Pompeo Convenes ARB Guadalajara For Jan 2017 Attack on USG Employee

On November 8, the Federal Register published a notice that an Accountability Review Board (ARB) for a security incident where a U.S. national attempted to murder a U.S. diplomat in Guadalajara, Mexico had been convened:

On June 1, 2018, Secretary Pompeo authorized the convening of an Accountability Review Board (ARB) to review a January 2017 attack on a U.S. government employee in Guadalajara, Mexico. Pursuant to Section 304 of the Omnibus Diplomatic Security and Antiterrorism Act of 1986, as amended (22 U.S.C. 4834), the ARB will examine the facts and circumstances, and report findings and recommendations as it deems appropriate, in keeping with its mandate. (see American Diplomat Wounded in Targeted Attack in #Guadalajara, Mexico). Last month, the assailant was sentenced to 22 years (see U.S. National Sentenced to 22 Years For Attempted Murder of U.S. Diplomat in Mexico).

The notice includes the composition of the ARB:

Secretary has appointed Lisa Kubiske, a retired U.S. Ambassador, as Chair of the Board. The other Board members are retired Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield, retired Ambassador Joan Plaisted, Ms. Carol Gallo, and Mr. John DeSalvio. They bring to their deliberations distinguished backgrounds in government service.

According to the notice, the Board “will submit its conclusions and recommendations to Secretary Pompeo within 60 days of its first meeting, unless the Chair determines a need for additional time. Within the timeframes required by statute following receipt of the report, the Department will report to Congress on recommendations made by the Board and action taken with respect to those recommendations.”

12 FAM 030 on the ARB provides that “The Secretary must convene a Board not later than 60 days after the occurrence of an incident, except that such 60-day period may be extended for one additional 60-day period if the Secretary determines that the additional period is necessary for the convening of the Board.”  The attack occurred in January 2017; we have not been able to locate a notice of an ARB for this incident authorized by Tillerson. Pompeo assumed office in Foggy Bottom on April 26, 2018. ARB Guadalajara was authorized on June 1, 2018, some 17 months after the incident, but less than 60 days from Pompeo’s taking office. 

There is a provision in the regs for a delay in convening an ARB; we can’t tell if the delay here was under this provision or simply because Tillerson’s tenure was beset by chaos: With respect to breaches of security involving intelligence activities, the Secretary may delay the convening of a Board, if, after consultation with the chair of the Select Committee on Intelligence of the Senate and the chair of the Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence of the House of Representatives, the Secretary determines that the establishment of a Board would compromise intelligence sources or methods.  The Secretary must promptly advise the chairs of such committees of each determination to delay the establishment of a Board. 

In any case, we’re still interested in learning more about what happened to ARB Guadalajara. If it’s been concluded, has it been forwarded to Congress? 


Is @StateDept Working to Minimize the Health Attacks in China? #Cuba #MissingARBs

Via  NBC News:

NBC News also reviewed hundreds of pages of medical records of U.S. government workers evacuated from both Cuba and China, including those the U.S. has “medically confirmed” were attacked and those it ultimately said were not.

Most of the American diplomatic evacuees have improved enough to resume work, State Department officials said. Some have been granted accommodations, such as shortened work hours, dimmed office lights or special glasses. Meanwhile, the White House National Security Council is preparing legislation to deal with gaps that Workers’ Compensation doesn’t currently cover, such as care for affected spouses or pay-outs for permanent impairment of the brain.

In internal State Department instructions reviewed by NBC News, workers in Cuba and China were told not to discuss what they knew with the public, with reporters or on social media.

In May, Pompeo called Werner’s case “entirely consistent” with the Cuba patients. But now top U.S. diplomats say they’re not sure it’s the same thing, with one telling the House Foreign Affairs Committee it’s “apples and oranges.”

And the State Department, in explaining why it’s not setting up a review board to assess the response in Cuba, told NBC News that Pompeo didn’t believe there was enough information to prove that Werner’s injury was “related to a U.S. government mission abroad.”

Somebody please set us straight here. Wasn’t there an ARB for the Cuba attack? Or was there an ARB Havana but no ARB Guangzhou? How did State made a determination that there wasn’t enough information  the injury was “related to a U.S. government mission abroad” without convening an Accountability Review Board? Did they use their Magic 8 crystal ball?


Related posts:

Eek! Diplomats Union Opposes Creation of Under Secretary for Security — Badda bing badda boom?!

— Domani Spero

The American Foreign Service Association (AFSA), the Foreign Service union recently released its Security Recommendations from its QDDR Security Working Group.

The recommendations available here includes the following number one item:

“We are opposed to the creation of a new Under Secretary for Security. Cross cutting decisions involving security and achieving other national priorities need to be consolidated, not further divided.”

