have been issued a subpoena (see Not Going to Take It Anymore — Issa Subpoenas Boswell, Bultrowicz, Dibble and Jones).

In any case, Patrick Ventrell, the Director of the State Department’s Press Office and occasional person on the podium during the Daily Press Briefings was asked about the Issa subpoenas on June 25, 2013 and here is what the building says in a word cloud:

Word Cloud via WordItOut

Word Cloud via WordItOut

If you want to read the fine details, please see below. We particularly like the question, “to date, how many witnesses have you provided for testimony?” We do not particularly like the dodgy response but somebody’s gotta say the blahs so folks have something to write about.

QUESTION: Benghazi?

MR. VENTRELL: Sure.

QUESTION: Patrick, today Chairman Issa’s issued subpoenas to four State Department officials. Will the State Department be cooperating with the subpoenas?

MR. VENTRELL: Well, as we’ve consistently said, we’ve been cooperating with Congress on this matter going back many months. We’ve made available to Congress several department witnesses and briefers, as well as over 25,000 pages of documents. We understand that Chairman Issa has issued subpoenas for four Department employees. These four employees were already preparing to do voluntary interviews with the committee, and since the committee sent their initial interview requests, we’ve been discussing with them in good faith both the terms for the interview and the scheduling logistics. In fact, we had offered employees to be interviewed in early July. So this had been something that they were voluntarily willing to do.

QUESTION: But in that letter Chairman Issa claimed that State Department Chief of Staff David Wade has not been cooperating, that since mid-May they’ve been asking for these people. What exactly is the holdup then?

MR. VENTRELL: Well, we absolutely reject that. We’ve been cooperating all along, and the Department has shown unprecedented cooperation. We’ve spent thousands and thousands of man-hours complying with dozens of requests from Congress. We’ll continue to cooperate while reiterating our request that the Congress and the media shift from focusing on long-debunked myths to the real need to protect America’s diplomats and development experts serving their country overseas.

So on this particular case, ever since we received the interview requests, we’ve been in regular contact with the committee negotiating in good faith and it’s unfortunate that Chairman Issa, without warning, disregarded those discussions and issued subpoenas for witnesses who were willing to testify. This is a pattern that we saw with Mr. Pickering as well, something that – this is a tactic he’s used before. I can’t speculate on his motivations but it’s something that he’s done before.

QUESTION: And to date, how many witnesses have you provided for testimony?

MR. VENTRELL: Well, again, we’ve been in discussion with the committee about providing the witnesses prior to receiving the subpoena. So we were working on the dates, working on the list of names, when this subpoena sort of suddenly arrived yesterday.

QUESTION: It’s been months, why hasn’t it happened?

MR. VENTRELL: Well, I don’t know if I’d characterize it as months. I mean, this is something that – I don’t have the date of the original request from Mr. Issa here in front of me, but ever since we received the – let me see if I have this here – I don’t have the date right in front of me, but ever since we received it –

QUESTION: Mid May.

MR. VENTRELL: — we’ve been in consistent and continual contact with the committee staff, and we’ve done so in good faith.

QUESTION: And lastly, do you think that this perceived stalling from Issa that it could be perceived that these witnesses are being coached or they’re getting – taking time to get their testimony or words right?

MR. VENTRELL: No, that’s absurd. We reject that. It’s certainly understandable that people need time to prepare for congressional testimony; witnesses take that very seriously, need time to review and prep, and that’s standard practice and normal. So we just reject that.

QUESTION: So it’s not the four people stalling, it’s perhaps the State Department or it’s Issa not being organized?

MR. VENTRELL: This is about getting them the best possible information, making sure the witnesses have time to be prepared to provide the best possible information. And we’re working with them in good faith and scheduling dates, so this sort of arrived out of the blue yesterday.

QUESTION: So you’re saying that you told Chairman Issa that you’ve given them everything that you have, and you have nothing else to give them? Is that –

MR. VENTRELL: Well, that’s not exactly –

QUESTION: In layman’s terms.

MR. VENTRELL: No, no, no. That’s not exactly what’s going on here. This was a specific request, Said, for witnesses. This was a –

QUESTION: Right. I understand what’s going. I’m just saying, what is your position? What do you tell them, that we have already submitted all these – we answered all these questions –

MR. VENTRELL: No. The point is that the cooperation has been ongoing, and in this case we were cooperating on providing witnesses. So we received a subpoena out of the blue.

