Via the State Department’s ARB Benghazi Briefing with Ambassador Thomas Pickering and Admiral Mike Mullen:
MS. NULAND: … Let’s start with Matt Lee from AP, please.
QUESTION: Thank you very much for doing this briefing. The report, to a layman, seems to indicate either rank incompetence or a complete lack of understanding of the situation on the ground in Benghazi. And my question is: Why is such poor performance like that from senior leaders in these two bureaus that you mention, why is not a breach of or a dereliction of duty? Why is it not grounds for disciplinary action?
And then secondly, after the 1998 bombings in Kenya and Tanzania, the ARB report – the ARB that was formed then came out with a series of recommendations, and many of your recommendations today, the broader ones, are very similar. Those bombings in East Africa were supposed to have been a never-again moment. What happened between then and now that this could possibly have happened?
AMBASSADOR PICKERING: Without accepting your characterization of the problem, it is very clear that under the law and in connection with the State Department regulatory practice, one has to find willful misconduct or similar kinds of action in order to find breach of duty. And indeed, one of our recommendations is – there is such a large gap between willful misconduct, which leads, obviously, to conclusions about discipline, letters of reprimand, separation, the removal of an individual temporarily from duty, that we believe that gap ought to be filled. But we found, perhaps, close to – as we say in the report – breach, but there were performance inadequacies. And those are the ones that we believe ought to be taken up, and we made recommendations to the Secretary in that regard.
Thank you for asking the question, Matt Lee.
On a side note — Ambassador Pickering was the 17th Undersecretary for Political Affairs who was the #3 ranking official at the State Department (1997-2000) when the East Africa Embassy Bombings occurred in 1998. He was one of those interviewed by the Crowe Commission; that Board concluded that “no employee of the U.S. government” had “breached his or her responsibility.” No one was pressured to leave after that incident as far as we can recall. More on that here from Ambassador Bushnell who similarly requested additional resources for US Embassy Nairobi prior to the bombing.
ARB Benghazi’s report released yesterday says that “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.”
And yet — as of 10:17 pm PST, four State Department officials no higher than an
deputy assistant secretary (DAS) have so far been snared by the ARB report (one AS and three DASes). Only one of those who were reportedly pressured to step down is big enough fish to make a splash on the State Department organizational chart. A statement from the State Department via NPR:
“The ARB identified the performance of four officials, three in the Bureau of the Diplomatic Security and one in the Bureau of Near East Asia Affairs,” spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said in a statement. “The Secretary has accepted Eric Boswell’s decision to resign as Assistant Secretary for Diplomatic Security, effective immediately. The other three individuals have been relieved of their current duties. All four individuals have been placed on administrative leave pending further action.”
So — now, if the ARB report did in fact identify these officials, why was that considered “classified” and omitted from the publicly available report?
Did the ARB only identified four officials or are there more?
How many deputy assistant secretaries is the State Department prepared to pitch under the bus to ensure that the bureaucratic firewall holds at the bureau level?
Don’t get us wrong. Four people were dead, a few more wounded. We want to see who is accountable. The ARB report and the State Department’s response is sending lots of static. We understand that one of those leaving is preparing to retire anyway …. so … what’s going on guys?