Whaaaaat?  Here is how the AFSA Security Working Group explains it:

Non-concurrence with Decision to Create new Under Secretary for Security 

The Benghazi ARB, the Report of the Independent Panel on Best Practices, and the OIG Special Review of the Accountability Review Board Process all focus on the need to tighten and better focus responsibility for security at senior levels. The independent panel report recommends the creation of a new undersecretary level position for security. We disagree.

The problem is not just security but finding the balance between risk, resources, and the accomplishment of national foreign policy objectives. The result, as the OIG report notes (pg. 4), is that contrary positions tend to be “represented respectively by the Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs and the Under Secretary of State for Management.” Creating a new undersecretary for security will do nothing to resolve this problem and, in fact, is likely to prioritize security over our reason for being in risky locations in the first place. The need is for a single location to reconcile the two perspectives and take responsibility for the resulting decisions. This could either be in the U/S for political affairs or, as the IG recommends, at the level of the Deputy Secretary level but it should not be in a new U/S devoted exclusively to security.

All three reports note the 14-year failure at consistent implementation of similar recommendations made previously. A significant challenge for Department leadership will be to put in place and maintain effective implementation mechanisms. Almost as important will be to convince its personnel that it continues to pay attention once the political heat dies down.

Can we just say that we disagree with AFSA’s disagreement? You really want the policy folks to have the last say on security?  Really?

We have reached out to AFSA to determine who were the members of this Working Group but have not heard anything back. (Have not heard back because no one wants to hear more questions about The Odd Story of “Vetting/Scrubbing” the Tenure/Promotion of 1,800 Foreign Service Employees in the U.S. Senate?)  We understand from interested readers that AFSA is reportedly saying these are not “policy prescriptions” and that “The papers were reviewed and approved by the AFSA Governing Board before they were submitted to the QDDR office at State.”

What is clear as day is that the diplomats union is now on record not just in non-concurrence but in opposing the creation of a new Under Secretary for Security.

Assistant Secretary of Diplomatic Security Gregory B. Starr was asked about this new position during his confirmation hearing, and here is what he said:

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Prior to Mr. Starr’s nomination and subsequent confirmation as Assistant Secretary for Diplomatic Security, he was appointed to a non-renewable term of five years as the United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Safety and Security in 2009. As head of the UN’s Department of Safety and Security (DSS), he reported directly to the UN Secretary-General.

Mr. Starr’s response to the question on elevating Diplomatic Security to an under secretary position is perhaps not totally surprising.  In the org structure DS reports to M; M being one of the six under secretaries in the State Department.  Can you imagine how it would have been received in Foggy Bottom had he publicly supported the creation of the U/S for Diplomatic Security at the start of his tenure?

Meanwhile, Congress which is now on its 4,487th hearing on Benghazi and counting, has also not been a fan of elevating DS to the under secretary level.  Last year, this is what the HFAC chairman said:

“I won’t endorse a new undersecretary position until the State Department provides the committee with a compelling rationale,” Representative Ed Royce, a California Republican who is chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said. “More bureaucracy is not synonymous with effective security.”

Mr. Starr talks about access to the Secretary and his deputies, Congressman Royce talks about an expanding bureaucracy, and AFSA talks about “consolidation” at “P” or the Deputy Secretary level. The Dems think Pfftt and the GOP is basically still talking about those darn “talking points.”

No one is talking about fixing the “span of control” or the “organizational structure” that needs work.

We’re afraid that we’ll be back talking about this again, unfortunately, at some future heartbreak.

Diplomatic Security: Things were a changin’ in the 1980s

According to history.state.gov, the Department of State, by administrative action, established a Bureau of Diplomatic Security headed by a Director holding a rank equivalent to an Assistant Secretary of State on Nov 4, 1985. The creation of the new Bureau followed recommendations of the Advisory Panel on Overseas Security (the Inman Panel), which studied means of protecting Department personnel and facilities from terrorist attacks. Congress authorized the Bureau, to be headed by an Assistant Secretary of State for Diplomatic Security, in the Omnibus Diplomatic Security and Anti-terrorism Act of Aug 27, 1986 (P.L. 99-399; 100 Stat. 856).

What state.gov does not specifically say on its history page is that the creation of the DS bureau was a direct result of the bombing of the Embassy and Marine Barracks in Beirut, Lebanon in 1983.