Makes one wonder how long it took the one witness already interviewed by the Committee with no assistance from the State Department to “review and prep.”

(>x<!)

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Joshua Foust on The Uncomfortable Questions Not Raised by Benghazi

In the most recent Oversight Committee hearing, State Department’s Gregory Hicks mentioned that there were 55 people in the two annexes in Benghazi.  Earlier reports says that a total of 30 people were evacuated from Benghazi. Only  7 of the 30 evacuees were employees of the State Department.  So if 55 is correct, there were actually 48 CIA folks in Benghazi.  How come no one is throwing a tantrum to hear what they have to say?

Joshua Foust writes that the press and Congress are asking the wrong questions.

Excerpt:

The eight-month controversy over the attacks on a U.S. outpost in Benghazi reintensified last week, as the former Deputy Chief of Mission in Tripoli testified before a panel at the House of Representatives. The hearing, however, seemed to focus not on the attack itself, but rather on what happened afterward: the content of the talking points handed to UN Ambassador Susan Rice, and whether President Obama referred to it as terrorism quickly enough.Indeed, the entire scandal, as it exists in the public, is a bizarre redirection from the serious failures for which no one has yet answered.
[...]
The CIA’s conduct during and after Benghazi should be the real scandal here, not the order in which certain keywords make their way into press conferences. It is a tragedy that two diplomats died, including the first ambassador killed in the line of duty since 1979. Sadly, they are part of a growing number of American diplomats hurt or killed in the line of duty. Embassies and diplomatic facilities were attacked 13 times under President Bush, resulting in dozens of dead but little action. If future Benghazis are to be avoided, we need to grapple with why the attack and our inadequate response unfolded the way it did.

Many of those issues were raised in the Accountability Review Board report that the State Department released last December. But to this day, the complicated nature of CIA operations and, more importantly, how they put at risk the other American personnel serving alongside them have gone largely unremarked upon. It’s past time to demand answers from Langley.

 

Read in full here.

Joshua Foust is a freelance writer and an analyst. Check out his website here: joshuafoust.com; follow him on Twitter @joshuafoust.

This piece originally appeared in Medium, a new elegant publishing platform from Evan Williams, of Blogger and Twitter fame. Check it out.

 

– DS

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Friday Inbox: Forget “Situation Is Fluid” — Remember “Situational Awareness”

In our mailbox this morning:

Spilled hot coffee on your lap?  It’s probably an isolated incident. Still, you should exercise greater situational awareness, and be vigilant about the location and volume of your cup. Don’t worry, we have it on good authority that coffee imports remain strong. 

Rolling blackouts knocked out the lights at your softball game?  Well, it’s probably just an anomaly. Statistically, according to Wikipedia, Cairo gets at least twelve hours of daylight this time of year.  Exercise situational awareness and modify your plans accordingly. 

Seven Egyptian officers abducted by militants in the Sinai?  That’s a rare occurrence. The next group will exercise greater situational awareness, and perhaps be less obvious about being, you know, Egyptian officers. 

 

Our correspondent sounds snarkily unhappy.  It may have something to do with creeping developments like below:

Child Vendor Killed Outside US Embassy Cairo’s Front Gates (Ahram Online, February 2013):

“An Egyptian army conscript walks up to 12-year-old Omar Salah Omran, who sells hot sweet potatoes on the street – outside the front gates of Cairo’s US Embassy, close to Tahrir Square – and requests two potatoes from the young street vendor.

Omar answers, “I’ll do so after I go to the bathroom.” The allegedly untrained soldier retorts with a mix of cockiness and jest that he will shoot Omar if he doesn’t comply immediately.

On Omar’s reply, “You can’t shoot me” – the conscript, on the alleged presumption that his weapon was not loaded, sent two bullets through Omar’s heart. He died instantly.”

Chris Stone Knife Attack Outside US Embassy Cairo (AhramOnline/MENA, May 10, 2013):

“The man who stabbed an American in Cairo on Thursday says he was motivated by a hatred of the United States.  Mahmoud Badr, 30, who holds a bachelor’s degree in commerce, was arrested on Thursday after stabbing American academic Chris Stone in the neck outside the US embassy in Cairo.”

