Benghazi Hearings with Hillary Clinton: Some Take Aways

So after months of endless chatter and lots of ink spilled on Secretary Clinton testifying on Benghazi, the moment finally arrived on January 23, 2013. You’d think that after over four months waiting for the Secretary of State to appear in Congress to answer questions about the Benghazi attack, that our elected representatives had the time to craft questions that would help inform us better.  Unfortunately, that was not the case.    Did we learn anything new from the hearing? Well, not really but we did have a few take aways.

I.  Folks elected to Congress apparently do not need to know basic information before coming to a hearing and asking questions. Uh-oh, brains going commando!  But that’s part of the perks of being an elected representative.  You don’t have to know anything or a lot.

Rep. Joe Wilson asked why there were no Marines in Benghazi.  Oh, Joe!

Rep. Kinzinger suggested that an F-16 could/should have been have flown over Benghazi to disperse the mob/crowd or whatever you call those attackers.

We’ve heard of things called pepper sprays, tear gas, even pain rays for crowd control but this is the first time we’ve heard of the suggestion of using F-16s for crowd dispersal.  You need to get one of those for your post asap.

Rep. Juan Vargas asked again why there were no Marines in Benghazi. Ugh! Juan, do your homework or dammit, listen!

Rep. McCaul asked why Stevens was in Benghazi on September 11, 2012.  Did he bother to read this report, or did he read it and did not believe it?

Rep. Marino on State Dept personnel who were put on administrative leave in the aftermath of the ARB report: “Why haven’t they been fired?” Clinton: “There are regulations and laws that govern that.”

Well, dammit, who wrote those regulations and laws?  Oooh!

 Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen on the Benghazi ARB not having interviewed Clinton: “I think that’s outrageous.”

The good congresswoman from Florida would have wanted the ARB Benghazi to interview the Secretary of State for a report that will be submitted to the Secretary of State. That would have been certainly outrageous, too, no?

She also asked: Why did State not immediately revamp our security protocols prior to the September 11th attacks?

Huh?

Sen. Jeff Flake  asked if Clinton was consulted before Susan Rice was chosen to go on Sunday morning shows.

Rep. Matt Salmon: “Eric Holder has repeatedly misled about an international gun-trafficking scheme.”

Gawd, no more Rice, pleeeeaase! And did somebody scramble Matt’s hearing schedule again?  Was Eric Holder in the building?

At the SFRC hearing, the more deliberative kind, Senator Rand Paul gave himself a lengthy talk and then asked: “Is the U.S. involved in shipping weapons out of Libya to Turkey.”

Clinton’s response: “To Turkey? I will have to take that question for the record. That’s … Nobody has ever raised that with me.”

Dear Senator Paul, please check with OGA, the Annex people may know.

Of course, President Senator Paul will also be remembered for stealing the thunderbolts from Senator McCain with his: “Had I been president at the time and I found out that you did not read the cables … I would have relieved you of your post.”

Hookay!

Senator Paul was only topped by Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin with his inquiry which started a heated exchange with Clinton:  “Did anybody in the State Department talk to those folks [people evacuated from Libya] very shortly afterwards?”

With all due respect, the fact is we had four dead Americans,” Clinton told him angrily. “Whether it’s because of a protest or whether a guy out for a walk decided to go kill some Americans, what difference at this point does it make?”

And perhaps because of that heated exchange, we will forever remember Senator Johnson as the guy who got Hillary mad, and got a public spanking in the process.  His response? “Thank you, Madame Secretary.”

II.  2016 looming large in their minds, oh my!

Tom Udall of New Mexico praised Secretary Clinton for her work on “cookstoves” which  improve lives for third world people.

Were there cookstoves in Benghazi?

Rep. Ami Bera said: “I think I speak for all the freshmen that we’re not gonna get much time to serve with you, but we hope in a few years we’ll get that chance to serve again.”

Rep. Juan Vargas said: “I have to say that because it’s true, one, and secondly, I don’t think that my wife, my 16-year-old daughter or my nine-year-old daughter … she’d probably even turn on me and wouldn’t let me in the house if I didn’t say that.  You are a hero to many, especially women ….”

That’s just a sampling of the other extreme reception that Secretary Clinton received from one side of the aisle while the other side were reportedly “grilling” her.  If you call what she got a grilling, we hate to see what a real roasting is like.

III.  1.4 million cables

Secretary Clinton told Congress that about 1.4 million cables go to the State Department every year, and they’re all addressed to her.  All you need to do is peek at those Wikileaks cables and you’ll quickly notice that almost all cables going back to Washington are addressed to  SECSTATE.  The Secretary doesn’t read all of them because that would be a crazy expectation; that’s why there are tiered leadership within that building.  There’s a cable reportedly floating around the net sent by Ambassador Stevens to the State Department about security. From best we could tell, the cable was drafted by one officer, cleared by one officer, and released by one officer under Ambassador Stevens’ signature. He is the chief of mission. All cables that went out of Tripoli were sent under his signature.