President Ronald Reagan (far left) and First Lady Nancy Reagan pay their respects to the caskets of the 17 US victims of the 18 April 1983 attack on the United States Embassy in Beirut. (Photo via Wikipedia from the Reagan Library)

President Ronald Reagan (far left) and First Lady Nancy Reagan pay their respects to the caskets of the 17 US victims of the 18 April 1983 attack on the United States Embassy in Beirut.
(Photo via Wikipedia from the Reagan Library)

In the short history of the bureau, there had been four FSOs appointed as assistant secretary and three non-career appointees.  The current assistant secretary, Mr. Starr is the first career security official to lead the DS bureau. Since its inception, the bureau has been relegated to the administrative and management bureaus.  FSO Robert Lamb who was Administration A/S in 1985 assumed duties as Coordinator of the Office of Security. He was designated Director of the Bureau of Diplomatic Security Nov 4, 1985 and appointed Assistant Secretary of State for Diplomatic Security on March 12, 1987.

According to this, Diplomatic Security is responsible for this:

Diplomatic Security  protects the lives of approximately 35,000 U.S. employees under Secretary of State and Chief of Mission authority worldwide, as well as the lives of approximately 70,000 family members of these employees. An additional 40-45,000 locally engaged staff (LES) are also protected during working hours. In sum, with 2,000 special agents, and its network of engineers, couriers, civil service personnel and other critical staff, DS successfully protects almost 150,000 employees and family members during business hours, and about 100,000 U.S. employees and family members around the clock. Approximately 275 foreign service posts abroad, comprising thousands of buildings and residences, also fall under the Department’s responsibility and the DS protective security purview.

Currently, the DS bureau is one of thirteen bureaus including Budget and Planning, Human Resources, Overseas Buildings Operations under the “M” family of offices in the Under Secretary for Management. In essence, the top security official at State is not a security official but a management official.

Badda bing badda boom – Reorganization Sorta Done

The State Department has now created a DAS for High Threat Posts.  The State Department could argue that it has done “DS reorganization” with the creation of a new DAS for High Threat Posts.

The new DAS position for High Threat Posts was announced in November 2012, even before ARB Benghazi issued its report. Did it show the State Department’s quick response  ahead of the curve? Absolutely. The ARB report would later call the creation of the DAS HTP as a “positive first step.” 

Congress was partially mollified, something was being done.  

Just because something is being done doesn’t mean what is being done is what is needed or necessary.

We’ve learned in the Nairobi and Tanzania bombings that those missions were not even high threat posts when they were attacked. Also, in the August 2013 closure of posts in the Middle East and North Africa due to the potential for terrorist attacks, only four of 19 were designated as high threat posts.  And when we last blogged about this, six of the 17 reported new high threat posts  have zero danger pay.  

So why an office and a new DAS for HTP?

We think that the creation of a new DAS for HTP was a band-aid solution that everyone could get behind.  It did not encroach on anyone’s turf, no one had to give up anyone or anything, it did not require new money from Congress, it’s a new desk in the same shop, under the same old structure. It could be done cheaply and fast. Add a well-respected DS agent as A/S and tadaaaa — badda bing badda boom – reorganization sort of done!


Elevating Diplomatic Security — A 14-Year Old Idea Comes Back

Elevating Diplomatic Security in placement and reporting  within the State Department is not a new idea. The Accountability Review Board following the twin bombings of the the US Embassies in Nairobi and Tanzania recommended  in January 1999 that “a single high-ranking officer [be] accountable for all protective security matters.”

13. First and foremost, the Secretary of State should take a personal and active role in carrying out the responsibility of ensuring the security of US diplomatic personnel abroad. It is essential to convey to the entire Department that security is one of the highest priorities. In the process, the Secretary should reexamine the present organizational structure with the objective of clarifying responsibilities, encouraging better coordination, and assuring that a single high-ranking officer is accountable for all protective security matters and has the authority necessary to coordinate on the Secretary’s behalf such activities within the Department of State and with all foreign affairs USG agencies.

The ARB Nairobi/Tanzania was not talking about an assistant secretary, since that position was already in existence since 1985. It clearly was talking about a higher ranking official accountable for security.

August 1998:  The U.S. Embassy in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, in the aftermath of the August 7, 1998, al-Qaida suicide bombing. Eleven Tanzanians, including 7 Foreign Service Nationals, died in the blast, and 72 others were wounded. The same day, al-Qaida suicide bombers launched another near-simultaneous attack on the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi, Kenya, which killed 218 and wounded nearly 5,000 others. (Source: DS Records)

August 1998: The U.S. Embassy in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, in the aftermath of the August 7, 1998, al-Qaida suicide bombing. Eleven Tanzanians, including 7 Foreign Service Nationals, died in the blast, and 72 others were wounded. The same day, al-Qaida suicide bombers launched another near-simultaneous attack on the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi, Kenya, which killed 218 and wounded nearly 5,000 others. (Source: DS Records)

In fact, in the aftermath of the East Africa twin bombings, there was a move to consolidate security and threat intelligence functions under one entity, the Under Secretary for Security, Law Enforcement & Counter Terrorism and having Diplomatic Security report directly to the Secretary of State.