Separately, we heard that “Many Amcits in Cairo are concerned about the lack of security in the area outside the Embassy. Egyptian security forces are present in theory but do little other than sit at their check points and drink tea…. The Embassy appears to take little interest in what takes place outside its fortress.”

Al-Qaeda targeted US, French embassies in Cairo: Investigators (Ahram Online, May 15, 2013):

“Investigations have revealed that members of the Al-Qaeda terrorist group – who escaped from prison during Egypt’s 2011 uprising – had planned attacks on the US and French embassies in Cairo, according to official Egyptian news agency MENA.[...] Investigators said that the suspects had planned suicide attacks – with the use of car bombs – against the US and French embassies in Cairo.”

Benghazi Emails (NBC News, The Weekly Standard, May 15, 2013)

“On 10 September the Agency (CIA) notified Embassy Cairo of social media reports calling for a demonstration and encouraging jihadists to break into the Embassy.”

CIA Warned of ‘Jihadist’ Threat to Cairo Embassy (The Weekly Standard, May 15, 2013)

“The editing process specifically removed any hint that “jihadists” were encouraged to “break into” the U.S. Embassy in Cairo. In fact, jihadists were incited to act by Mohammed al Zawahiri, the younger brother of al Qaeda emir Ayman al Zawahiri, as well as several other al Qaeda-linked extremists.”

 

Meanwhile the State Department has now issued an updated Travel Alert dated May 15, 2013  to include information “about a knife attack on a private U.S. citizen near the Embassy on May 9.” The alert does not/not include any reference to a terror plot or terror cell in Egypt or that the mission has now been targetted in at least two known incidents.

 

– DS

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Raymond Maxwell: A happy ending … despite the fact that the “system” does not work

Following our publication of Raymond Maxwell’s poem in this blog, we received an unsolicited note from  a veteran FSO we know from Post X.  The FSO knows Raymond Maxwell well, all the way back to A-100 and notes that Mr. Maxwell spent 14 years in the United States Navy before joining the Foreign Service.  The FSO added that Mr. Maxwell was “definitely the first one to become a DAS” [deputy assistant secretary] from his A-100 class, and the first one to make it to Senior Foreign Service. Excerpt below:

For years, I have told a story about Ray to junior officers that I thought showed that there was justice in the “system,” and which I thought had a happy ending (until now).  Ray has always been a stand-up guy.  On his first tour, he went as a General Services Officer to a small West African post.  He had a boss (Admin Officer) who did not play by the rules, and Ray refused to go along with unethical or illegal practices in the execution of his duties.  He hadn’t left the Navy just to sell out his principles in the Foreign Service.  For a first tour officer, that put him in a precarious position and made tenure (and a career) less than a sure thing.  Fortunately, Ray’s next tour went well, as did every tour after that.  Not only did he set the standard in every position he ever held, he also took the hardest jobs — a couple of them in Iraq back when nobody else wanted to go there.

When I first learned that Ray was going to be a scapegoat for our most recent 9/11, I felt that this story no longer had a happy ending.  He was a victim of “damage control,” which in government tries to push accountability down to the lowest level possible.  But in a sense, the happy ending is that Ray remained the stand-up guy, the man of principle that he has always been, in service to our country for over 35 years in the United States Navy and in the Foreign Service of the United States, despite the fact that the “system” does not work.  His service has been a great gift to our nation.

I do hope that a generation of officers who worked with Ray, were mentored by Ray, or who hear the stories about him, are themselves inspired to a higher standard of public service than is currently the accepted norm in our beloved Department of State.  Is there hope for the future?  Actually, I don’t know.

The FSO who wrote this is in active service, so there will be no other details on that.  Mr. Maxwell remains in administrative leave status and defers all press inquiries to the State Department spokesperson and State Department Public Affairs.
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Benghazi Hearing: No Kaboom as Promised, But More Details Fill Up the Dark Space of Sadness

So there’s this ARB report on Benghazi, this Senate report on Benghazi, and this Interim Progress report on Benghazi.  Then Congress held hearings the last several months (see below, may not be a complete list):

House Oversight Committee chair Darrell Issa promised on May 8th that “This hearing is closed, but this investigation is not over.” Towards the end of the hearing Darrell Issa also asked, “Do we need other whistle-blowers to come forward?” All three witnesses answer in the affirmative.