The question the reps should have asked is how many NODIS cables did Ambassador Stevens send from Tripoli?  Cables captioned NODIS identifies messages of the highest sensitivity between the chief of mission and the Secretary of State.  All other regular cables marked Routine, Priority or Immediate would have gone through the appropriate distribution channels, and up the offices and bureaus within State.  Security request cables would have been received at Diplomatic Security, any deliberation beyond the bureau would have gone up to the Under Secretary for Management (“M”).  That’s within their pay grades.  We doubt very much that any would have gone to the Secretary’s office.  Note that this is not the first time that an ambassador’s request for additional security was not seen by the Secretary of State. Ambassador Bushnell prior to the bombing of the US Embassy in Nairobi made a similar request to Secretary Albright. In the aftermath of the bombing  Secretary Albright told the ambassador she never saw the letter.

 

IV.  Iraq and Afghanistan sucked out resources

Okay, we all know this already. But here the Secretary of State, for the first time publicly acknowledged that an emphasis on security in Iraq and Afghanistan in the past decade diverted resources from other outposts around the world.

 

V. Accountability Review Boards. 

Since 1988 there have been 19 Accountability Review Boards investigating attacks on American diplomats and diplomatic facilities worldwide.   Of those 19 ARBs only the ARB for the East Africa Bombings and the ARB for Benghazi are available for public view.  Can some media or accountability group please FOIA the remaining 17 ARBs? Better yet, if Congress can get its act together, it should update the regs to allow for the automatic publication of the ARBs after a certain length of time deemed appropriate.

We should note that the Accountability Review Boards are not “independent” bodies as they are often described in news reports. They are composed of individuals recommended by the Permanent Coordinating Committee (PCC) inside the State Department. A committee so transparent that you can’t find it listed in any of the DoS telephone directory.  In almost all of them, the chairman is a retired ambassador, with former, retired or current members from the federal bureaucracy.

The PCC composition itself is interesting.  Are we to understand that the PCC did not/not recommend to Secretary Clinton convening ARBs for the embassy breaches in Tunis, Sana’a, Cairo and Khartoum despite significant destruction of properties? Four ARBs in addition to Benghazi would have been too much, huh? Do please take a look at the PCC membership, and perhaps there’s the reason why.

 

VI. High Threat Posts. 

Secretary Clinton told the panel that she named the first Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for High Threat Posts, “so Missions in dangerous places get the attention they need.”  She’s talking about the newly designated 17 (20?) diplomatic posts considered high threat, which obviously need its own assistant secretary and an entirely new support staff.

That’s good and that’s bad. Perhaps we need to remind the somebodies that when the US Embassy Kenya was bombed, it was not a high threat post.  Nobody seems to know how or what factors were used in determining which post get into this list.  Even folks who we presumed should know are scratching their heads; they are in the dark.  As we have pointed out previously, some posts on this high threat list are not even considered danger posts.  And some posts considered dangerous enough that the Government pays employees a danger differential to be there are not on this list. Go figure.

Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Egypt, Indonesia, Iraq, Jordan, Kenya, Libya, Mauritania, Nigeria, Pakistan, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, Syria, Tunisia, Yemen.

One other reminder. In the aftermath of the East Africa Bombing in 1998, and upon recommendation of the ARB for that incident, the State Department kicked off its Crisis Management Exercise program for its worldwide posts. The Crisis Management Training Office (CMT) went from a one-person shop ran for years by, if we remember correctly, a retired Special Forces colonel and Vietnam vet, to a big shop with lots of trainers and travel money ran by an FSO who was not a crisis management professional.  Yeah, you should read some of the scenarios they table-top sometimes where there’s a plane crash, and an earthquake and hell, a tsunami and a hostage taking, too, all on the same day, why not?

See if you can find an assessment on how much impact the CMEs have on mission preparedness. Particularly, if the local employees who play a large part in any catastrophic event overseas are not included in the exercise.  Did any of the CMEs ever written in the last 10 years imagined any of the events that played out in the last two years?

In the immediate aftermath of a terrorist attack, Congress often is lax with its purse strings. It does not want to be perceived as functioning on the wrong side of the story. It’s bad for reelection.  We have no doubt that Congress will increased funds for building new embassy compounds or hardening old ones, as well as increase US Marine Guards and Diplomatic Security personnel.  We don’t know if the MOU between DOD and State has been updated to allow the active use of force. Because what does it matter if you have more Marines if they are only allowed to engage in a passive response? Did anyone ask that during the hearing?

Perhaps the important take away in all this is that once you create and fund something in the bureaucracy, it lives almost to perpetuity; it is easier to stand up an office than remove an old one.  Has the Crisis Management Office served its purpose in the last decade? Maybe, maybe not. We have no way of knowing but it continue to exist.  Was the new directorate for High Threat posts within Diplomatic Security well thought of? Maybe, maybe not. But the office now exist and will operate with new authority, staff, funding and  the accompanying high profile within and outside the building.  Until the next big one happens, in which case, a new program or office will be quickly created in direct response to the incident.

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