The Cohen-Albright memo proposed combining pertinent security and threat intelligence units into one single unit within the new DS (operational threat intelligence functions of Intelligence & Research (INR), DS Intelligence and Threat Analysis (DS/ITA), and the threat analysis unit of Counter—Terrorism (S/CT). The rationale for this?  That “this will ensure that we have one single entity within the Department responsible for all operational security and threat intelligence, and it also establishes clear, formalized lines of communication and accountability on threat matters with the IC and the Department.”Currently, INR continues to reports directly to the Secretary, CT reports to (J) and ITA remains at DS.

One change that did happen as a result of the twin bombings  was the relocation of RSOs reporting authority from Management Counselors to the Principal Officers at overseas posts.  The (M) at that time, Bonnie Cohen instructed posts that RSOs must now report to, and be evaluated by, DCMS or Principal Officers, rather than their current reporting relationship to administrative counselors. In her memo to Secretary Albright, she wrote: “This will elevate the role of security at posts, ensure that senior post management are engaged in the decision making process of security/threat issues, and establish clear lines of accountability, responsibility and communication. This will correct a number of problems that have arisen by having DS personnel part of the administrative section at post.” See the Cohen to Albright memo here (pdf).

The May 5, 2000 action memo from DS which was approved by Secretary Albright called for placement of  the Bureaus of Diplomatic Security (DS) , International Narcotics and Law Enforcement(INL) and the then Office of the Coordinator for Counter-Terrorism (CT) under this newly created Under Secretary. INL and CT currently reports to the Under Secretary for Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights (J). The new under secretary position proposed and approved in 2000, an election year, never materialized. Secretary Albright was in office until January 19, 2001.  A new administration came into office and in January 20, 2001, Colin L. Powell was appointed Secretary of State by George W. Bush.  See the Carpenter to Albright memo here (pdf).

Similarly, following the Benghazi attacks, the Accountability Review Board Benghazi made the following recommendation in December 2012:

2. The Board recommends that the Department re-examine DS organization and management, with a particular emphasis on span of control for security policy planning for all overseas U.S. diplomatic facilities. In this context, the recent creation of a new Diplomatic Security Deputy Assistant Secretary for High Threat Posts could be a positive first step if integrated into a sound strategy for DS reorganization.

At the Transfer of Remains Ceremony to Honor Those Lost in Attacks in Benghazi, Libya. September 14, 2012. State Department photo by Michael Gross

At the Transfer of Remains Ceremony to Honor Those Lost in Attacks in Benghazi, Libya. September 14, 2012. State Department photo by Michael Gross


The Independent Panel on Best Practices was the result of the ARB Benghazi recommendation that the State Department established a Panel of outside independent experts with experience in high threat, high risk areas to support the Bureau of Diplomatic Security, identify best practices from other agencies and countries and regularly evaluate security platforms in high risk, high threat posts.  The panel headed by former USSS Director Mark Sullivan made one thing clear:

“One clear and overarching recommendation, crucial to the successful and sustainable implementation of all of the recommendations in this report, is the creation of an Under Secretary for Diplomatic Security.”

Aaand, we’re back exactly where we were in the late 1990s when  Booz Allen was asked to look under the rocks on all security concerns about the Department cited in the Inman Panel Report and Admiral Crowe’s Accountability Review Boards and tasked with providing recommendations and best practices to the State Department.

Do you get a feeling that we’ve been going round and round in circle here?


Under Secretary for Diplomatic Security – Signed, Sealed, Delivered – and Ignored?

We should note here that the  Independent Panel on Best Practices (IPoBP) report is not locatable at the State Department’s website.  The August 2013 report is available here via Al Jazeera. U.S. taxpayers paid for the Panel members to  go look under the rocks, interview hundreds of people, write up their report, and the report is only retrievable from AJAM? Seven months after the report was issued, the State Department’s Deputy Secretary Heather Higginbottom met with members of the Best Practices Panel on March 26, 2014.

These two items tell us the clear importance placed by the bureaucracy on the recommendations of outside independent experts. It’s like — it’s done, now go away.

We suspect that had the Independent Panel on Best Practices report did not make it to AJAM, we may not have been able to read it. A copy was also given to The New York Times by someone who felt it was important to publicize the panel’s findings on diplomatic security.

The Best Practices report says that “crucial to the successful and sustainable implementation of all of the recommendations in this report, is the creation of an Under Secretary for Diplomatic Security.”