The May 8 Oversight hearing with State Department whistleblowers, Gregory Hicks, Eric Norstrom and Mark I. Thompson went on from 11:30 am until after 5:00 in the afternoon.  We were off to a prior engagement which could not be rescheduled so we had to play catch up with this.  We’re not going to go through this blow by blow because we don’t have enough booze in the house.

First, we have to say that we were disappointed the kaboom promised did not materialized.  But we appreciate hearing additional details about that night.  Perhaps when the ARB mandate is updated by Congress, it should just be an open hearing on C-SPAN  where the American public can hear first hand what our diplomats do overseas in the service of this country.

We appreciate the fact the Mr. Nordstrom prepared a written testimony, as he did previously in the October 2012 appearance. We admire him for publicly questioning how the ARB fixed the blame on this incident at the lower level. A sentiment that we have heard from people inside the building since the ARB report was released. He also made an excellent argument about elevating both Diplomatic Security and Consular Affairs to the Under Secretary level instead of where it current stands, under the Under Secretary for Management. We don’t think that this would happen but it shows that he was thinking through how things could be made better.

Gregory Hicks and Mark I. Thompson. Neither prepared a written testimony about Benghazi. In its place, both submitted biographic notes.  See Mr. Thompson’s here and Mr. Hick’s here.  Mr. Hick’s statement includes how he “became known as the Ambassador’s bulldog,” and how Charge d’affaires Larry Pope told him his performance was “near-heroic.”  Combined that with the now often repeated line about somebody with balls as in “a State Department officer has bigger balls than somebody in the military” — gave us an eeek feeling.  It might have been better if somebody else, not Mr. Hicks repeated those lines about himself to the Committee.  This led WaPo’s Dana Milbank to write, “And this whistleblower spent a good bit of time tooting his own horn.”  See? That’s what happens.

A few things of note —

Names:

During Gregory Hicks testimony, he named some of US Mission Libya’s staff. Except for David Ubbens, an RSO who was wounded in Benghazi, we are almost certain this is the first time that the names of those working in the mission have been made public. Are we going to now see these guys called before a congressional committee? There were actually more OGA folks than State personnel in Benghazi, but we’re not going to hear from those folks, are we?

  • Regional Security Officer (Tripoli) – John Martinec
  • Regional Security Officer (Benghazi) – Alec Henderson
  • Ambassador Stevens’ Agent in Charge – Scott Wickland
  • Political Section Chief – David McFarland
  • Embassy Tripoli Nurse – Jackie Levesque
  • Embassy Office Manager – Amber Pickens
  • Management Officer – Allen Greenfield
  • Lieutenant Colonel Phillips
  • Lieutenant Colonel Arnt
  • Lieutenant Colonel Gibson
  • Mark Si (Team Tripoli)


Quotables: 

Eric A. Nordstrom , the former RSO in Tripoli who gave us some of the best zingers in the October 2012 hearing did not disappoint.

“Is anything in writing, if so, I’d like a copy for post so we have it handy for the ARB?”

“Our posts in Benghazi and Tripoli were among those posts and the only two facilities that met no OSPB or SECCA standards.”

“[I]f the Secretary of State did not waive these requirements, who did so by ordering occupancy of the facilities in Benghazi and Tripoli?”

“The ARB’s failure to review the decisions of the U/S for Management and other senior leaders, who made critical decisions regarding all aspects of operations in Tripoli, to include occupancy of facilities, which did not meet the aforementioned SECCA and OSPB requirements, is inexplicable.”

“While Department employees are told that they may spend multiple tours in hardship and unaccompanied postings as part of the Department’s new ‘expeditionary’ diplomacy designed to meet the challenges of the 21st century, the Department has not made the appropriate organizational and cultural changes to keep pace with the work expected of its employees.”

The lesson State Department employees can expect to have taken from Benghazi: “Whether you’re at a mission, preparing for a hearing, or you’re standing on top of a building “surrounded by a mob [...] the message is the same: You’re on your own.”

