Where are the Accountability Review Boards for Embassy Breaches in Tunisia and Yemen?

The Accountability Review Board regulations for convening the Board has a good description of a security-related incident:

“A case of serious injury, loss of life, or significant destruction of property at or related to a U.S. Government mission abroad, or a case of a serious breach of security involving intelligence activities or a foreign government directed at a U.S. mission abroad (other than a facility or installation subject to the control of a U.S. area military commander).”

In early October, Secretary Clinton officially convened the ARB to examine the circumstances surrounding the deaths of personnel assigned in support of the U.S. Government mission to Libya in Benghazi on September 11, 2012. Unless the Board requests additional time, the ARB report should be available to the secretary on or about December 4.

We recognize that the Benghazi attack has practically sucked out all the oxygen in the room.  The four deaths in Benghazi included that of an ambassador, a high profile attack against a top American official which has not happened in over three decades.   The attack also happened amidst a political campaign, so inevitably reactions are all over the place as well as numerous competing agendas. But — it is worth noting that in addition to Benghazi, there were multiple US embassies attacked on that week of September 11.  We understand from people inside the building that with the exception of Benghazi (which had a vague diplomatic status), the attack on US Embassy Tunis was the worst since Islamist militants attacked the US consulate in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia in 2004. In that incident, attackers used explosives and machine guns, and while there were no American casualty, five locally employed staff and one local guard were killed.

Most of the protests on September 11, 2012 were angry and loud, but even the largest ones like those in Pakistan did not get into the embassy compound.  In countries where governments stood by their obligation under the Vienna Conventions, policemen and riot control forces successfully defended US personnel and premises.  This was not just a burden to the host government forces. In fact, in some cases it had dire consequences as policemen were killed or wounded during the mob attack.

We will not list the names of all our missions attacked that week, but we’ll make special mention of the mob attack at the US Embassy in Cairo because that’s where it started on Tuesday, September 11, 2012.  Protesters scaled the embassy wall and tore down the American flag to replace it with a black Islamic flag. The President of Egypt had no official reaction to the attack until Thursday, two days later.

On September 13, protesters stormed the grounds of the U.S. embassy in Sana’a where they smashed windows, burned about 60 cars and the US flag. Police reportedly fired into the air in an attempt to hold back the crowds, but failed to prevent them from gaining access to the compound and setting fire to vehicles.

for ARB_yemen

On September 14, protesters reportedly breached the outside wall of the US Embassy compound in Khartoum and clashed with guards. There were press accounts that protestors were transported to US Embassy Khartoum in host government green buses.

In Tunis, on September 14, protesters entered the compound of the U.S. embassy after climbing the embassy walls, looted USG properties, torched several facilities including the pool and over 100 vehicles. The protesters also attacked the American Cooperative School of Tunis and set it on fire. Below is part of a series of photos posted in as-ansar.com a domain reportedly associated with one of the most popular Salafi-jihadi forums online.

as-ansar image from US Embassy Tunis

These certainly were not just protesters mad over a no-rate video. Their handiwork were on display. At the US Embassy in Tunis, they left notes all over the embassy buildings. One says “You killed Bin Laden and we are all Bin Laden.” Another one says, “We are all Osama.

Fortunately, no one died in Tunis, but as in USCG Jeddah, the US Embassy Tunis compound was breached, several structures were torched including the motor pool and over 100 vehicles. There is obviously significant destruction of property.  There was an extensive collection photos of the damage to the embassy compound following the attack but those photos are no longer publicly available.

Congress allows the Secretary of State 60 days from the date of a security incident to convene an ARB.  Except for the one on Benghazi, the State Department has yet to announce if an Accountability Review Board will be convened for any of the embassy breaches.

screen capture_tunis after

This blog believes that the ARB for the worst breaches like those in US Embassy Tunis and US Embassy Sana’a are needed if only to answer some questions:

  • What does it mean when a mob comes over embassy walls and the situation does not get under control by host country authorities for 4 or more hours. Does it mean the host country does not have enough resources to protect the diplomatic premises or does it know and allow what is about to happen possible? When host country response is slow or non-existent, is it a case of political posturing – agreeing to let extreme elements of that country into the American compound thinking this is a harmless game only to have it spin out of control?
  • This will happen again. What should be the USG’s policy for countries that do not strongly adhere to their international obligation to protect diplomats and our diplomatic premises? Sure we want to support these new democracies but we are not doing ourselves any favors by not having a well understood policy on the consequences for this abrogation of host country obligation.
  • If a mob can scale 9-foot walls that easily, and help from host country authorities are slow or not forthcoming, what are the recommended options for the embassy staff short of getting into a safehaven and waiting to be roasted like ducks? What lessons were learned from these mob attacks? Were these lessons collected and disseminated back to all posts?
  • If the safehaven rooms are to function as the embassy’s “safe haven” for employees under attack, shouldn’t these rooms require not only fireproofing but also be fully smoke sealed?  Alternatively, are smoke masks available?  Inhalation injury from smoke may account for as many as 60-80% of fire-related deaths.  Fireproof rooms would not be of much used if the protectees subsequently die of smoke inhalation.
  • In the Iran hostage crisis, an embassy official went out to try and talk to the mob only to be captured. The mob threatened to execute him and that was how they got to open the secured doors.  What guidance is available to US employees and local staff on what to save/not save in terms of outside the hardwall embassy properties when there is a mob attack? How is that risk balanced with the potential to be taken hostage?
  • In the Iran hostage crisis, an earlier attack was a prelude to the hostage taking later in the year. The attackers were able to scoped out the location of unsecured windows and used it to get into the building during the later attack. The attackers also presumed quite correctly, that no one would fire on women, so the mob had women march on front.  What current vulnerabilities within the compounds could have been learned by the attackers and potentially useful in the next attacks?
  • What are the standard operating procedures for shutting off the fuel and gas lines, chlorine, other utilities for the embassy compounds? Are there any? Are the locations easily identified and accessible?
  • Is it more advantageous to continue the path of co-location of facilities and other agencies inside one hardened facility (and provide a single target) or does the policy of co-location provide more vulnerabilities than acceptable?
  • The protesters used hand tools like sledgehammers, bolt croppers , cutters, other tools to attack the buildings inside the compounds. Were these tools brought in by attackers or were these embassy tools? If these were embassy tools, how and where were they secured prior to the attacks?
  • How did the protesters easily got on top of the chancery buildings? Were these buildings constructed with built- in ladders? If so, is it time to revisit this and if the built-in ladders are there for “aesthetics” maybe it is time to screw that? As a precaution, what has been done to the current buildings constructed with built in ladders?tunis_up the built in ladder
  • Where should the motor pool be located?  Inside a compound or elsewhere? The motor pool has cars, cars have fuel, fuel can go kaboom and set the next building, which might just be the Chancery, on fire.
  • How well did the local guard force respond to the attacks? Are there lessons to be learned?
  • Has the State Department updated its use of force policy since the embassy attacks? If so, what red lines require the corresponding response of active use of force? If not, why not?  Should Senator McCain’s amendment 3051 becomes law and the Department of Defense changes its rules of engagement for Marines stationed at embassies and consulates “so they could engage in combat when attacked,” how would this affect embassy operation and outreach? Who gets to make that call to engage in combat, the RSO or the ambassador?

domani spero sig



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domani spero sig