If this position is created, it would be the seventh under secretary position at the State Department. It would join two other “Security” bureaus: Arms Control and International Security (T) and Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights (J). It would be at par with its previous home, Management (M). It would be on equal footing with Political Affairs (P). It would control a significant security budget and about 2,000 special agents, and its network of engineers, couriers, civil service personnel , other critical staff and contractors. It could draw bureaus from other under secretaries, similar to the ones approved in 1999 and never implemented, into the DS orbit.  Most importantly, it would report directly to the Secretary of State:  one accountable security official with the authority necessary to manage on the Secretary’s behalf security matters  within the Department of State and with all foreign affairs USG agencies.

That’s a lot of change. There will be tooth and nail fights on lots of corridors.  The new Deputy Secretary Higginbottom will have lots of friends who will borrow her ears. And the bureaucracy will go on self-preservation mode.

One good news if this happens?  There will be no pointing fingers at each other when something horrible happens.  We’ll have one accountable official to drag before Congress.

Speaking of “T” and “J”, a diplomatic security agent asked, “Does that mean we give more importance to ‘international security’ and ‘civilian security’ than we give to our own personnel?”

Does it?


DS Doesn’t Need to be in the Room?

At posts overseas, the Regional Security Officer reports to the Ambassador not the Management Counselor (see the Cohen  to Albright memo here).  The Best Practices report notes that this  “direct line of authority from the Ambassador to the RSO, utilizing the Country Team and Emergency Action Committee when necessary, was seen as critical to effective post security management and responding to dynamic threats.”In part, the report says:

[A]t the headquarters level, the same clear lines of authority and understanding of responsibilities are not as well defined or understood. This has led to stove-piped support to posts and lack of understanding of security related coordination requirements among DS, the Under Secretary for Management, and the Regional Bureaus, as noted by the Benghazi ARB. In fact, some senior Foreign Service officers and DS Agents who met with the Panel identified the Under Secretary for Management (M) as the senior security official in the Department responsible for final decision making regarding critical security requirements.
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 both on policy and security considerations. “
Diplomatic Security is only one of eleven diverse support and administrative functions reporting to the Under Secretary for Management. This is a significant span of control issue and, if unaddressed, could contribute to future security management failures, such as those that occurred in Benghazi.


So moving DS into an under secretary position under S simply mirrors what is already happening at posts overseas. Except that like everything else in a bureaucracy, it’s complicated.

AFSA says that creating a new under secretary for security will not resolve the contrary positions that typically resides between Management (M) and Political Affairs (P) and would “likely result in prioritizing security” over the reason for being in risky locations in the first place.

A DS agent who supports the creation of a U/S for DS explained it to us this way:

“What they really mean is that security considerations raised by a DS U/S would have to be given equal  weight to the other reasons for being in a risky location.”

What we’re told is that all the other under secretaries and assistant secretaries have to do right now is convinced “M” that they need to be at location X.  They do not need to work with DS at all. “When  D is getting briefed, DS doesn’t even have to be in the room.” 

Now, that might explain why DS professionals have very strong feelings about this.

So what if it’s going to be a three-way bureaucratic shootout?

You might have heard that Benghazi has flared up once more.  Take a look at this screen grab from one of the emails recently released via FOIA by the State Department to Judicial Watch.  Who’s missing from this email?

Screen Shot 2014 email fogarty

A Staff Assistant to the Secretary, received an update from the A/S NEA about Benghazi and passed on the update to the senior officials in Foggy Bottom. You’d expect an update from a diplomatic security official, but as you can see in the email header, neither the sender nor the source of this email is even Diplomatic Security.

One more thing –we have occasionally heard what goes on at posts before it goes on evacuation. At one post, the Front Office did not want to go on evac because it was concerned it would become an “unaccompanied post” and thereafter limit the quality of bidders it would get during the assignment season. The decision whether post should go on authorized or ordered departure does not reside with the security professionals but with management and geographic officials.

So basically, if this  U/S for Security position becomes a reality, instead of a bureaucratic shootout between P and M, there would be a three-way shootout between P, M and DS.  In addition to policy  and resource consideration, the bureaucracy will be expected to give security considerations equal  weight when standing up a presence in a risky location or on any matter with a security component.  If the three could not sort it out, the Deputy Secretary or the Secretary would have the last say.

The Best Practices Panel says that “An effective security function must be co-equal to the other organizational
components and have a “seat at the table” to ensure strategic accountability, common understanding of risk, and corresponding mitigation options and costs.

Frankly, we cannot find a reason to argue with that, can you?

Are we doing this again in 2025?