Gregory Hicks also gave us some quotes and additional details that we did not know previously.

“We have about 55 diplomatic personnel in the two annexes.”  [This is a lot more than what was previously reported]

“I think at about 2 p.m. the — 2 a.m., sorry, the Secretary of State Clinton called me along with her senior staff were all on the phone, and she asked me what was going on.”

“My jaw dropped and I was embarrassed.”

Undersecretary of State Elizabeth Jones “told me I had to improve my management style and that some people were upset.”

“A phone call from that senior a person is generally considered not to be good news.”

“It’s a demotion [...] foreign affairs officers… are desk officers. I’ve been effectively demoted from deputy chief of mission to desk officer.”

“[Washington] asked me in one of the phone calls, when are you going to move [from the embassy] to the annex?” I said dawn, because none of our people had experience driving the armored vehicles.

Hicks says that Secretary Clinton “wanted Benghazi converted into a permanent constituent post. The timing of this decision was important. Chris needed to report before Sept. 30, the end of the fiscal year… [and file] an action memo to convert the facility.”

Mark I. Thompson, the Deputy Coordinator for Operations for the CT Bureau who was careful to let us know in his bio-note that the position is equivalent to a Deputy Assistant Secretary.

The team “is designed… to get all the options on the table for the decision-makers.”

Later he said when he knew they couldn’t find the ambassador “I alerted my leadership.”

On why was FEST not called into action? “I do not know.”

A pretty good account of the hearing with timeline via the Guardian here if you want to read more.


Something DGHR might be interested in — Rep. Jackie Speier, a Democrat from California asked  Mr. Hicks where in the world he’d like to be posted next.

“The country that I would most like to go to and be assigned to…” Hicks says, then pauses. “I’d really want to talk to the chief decision-maker in my family, my wife, because her opinion is really more important than mine.”

“I think this committee will help you get a good onward assignment,” Speier says.

That’s when we just ahaha fell off the chair!  Has there ever been an instance when Congress successfully waded in on the onward assignment of a mid-level official in a State Department? We’d like to see that. We imagine that Congress can drive Assignments Officers literally as nuts as Jack Nicholson in The Shining. We suspect that the good representative from California had absolutely no idea how that works. Maybe they should hold a hearing about that, too, because why not?


He Said vs. He Said vs. They Said

Via Jonathan Karl/ABC:  The GOP reportedly said that Thomas Pickering – the co-chairman of ARB Benghazi refused to testify on May 8.  The State Department disagreed:  “Ambassador Pickering volunteered to appear,” a State Department official tells ABC News. “But Government Oversight and Reform Committee Chairman Darrell] Issa said no.” Issa spokesman then released a letter dated February 22 inviting Pickering (read them here) to the SubCommittee on National Security on March 2013.  State Department says Pickering is ready to go right now – and happy to testify on May 8.

Via Andrea Mitchell/NBC: Gregory Hicks said that Clinton’s Chief of Staff, Cheryl Mills “was very upset” that the lawyer was barred from the classified briefing during the Chaffetz CODEL in Tripoli.  Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s longtime aide Philippe Reines responded in a lengthy email to NBC News/MSNBC regarding the allegation that Mills was angry that a State Department attorney was excluded from meetings in Libya with republican Congressman Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, of the House Oversight Committee.

Via Thinkprogress and Foreign Policy  Gregory Hicks vs. Embassy Tripoli staff.  “Staff who served in Libya with Gregory Hicks, the GOP’s primary “whistleblower” in this week’s hearing on the Benghazi terror attacks, undercut his story that State Department officials demoted him as retribution for speaking out, instead telling ThinkProgress about a man who one described as “the worst manager I’ve ever seen in the Foreign Service.”  Another anonymous official told Foreign Policy’s Gordon Lubold that Hicks is a “classic case of underachiever who whines when big breaks don’t come his way.”

So — that’s that. Maybe we’ll have a separate post on Mr. Hicks and whistleblowing  later ….

For now, it looks like the famous “talking points” is the star of the press show again.

