Admiral Mullen on How ARB Benghazi Defined “Systemic Failure”

— By Domani Spero

We’re just wading into the recently posted 160-page transcript of Admiral Mullen’s interview with the Oversight Committee which was conducted back on June 19, 2013.  Below is an excerpt from the Transcript of Interview (see p.107) where he was asked how the Accountability Review Board defined “systemic failure.” Read and see if you can find the hole:

Q: How did the board define systemic failure? And does that imply a failure throughout the whole system?

A: I think if I were going to — if I were going to describe systemic in that way, it’s both in sort of depth and breadth. And if I were going to pick a time to start it, it would be right about the time that Benghazi — maybe a month or two before the memo that Under Secretary Kennedy signed to extend it for a year. And over the course of that, let’s say, 9, 10 months, there were failures tied to, in particular, creating a security platform that would give it a chance, if you will.

What is — and that included personnel policy. So the short duration, TDYs from very junior, inexperienced people who actually wanted to go there because they knew it was good for their career, who didn’t get the right kind of training, didn’t have it when they went, for example; systemic again with — in Sean Smith’s case, who was the IMO, basically the communicator, but IMO is really the management officer, and that’s a broader set of skills that you’re supposed to have to manage, to handle money and budgets and planning, not just be a communicator; to the churn that was created, which then didn’t — there was nobody to oversee sort of the systematic improvements in the compound from just a physical aspect. They did do some things with respect to security projects to improve the overall posture. I think the broad systemic, two bureaus, if you will, almost working separately in that sense in terms of security as opposed to working together, figuring out, you know, this is a risky place, what should we do?

Some of the — I talked about security projects from both inside the compound where the Ambassador was that night — inside — I’m sorry, the villa as well as broadly in the compound to include security inside, literally security projects inside. That there was, you know, a lack at very senior levels, particularly in Washington, of what I would call active interventionist leadership to make the right kind of changes. There was to a certain degree a failure on the part of the Ambassador to bring all these things together.

Excuse me, but IMO [information management officer] is not/not really a management officer.  An IMO is a specialist and different from a management officer who is a generalist.  The specialists including IMOs, medical officers, financial management officers, HR officers to name a few generally report to management officers.   It is not in an IMO’s career track to become a MGT officer, but it is possible for an IM specialist to rise through the IM ranks, bid on and receive a management job or two, and apply for conversion.

As IMOs get promoted, they typically become Information Tech Managers, they do not become Management Officers unless they go through a conversion in skills code.  Of the 24 Information Tech Managers who competed for promotion in 2011, only 4 made it into the Senior Foreign Service. The average length of service of those promoted was 24 years. (Read more in SBU Foreign Service 2011 Promotion Statistics Officially Published, Color Specialist Gets an “F”).

Now, Mr. Smith was an IMO from 2002-2012.  He was a tech guy; when did IMOs start having responsibility to “oversee sort of the systematic improvements in the compound?”

Also, Mr. Smith had been with the State Department reportedly from 2002-2012 and had served in our posts in Baghdad, Pretoria, Montreal and The Hague.  Presumably, his first two tours as is typical in the service, would have been two-year duration while the third and last tours were three years. So while he was on TDY in Benghazi, he was far from being “very junior.”

Admiral Mullen is citing this as an example of “systemic failure” but there’s a hole in this wall; the hole gave the wrong picture.

(Note: corrected to clarify that career progression of IMOs, with exceptions, do not typically include track to become management officers).