Accountability Review Board Singles Out DS/NEA Bureaus But Cites No Breach of Duty

The unclassified portion of the much-awaited report from the Accountability Review Board (ARB) on the Benghazi Attacks was finally released earlier last night.

The ARB members were selected by Secretary Clinton and one member from the intelligence community (IC) was selected by the Director for National Intelligence, James Clapper.  Ambassador Thomas R. Pickering was appointed Chairman, with Admiral Michael Mullen as Vice Chairman. Additional members were Catherine Bertini, Richard Shinnick, and Hugh Turner, who represented the IC.

The terrorist attacks in Benghazi, Libya, on September 11-12, 2012, resulted in the deaths of four U.S. government personnel, Ambassador Chris Stevens, Sean Smith, Tyrone Woods, and Glen Doherty; seriously wounded two other U.S. personnel and injured three Libyan contract guards; and resulted in the destruction and abandonment of the U.S. Special Mission compound and Annex.

The report also provides a timeline of the attacks on September 11-12 but says that  “All times are best estimates based on existing data  and should be considered approximate” (see page 18).

The ARB report listed five findings and issued 24 recommendations in six core areas: Overarching Security Considerations; Staffing High Risk, High Threat Posts; Training and Awareness; Security and Fire Safety Equipment; Intelligence and Threat Analysis; and Personnel Accountability.

The ARB findings, briefly — extracted from the published report:

1. The attacks were security related, involving arson, small arms and machine gun fire, and the use of RPGs, grenades, and mortars against U.S. personnel at two separate facilities – the SMC and the Annex – and en route between them. Responsibility for the tragic loss of life, injuries, and damage to U.S. facilities and property rests solely and completely with the terrorists who perpetrated the attacks. The Board concluded that there was no protest prior to the attacks, which were unanticipated in their scale and intensity.

2. Systemic failures and leadership and management deficiencies at senior levels within two bureaus of the State Department (the “Department”) resulted in a Special Mission security posture that was inadequate for Benghazi and grossly inadequate to deal with the attack that took place.

  • Security in Benghazi was not recognized and implemented as a “shared responsibility” by the bureaus in Washington charged with supporting the post, resulting in stove-piped discussions and decisions on policy and security. That said, Embassy Tripoli did not demonstrate strong and sustained advocacy with Washington for increased security for Special Mission Benghazi.
  • The short-term, transitory nature of Special Mission Benghazi’s staffing, with talented and committed, but relatively inexperienced, American personnel often on temporary assignments of 40 days or less, resulted in diminished institutional knowledge, continuity, and mission capacity.
  • Overall, the number of Bureau of Diplomatic Security (DS) security staff in Benghazi on the day of the attack and in the months and weeks leading up to it was inadequate, despite repeated requests from Special Mission Benghazi and Embassy Tripoli for additional staffing. Board members found a pervasive realization among personnel who served in Benghazi that the Special Mission was not a high priority for Washington when it came to security-related requests, especially those relating to staffing. (italics added)
  • Special Mission Benghazi’s uncertain future after 2012 and its “non-status” as a temporary, residential facility made allocation of resources for security and personnel more difficult, and left responsibility to meet security standards to the working-level in the field, with very limited resources.
  • Communication, cooperation, and coordination among Washington, Tripoli, and Benghazi functioned collegially at the working-level but were constrained by a lack of transparency, responsiveness, and leadership at the senior levels. Among various Department bureaus and personnel in the field, there appeared to be very real confusion over who, ultimately, was responsible and empowered to make decisions based on both policy and security considerations.
  • It bears emphasizing, however, that the Board found the work done by these often junior DS agents to be exemplary. But given the threat environment and with very little operational oversight from more experienced, senior colleagues, combined with an under-resourced security platform, these agents were not well served by their leadership in Washington. (italics added)
  • The lack of Arabic-language skills among most American personnel assigned to Benghazi and the lack of a dedicated LES interpreter and sufficient local staff also served as a barrier to effective communication and situational awareness at the Special Mission.

3. Notwithstanding the proper implementation of security systems and procedures and remarkable heroism shown by American personnel, those systems themselves and the Libyan response fell short in the face of a series of attacks that began with the sudden penetration of the Special Mission compound by dozens of armed attackers.