Meanwhile –

US Embassy Tripoli went on partial ordered departure yesterday with some personnel ordered to depart the country, while others continue the work they were sent out to do in Libya.  Tripoli according to Eric Nordstrom is one of the “two facilities that met no OSPB or SECCA standards” and yet we are there.  Has anyone asked to see Tripoli and Benghazi’s emergency plans?  Was there even one for Benghazi?  Who approved these posts without the required security waivers? Neither the ARB nor Congress knows despite the various reports and multiple hearings.  For now, the Marines’ Task Force Tripoli is reportedly on site on a six-month rotation.

At the same time, at a neighboring embassy (one of those breached in mob attacks last year) where the front office is seriously suffering from clientitis and on denial about security and the future of a seriously messed up country —  work on updating the mission’s emergency plan finally started.  But the country is falling apart and if you have not Nordstromed your requests yet, better start before it’s too late.

By the way, on the same day when  the Benghazi hearing was held, our U.S. Ambassador to Syria Robert Ford made a secret trip into northern Syria.  NPR reported that Ambassador Ford who is still accredited to the Syrian Government crossed into rebel-held territory at the Bab al-Salama crossing of the Turkish frontier without permission from the Syrian Government.

And so –

The work continues in over 285 posts around the world. If you know how these hearings have made our people overseas any safer or  better equipped to managed the risks they faced every day, please tell us because we’ve been depressed for a long, long time now.

– DS

Note: With apologies to our regular readers. We have currently disabled the comment section. We don’t have enough Prozac to help us deal with the ever excellent conspiracy theorists who came to leave us love notes.  So we will go hide under the bed with our favorite GAO reports and catch up on our reading.  

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Is the State Dept’s Bureaucratic Firewall Crumbling? Former DCM Says Accountability Review “let people off the hook” …

Via CNN:

Greg Hicks, former deputy chief of mission at the U.S. Embassy in Tripoli, Libya, told congressional investigators that the State Department internal review of the catastrophe at the mission in Benghazi “let people off the hook,” CNN has learned.

The Accountability Review Board “report itself doesn’t really ascribe blame to any individual at all. The public report anyway,” Hicks told investigators, according to transcript excerpts obtained by CNN. “It does let people off the hook.”
[...]
Rep. Darrell Issa, the chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, said Sunday on CBS that Hicks will testify Wednesday in a congressional hearing on the deadly attack in Benghazi.

“In our system, people who make decisions have been confirmed by the Senate to make decisions,” Hicks told investigators.”The three people in the State Department who are on administrative leave pending disciplinary action are below Senate confirmation level. Now, the DS (Diplomatic Security) assistant secretary resigned, and he is at Senate confirmation level.  Yet the paper trail is pretty clear that decisions were being made above his level.

Whom might Hicks be referring to? He specifically mentions Under Secretary of State for Management Patrick Kennedy.

“Certainly the fact that Under Secretary Kennedy required a daily report of the personnel in country and who personally approved every official American who went to Tripoli or Benghazi, either on assignment or TDY (temporary duty), would suggest some responsibility about security levels within the country lies on his desk,” Hicks said.
[...]
The day after Rice’s appearance on the Sunday shows, Hicks says, he asked Acting Assistant Secretary for Near Eastern Affairs Beth Jones, ” ‘Why did Ambassador Rice say that?’ And Beth Jones said, ‘I don’t know.'”

Hicks said he didn’t think Jones “welcomed the question at all. … Both the sharpness of the ‘I don’t know’ and the tone of voice … indicated to me that I had perhaps asked a question that I should not have asked.”

Continue reading, Benghazi whistle-blower Hicks: Internal review ‘let people off the hook’.

If you missed this weekend’s Face the Nation, see the CBS Face the Nation Transcript, May 5, 2013, the first part is on Benghazi.

We have written previously how we were troubled by the ARB fixing the blame at the bureau level (see How long will the State Dept’s bureaucratic firewall hold at the bureau level?; and These bureaus don’t exist in a vacuum? Oh, but they do – since …).

 We find the “fixin” the blame ‘er accountability at the bureau level quite disturbing but also laughable.  We are tempted to start calling this the “Accountability for Mid Level Officials Review Board” as suggested.