Here is a blast from the past:

The Under Secretary would coordinate on your behalf all operational threat intelligence and security issues with other USG agencies.[…] This reorganization offers better command, control and accountability of Departmental security functions and responsibilities; streamlines the flow of security and threat intelligence information with DS as the focal point for the intelligence agencies; sends a strong signal to the Hill and others that we are taking security seriously by this reorganization; addresses the ARBs‘ findings; and institutionalizes the security apparatus at State to reflect a robust, progressive and disciplined approach to security, which is unaffected by political or personal preferences.

 That reorganization was never implemented. And here we are back to where we were some 14 years ago.

Are we going to do this again in 2025?

* * *

P.S. We’d be happy to put together the top ten reasons for and against the creation of an Under Secretary of  for Security. Send your contributions here by this Friday. The names of contributors, for obvious reasons, will not be published. If we get enough submissions, we’ll blogit.


Related items:

Report of the Accountability Review Boards on the Embassy Bombings in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam on August 7, 1998 | January 1999: http://www.fas.org/irp/threat/arb/accountability_report.html

Accountability Review Board (ARB) Report on Benghazi Attack of September 11, 2012 (pdf) (Unclassified) December 2012 | More documents here: http://www.state.gov/arbreport/

The Independent Panel on Best Practices | August 2013 (pdf) via Al Jazeera





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State/OIG Releases Special Review of the Accountability Review Board Process

— By Domani Spero

The State Department’s Office of the Inspector General released its Special Review of the Accountability Review Board Process.  [See Special Review of the Accountability Review Board Process (ISP-I-13-44A)  [491 Kb]  Posted on September 25, 2013].  The inspection took place in Washington, DC, between April 15 and August 13, 2013. The names of the inspectors have been redacted per [FOIA Exemption (b) (6)]  which “exempts from disclosure records or information which if disclosed would constitute a clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy.” (Argh!!!)

The OIG report in short form says “The Accountability Review Board process operates as intended—independently and without bias—to identify vulnerabilities in the Department of State’s security programs.”

Among its key judgments are 1) the implementation of Accountability Review Board recommendations works best when the Secretary of State and other Department of State principals take full ownership and oversight of the implementation process; 2) per Benghazi ARB recommendation to enable future Boards to recommend that the Department of State take disciplinary action in cases of unsatisfactory leadership performance related to a security incident, State “plans to revise the Foreign Affairs Manual and request that Congress amend the applicable statute to incorporate this change.”

According to the report, the OIG team interviewed the four secretaries who held office between 1998 and 2012. “All stated that the ARB process was an effective tool that could provide the Department with important lessons for enhancing the security and safety of U.S. diplomatic facilities and employees. The interviews revealed that the secretaries had engaged actively in the ARB process and had taken the ARB and the resulting recommendations with utmost seriousness.”

The report does not include the names of the interviewees but the four SecState would have been Madeleine Albright (1997-2001), Colin Powell (2001-2005), Condoleezza Rice (2005-2009), and Hillary Rodham Clinton (2009-2013)

The very same report notes that the “OIG team was not able to identify an institutionalized process by which the Secretary or Deputy Secretary engaged beyond the drafting and submission of the Secretary’s legislated report to Congress.”

Two former secretaries “raised questions as to whether the process is sufficiently robust for handling investigations of major, complex incidents, especially those in which the interests and actions of several agencies were involved.”

The report further noted that all four former secretaries described the inherent tug of war between risks and rewards as the Department conducts its business in dangerous places around the world:

Typically, the strong preference among those responsible for advancing U.S. policy objectives is to keep posts open whenever possible, even in dangerous places, while those officials responsible for security give priority to the risks and the possibilities for harm. Within the Department, these sometimes contradictory positions tend to be represented respectively by the Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs and the Under Secretary of State for Management. For that reason, two former secretaries were strongly of the view that responsibility for reconciling these perspectives should be vested at the deputy secretary level. Indeed, one former Secretary told the OIG team that this concern was at the heart of the original proposal to create a second deputy secretary position, one that would have as a principal responsibility overseeing and reconciling these competing interests of policy and security on a daily basis.

The second deputy secretary position was first filled in 2009 during Secretary Clinton’s tenure.  The State Department describes the position as the Chief Operating Officer of the Department, but the official title is Deputy Secretary for Management and Resources (D/MR).   The position “serves as principal adviser to the Secretary on overall supervision and direction of resource allocation and management activities of the Department.” The job summary posted online makes no special mention of this position as the arbiter when the competing interests between policy and security comes to the fore.

From 2009-2010, Jacob J. Lew was D/MR and oversaw the civilian surge in Afghanistan. From 2011-2013, Thomas R. Nides was D/MR and delivered State’s first Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review (QDDR).  Most recently, President Obama announced the nomination of Heather Higginbottom, the new Counselor in the Office of the Secretary of State to be the third Deputy Secretary of State for Management and Resources.

