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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

British Foreign Service Tackles Bizarre Requests: Monkey, Tattoo, Online Love and More

In 2012, Brits overseas asked their Foreign Office help in erecting a new chicken coop at a garden in Greece, help in finding false teeth, where to look for a dog-minder, help checking on livestock, help with plastic surgery unhappiness, and so on and so forth.

See our post:  UKFCO: Straight Talk on Consular Work, and Consuls Don’t Do Chicken Coops, All right?

On May 16th, the UKFCO released some more unusual requests for 2012/2013:

Via the UKFCO:

Silencing a noisy cockerel, supplying Olympic tickets and providing contact details for Sir Paul McCartney’s wife were among the most unusual requests to British posts abroad in 2012/13, according to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO). These are often good natured but can take valuable time away from helping those in genuine distress.

Over the last year, the FCO handled more than a million consular enquiries and supported some 52,135 British nationals in difficulty abroad.* However, our consular staff overseas continue to receive a number of enquiries that they simply cannot provide assistance for.
[…]
Head of the Contact Centre, Steve Jones, said:

Our aim is to help staff at posts concentrate on what is important but some of the enquiries we received from British nationals last year were bizarre to say the least – for example, one customer contacted us to ask if we could provide the name of the watch that the Royal Navy sailors wore between the years 1942-1955.

Other inquiries received by FCO staff include:

  • A man who required hospital treatment in Cambodia when a monkey dislodged a stone that hit him demanded help getting compensation and wanted assurance that it would not happen again
  • A man asked FCO staff in Rome to translate a phrase for a tattoo that he wanted
  • Consular staff in Beijing were asked to help a woman who had bought a pair of football boots that were ‘Made in China’ but were poor quality
  • A woman requested that consular staff in Tel Aviv order her husband to get fit and eat healthily so that they could have children
  • Consular staff in Kuala Lumpur were asked if the FCO could help pay to send their children to an International School
  • A man asked consular staff in Stockholm to check the credentials of a woman whom he had met online
  • A man asked the Consulate in Montreal for information to settle a £1,000 wager on the colour of the British passport
  • A number of our staff across the world have been asked for the best place to watch the football
  • A number of British Consulates have been asked to book hotels or to advise on where to watch the football

The examples listed above indicate that some people do not know how the FCO can (and cannot) help Brits abroad. Recent research shows that 78% of people wrongly think the FCO could get them out of jail if arrested, and nearly half of 16-24 year-olds do not know what an Embassy or Consulate does.

Read in full FCO: “No sir, we cannot translate your tattoo for you”.

Since we started paying attention, this is the second year that the FCO has released such a list.  The list is bizarre and funny but at least once a year, the FCO tries to educate the British public about consular work, and what the consular staff can/cannot do for its citizens overseas.   We’re still waiting for the State Department’s Bureau of Consular Affairs to release its own list.

 

— DS