Back in December, we’ve also speculated at three future scenarios:

  1. That the four resignations will temper the noise and hold the firewall at the bureau level.
  2. That the four resignations will increase the noise, add more questions, breach the bureau firewall and one or more of the Under Secretaries will roll.
  3. That with the holiday week coming, people will be riveted by last minute shopping, and will be so Benghazid-out to care.

It looks like scenarios #1 and #3 are now out.  Remains to be seen how scenario #2 plays out with this week’s Oversight hearing.  We suspect that one or more of the under secretaries will soon announce a desire to “spend more time with the family” or retire or whatever.

We understand that Mr. Hicks was the deputy chief of mission in Tripoli from June 2012 – October 2012.  We don’t know why this tenure was only for four months.  We have tried reaching out to Mr. Hicks but have not heard anything back. He presumably also became the charge d’affaires in the aftermath of Ambassador Steven’s death.  Mr. Hicks is an FS-01 Econ Officer with 22 years of service.

On October 11, 2012, retired FSO Laurence Pope assumed office as charge d’affaires at the US Embassy in Tripoli (see Officially Back: Ambassador Laurence Pope to Tripoli as Chargé d’ Affaires.

In January 2013, a career FSO took over running the embassy from Ambassador Pope (see US Embassy Libya: New Chargé d’ Affaires William Roebuck Assumes Office.

On March 19, 2013, President Obama announced his intent to nominate Deborah Jones as the next ambassador to Libya (see  Officially In: Deborah K. Jones, from MEI Scholar-in-Residence to Libya).  Ambassador Jones is scheduled to have her confirmation hearing at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee tomorrow, Tuesday, May 7, 2013.

Mr. Hicks is scheduled to testify at the House Oversight Committee hearing on Wednesday, May 8. We have a prior engagement that day so we’ll be late.

– DS

 

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Oversight Committee Announces Names of Benghazi Hearing Witnesses: Mark Thompson, Gregory Hicks, Eric Nordstrom

Via the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee dated May 4, 2013:

House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa today announced three witnesses who will appear at a full committee hearing, “Benghazi:  Exposing Failure and Recognizing Courage,” on Wednesday, May 8, 2013, at 11:30 AM in 2154 Rayburn House Office Building.

“I applaud these individuals for answering our call to testify in front of the Committee.  They have critical information about what occurred before, during, and after the Benghazi terrorist attacks that differs on key points from what Administration officials – including those on the Accountability Review Board – have portrayed,” said Issa.  “Our committee has been contacted by numerous other individuals who have direct knowledge of the Benghazi terrorist attack, but are not yet prepared to testify.  In many cases their principal reticence of appearing in public is their concern of retaliation at the hands of their respective employers.  While we may yet add additional witnesses, this panel will certainly answer some questions and leave us with many new ones.”

Witnesses:

Image via House Oversight Committee

Image via House Oversight Committee

 

In October 2012, the Oversight Committee held the first hearing on the Benghazi attacks, which exposed denials of security requests and forced the Administration to acknowledge that the attacks were not sparked by a protest of a YouTube video, contrary to claims made by Obama Administration officials.

*** NOTE: Press seating will be reserved, but limited. Please arrive early (hearing room will open to press at 10:30 AM) to guarantee a seat. An overflow area will be available. ***

Hearing Details:
Wednesday, May 8th, 2013
Benghazi: Exposing Failure and Recognizing Courage
Full Committee, Chairman Darrell Issa, (R-CA)
11:30 a.m. in 2154 Rayburn House Office Building and streaming live at oversight.house.gov.

 

We can’t seem to find the position of Deputy Assistant Secretary for Counterterrorism  in the State Department directory.  The Bureau of Counterterrorism (CT) is headed in an acting capacity by  Ambassador-at-Large & Coordinator Jerry P. Lanier.  The directory also list Mark I. Thompson as Deputy Coordinator for Operations  (teldir dated May 3,2013 p.OD-16). We can’t say if this is the same person referred to in the Oversight announcement.

Mr. Hicks is running for State VP in the AFSA elections; we cannot locate him in the phone directory so we can’t say what his current assignment is in the State Department.  When the State Department sent  some  embassy personnel back to Tripoli to reopen the embassy in September 2011,  Joan Polaschik was the DCM (see Modest Diplomatic Footprint Returns to Tripoli Without Ambassador Cretz).  So Mr. Hicks must have succeeded Ms. Polachick sometime in 2012. We’re trying to track down when was his exact tenure at US Embassy Tripoli.