We hope to do a follow-up post on the ARB Permanent Coordinating Committee and how come no ARB was convened following the attack at the US Embassy in Tunis in September 2012 despite “significant destruction of property.”


Snapshot: Accountability Review Boards 1998-2012

— By Domani Spero

Extracted from State/OIG report

Extracted from State/OIG report

We’ve listed 18 since 1986 when the ARB was first mandated under the Omnibus Diplomatic Security and Antiterrorism Act of 1986. See 18 State Dept Accountability Review Boards Convened Since 1986 – Only Two Publicly Available.


Where are the Accountability Review Boards for Embassy Breaches in Tunisia and Yemen?

The Accountability Review Board regulations for convening the Board has a good description of a security-related incident:

“A case of serious injury, loss of life, or significant destruction of property at or related to a U.S. Government mission abroad, or a case of a serious breach of security involving intelligence activities or a foreign government directed at a U.S. mission abroad (other than a facility or installation subject to the control of a U.S. area military commander).”

In early October, Secretary Clinton officially convened the ARB to examine the circumstances surrounding the deaths of personnel assigned in support of the U.S. Government mission to Libya in Benghazi on September 11, 2012. Unless the Board requests additional time, the ARB report should be available to the secretary on or about December 4.

We recognize that the Benghazi attack has practically sucked out all the oxygen in the room.  The four deaths in Benghazi included that of an ambassador, a high profile attack against a top American official which has not happened in over three decades.   The attack also happened amidst a political campaign, so inevitably reactions are all over the place as well as numerous competing agendas. But — it is worth noting that in addition to Benghazi, there were multiple US embassies attacked on that week of September 11.  We understand from people inside the building that with the exception of Benghazi (which had a vague diplomatic status), the attack on US Embassy Tunis was the worst since Islamist militants attacked the US consulate in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia in 2004. In that incident, attackers used explosives and machine guns, and while there were no American casualty, five locally employed staff and one local guard were killed.

Most of the protests on September 11, 2012 were angry and loud, but even the largest ones like those in Pakistan did not get into the embassy compound.  In countries where governments stood by their obligation under the Vienna Conventions, policemen and riot control forces successfully defended US personnel and premises.  This was not just a burden to the host government forces. In fact, in some cases it had dire consequences as policemen were killed or wounded during the mob attack.

We will not list the names of all our missions attacked that week, but we’ll make special mention of the mob attack at the US Embassy in Cairo because that’s where it started on Tuesday, September 11, 2012.  Protesters scaled the embassy wall and tore down the American flag to replace it with a black Islamic flag. The President of Egypt had no official reaction to the attack until Thursday, two days later.

On September 13, protesters stormed the grounds of the U.S. embassy in Sana’a where they smashed windows, burned about 60 cars and the US flag. Police reportedly fired into the air in an attempt to hold back the crowds, but failed to prevent them from gaining access to the compound and setting fire to vehicles.

for ARB_yemen

On September 14, protesters reportedly breached the outside wall of the US Embassy compound in Khartoum and clashed with guards. There were press accounts that protestors were transported to US Embassy Khartoum in host government green buses.

In Tunis, on September 14, protesters entered the compound of the U.S. embassy after climbing the embassy walls, looted USG properties, torched several facilities including the pool and over 100 vehicles. The protesters also attacked the American Cooperative School of Tunis and set it on fire. Below is part of a series of photos posted in as-ansar.com a domain reportedly associated with one of the most popular Salafi-jihadi forums online.

as-ansar image from US Embassy Tunis

These certainly were not just protesters mad over a no-rate video. Their handiwork were on display. At the US Embassy in Tunis, they left notes all over the embassy buildings. One says “You killed Bin Laden and we are all Bin Laden.” Another one says, “We are all Osama.

Fortunately, no one died in Tunis, but as in USCG Jeddah, the US Embassy Tunis compound was breached, several structures were torched including the motor pool and over 100 vehicles. There is obviously significant destruction of property.  There was an extensive collection photos of the damage to the embassy compound following the attack but those photos are no longer publicly available.