4. The Board found that intelligence provided no immediate, specific tactical warning of the September 11 attacks. Known gaps existed in the intelligence community’s understanding of extremist militias in Libya and the potential threat they posed to U.S. interests, although some threats were known to exist.

5. The Board found that certain senior State Department officials within two bureaus in critical positions of authority and responsibility in Washington demonstrated a lack of proactive leadership and management ability appropriate for the State Department’s senior ranks in their responses to security concerns posed by Special Mission Benghazi, given the deteriorating threat environment and the lack of reliable host government protection. However, the Board did not find that any individual U.S. Government employee engaged in misconduct or willfully ignored his or her responsibilities, and, therefore did not find reasonable cause to believe that an individual breached his or her duty so as to be the subject of a recommendation for disciplinary action.

Related to Finding #5 is recommendation #23 which says:

23.The Board recognizes that poor performance does not ordinarily constitute a breach of duty that would serve as a basis for disciplinary action but is instead addressed through the performance management system. However, the Board is of the view that findings of unsatisfactory leadership performance by senior officials in relation to the security incident under review should be a potential basis for discipline recommendations by future ARBs, and would recommend a revision of Department regulations or amendment to the relevant statute to this end.

East Africa Embassy Bombings ARBs v. Benghazi ARB: Similarities and Differences

1) How many people were interviewed?

The East Africa Embassy Bombings ARBs interviewed 110 State Department employees identified by name, title, office and are listed in this report.  Various foreign national employees in Nairobi and Dar Es Salaam were also interviewed although they were not individually identified.

The Benghazi ARB report says the Board “interviewed over 100 individuals, reviewed thousands of pages of documents, and viewed hours of video footage.” Not a single one of the interviewees was identified or listed in the publicly available report. We cannot tell if local guards or Libyan witnesses were among those interviewed.

2) Employee Accountability

The ARBs East Africa Embassy Bombings “did not find reasonable cause to believe that any employee of the United States Government or member of the uniformed services was culpable of dereliction of his or her duties in connection with the August 7 bombings.”

The ARB Benghazi “did not find that any individual U.S. Government employee engaged in misconduct or willfully ignored his or her responsibilities, and, therefore did not find reasonable cause to believe that an individual breached his or her duty so as to be the subject of a recommendation for disciplinary action.”

3) Congress

The ARB East Africa cited the “collective failure of the US government over the past decade to provide adequate resources to reduce the vulnerability of US diplomatic missions to terrorist attacks in most countries around the world.” It assigned responsibility to several Administrations, their agencies, including the Department of State, NSC, OMB and the US Congress.

The ARB Benghazi specifically cites deficiencies in two State Department bureaus: Diplomatic Security (DS) and Near Eastern Affairs (NEA) but says:

[I]t is imperative for the State Department to be mission-driven, rather than resource-constrained – particularly when being present in increasingly risky areas of the world is integral to U.S. national security. The recommendations in this report attempt to grapple with these issues and err on the side of increased attention to prioritization and to fuller support for people and facilities engaged in working in high risk, high threat areas. The solution requires a more serious and sustained commitment from Congress to support State Department needs, which, in total, constitute a small percentage both of the full national budget and that spent for national security. One overall conclusion in this report is that Congress must do its part to meet this challenge and provide necessary resources to the State Department to address security risks and meet mission imperatives.

4) Other Government Agency

Neither the ARB East Africa nor the ARB Benghazi made mention of OGA employees, contractors, or presence of any sort. Presumably those are included in the classified portion for understandable reasons but it creates a gap in our understanding of what happened in Benghazi. The report concludes the process of assigning accountability but not sure we learned anything new here that we have not heard before in the last three months via news reports.

We will try and have a separate post on the ARB recommendations.

domani spero sig

Related item:

ARB Benghazi – Unclassified

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3 responses

  1. Dozens of heavily armed assailants. I’ve served at some dangerous (and well defended) posts – but anything short of a military base is going to have its hands full with that kind of assault.

    • jc, I agree. The question that the ARB did not answer is whether State should be at every place even places when local govt is unable to protect our dips and even when DOD is absent. Must we?

  2. Diplopundit: It was a good report. 1. It looks pretty clear that the WH and Sec. State decided an honest response could imperil the election. In other words, you can fool most of the people for at least 3 weeks. 2. I think diessel smoke is much more deadly than other kinds and killed two people here. 3. This report doesn’t help Susan Rice one bit.