Mr. Nordstrom has previously testified at the Oversight Committee on July 26, 2012.

It’ll probably be standing room only.  Come prepared.

– 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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FBI Seeks Information on Benghazi Attacks, Posts Photos of Three Individuals

Via the FBI:

The United States Federal Bureau of Investigation appreciates that the Libyan people and the government of Libya have condemned the September 11, 2012 attacks on U.S. Special Mission personnel and facilities in Benghazi, Libya.

The FBI is now asking Libyans and people around the world for additional information related to the attacks, which resulted in the deaths of four Americans, including the U.S. ambassador to Libya.

We are seeking information about three individuals who were on the grounds of the U.S. Special Mission when it was attacked. These individuals may be able to provide information to help in the investigation.

We need your help to solve this crime. If you have any information, text or e-mail BenghaziTips@ic.fbi.gov or submit information confidentially at https://forms.fbi.gov/benghazi-en.

Print Version

Arabic (العربية)

FBI Seeking Information on Benghazi Attacks

(Click on image to go to the FBI page)

If you have any information concerning these individuals, please contact your local FBI office or the nearest American Embassy or Consulate.

–DS

 

 

 

 

 

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GOP’s Benghazi Report: Anonymous DS Agent, Whistleblowers and Embassy “Security”

There are three items we found interesting in Appendix I of the House GOP’s interim report on Benghazi.

House Committee on Government and Oversight Reform: The Committee has heard from, and continues to hear from, multiple individuals with direct and/or indirect information about events surrounding the attacks in Benghazi.

On April 17, CBS News reported that multiple new whistleblowers are privately speaking to investigators with the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee and that the Committee had sent new letters to the CIA, DOD and State. If there are multiple whistleblowers as claimed here, we could be looking at Benghazi hearings going on all the way to 2014 and even 2016. By then Diplopundit Jr. would be old enough to drive and what more, junior would never ever again confused Benghazi with Bujumbura. So that’s something to look forward to.

House Foreign Affairs Committee: Approached a DS agent who was on the scene in a not-yet-successful effort to obtain additional information. This individual wishes to remain anonymous. 

The individual may wish to remain anonymous but that anonymity is not going to go very far inside the building. How many DS agents were on the scene of the attacks again?  That’s a pretty thin cover.  Poor guy won’t get any peace or space between now and then, whenever then maybe.

House Foreign Affairs Committee: Building on its Benghazi investigation, the Committee is taking a broader look at embassy security to determine whether the State Department is adequately protecting its personnel at other diplomatic facilities. Improving embassy security is a Committee legislative priority. The Committee is particularly concerned about, and is currently investigating, the security situation at the U.S. Embassy in Afghanistan. 

Well, then all we can add is that the Committee better hurry with the broader look Congress is doing before it’s too late.

It can start with the Consulate General in Jeddah

Want to go further than 2007?   Why don’t we try 30 years back with the US Embassy in Beirut?

Apparently, thirty long years after the Beirut embassy bombing, we might be close to finally building a Fortress in Beirut. Ay caramba but it’s now happening!

Proposal for the U.S. Embassy building in Beirut, conceived by Ralph Rapson in 1953.

Proposal for the U.S. Embassy building in Beirut, conceived by Ralph Rapson in 1953. This project is not related to the current one. (image via the Lebanese Architecture Portal – click on image to view original material)

While at it, Congress might want to see if the State Department bothered to learn anything from the embassy mob attacks last year since no ARB was ever convened.  We understand that in some of those posts attacked, there were strict orders from the front office to restrict dissemination of information and photos on the extent of the damages (US Embassy Tunis was one exception).

Might it be true that some of our embassies in the Arab Spring countries are trying to shape perceptions to what they imagine their embassy and host country should be instead of basing post and host country expectations on reality?

If the Committee is particularly concerned about the security situation at the U.S. Embassy in Afghanistan where we have a large number of contract guards and the U.S. military, should it not be also concerned with the U.S. Embassy in Egypt where neither is present and mobocacy now rules?

– DS

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