Congress allows the Secretary of State 60 days from the date of a security incident to convene an ARB.  Except for the one on Benghazi, the State Department has yet to announce if an Accountability Review Board will be convened for any of the embassy breaches.

screen capture_tunis after

This blog believes that the ARB for the worst breaches like those in US Embassy Tunis and US Embassy Sana’a are needed if only to answer some questions:

  • What does it mean when a mob comes over embassy walls and the situation does not get under control by host country authorities for 4 or more hours. Does it mean the host country does not have enough resources to protect the diplomatic premises or does it know and allow what is about to happen possible? When host country response is slow or non-existent, is it a case of political posturing – agreeing to let extreme elements of that country into the American compound thinking this is a harmless game only to have it spin out of control?
  • This will happen again. What should be the USG’s policy for countries that do not strongly adhere to their international obligation to protect diplomats and our diplomatic premises? Sure we want to support these new democracies but we are not doing ourselves any favors by not having a well understood policy on the consequences for this abrogation of host country obligation.
  • If a mob can scale 9-foot walls that easily, and help from host country authorities are slow or not forthcoming, what are the recommended options for the embassy staff short of getting into a safehaven and waiting to be roasted like ducks? What lessons were learned from these mob attacks? Were these lessons collected and disseminated back to all posts?
  • If the safehaven rooms are to function as the embassy’s “safe haven” for employees under attack, shouldn’t these rooms require not only fireproofing but also be fully smoke sealed?  Alternatively, are smoke masks available?  Inhalation injury from smoke may account for as many as 60-80% of fire-related deaths.  Fireproof rooms would not be of much used if the protectees subsequently die of smoke inhalation.
  • In the Iran hostage crisis, an embassy official went out to try and talk to the mob only to be captured. The mob threatened to execute him and that was how they got to open the secured doors.  What guidance is available to US employees and local staff on what to save/not save in terms of outside the hardwall embassy properties when there is a mob attack? How is that risk balanced with the potential to be taken hostage?
  • In the Iran hostage crisis, an earlier attack was a prelude to the hostage taking later in the year. The attackers were able to scoped out the location of unsecured windows and used it to get into the building during the later attack. The attackers also presumed quite correctly, that no one would fire on women, so the mob had women march on front.  What current vulnerabilities within the compounds could have been learned by the attackers and potentially useful in the next attacks?
  • What are the standard operating procedures for shutting off the fuel and gas lines, chlorine, other utilities for the embassy compounds? Are there any? Are the locations easily identified and accessible?
  • Is it more advantageous to continue the path of co-location of facilities and other agencies inside one hardened facility (and provide a single target) or does the policy of co-location provide more vulnerabilities than acceptable?
  • The protesters used hand tools like sledgehammers, bolt croppers , cutters, other tools to attack the buildings inside the compounds. Were these tools brought in by attackers or were these embassy tools? If these were embassy tools, how and where were they secured prior to the attacks?
  • How did the protesters easily got on top of the chancery buildings? Were these buildings constructed with built- in ladders? If so, is it time to revisit this and if the built-in ladders are there for “aesthetics” maybe it is time to screw that? As a precaution, what has been done to the current buildings constructed with built in ladders?tunis_up the built in ladder
  • Where should the motor pool be located?  Inside a compound or elsewhere? The motor pool has cars, cars have fuel, fuel can go kaboom and set the next building, which might just be the Chancery, on fire.
  • How well did the local guard force respond to the attacks? Are there lessons to be learned?
  • Has the State Department updated its use of force policy since the embassy attacks? If so, what red lines require the corresponding response of active use of force? If not, why not?  Should Senator McCain’s amendment 3051 becomes law and the Department of Defense changes its rules of engagement for Marines stationed at embassies and consulates “so they could engage in combat when attacked,” how would this affect embassy operation and outreach? Who gets to make that call to engage in combat, the RSO or the ambassador?

domani spero sig



Now Comes the Accountability Review Board Created by Congress, But Dammit! Congress Can’t Wait

Updated on 10/3/2012 @8:23 EST

The Cable’s Josh Rogin reports that  the State Department is setting up an independent, bipartisan panel to investigate what happened in the Sept. 11 attack of the Benghazi consulate that resulted in the death of Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans.  The report cited  Deputy Secretary of State Tom Nides telling SFRC chairman John Kerry (D-MA) that the State Department had begun setting up the panel.

Last week, Secretary Clinton herself told reporters that the panel would be chaired by Ambassador Thomas Pickering, a highly regarded retired U.S. diplomat who served as ambassador to Russia, India, Israel, El Salvador, Nigeria, Jordan and the U.S. Mission at the United Nations.

The regulations that govern the Accountability Review Board were established by law crafted by Congress under either Title III of the Omnibus Diplomatic Security and Antiterrorism Act of 1986, as amended (22 U.S.C. 4831) or Section 140(c).

Here is the stated objective:

The ARB process is a mechanism to foster more effective security of U.S. missions and personnel abroad by ensuring a thorough and independent review of security-related incidents. Through its investigations and recommendations, the Board seeks to determine accountability and promote and encourage improved security programs and practices. In addition, the ARB mechanism enhances the integrity of the visa issuing process by determining accountability in certain instances in which terrorist acts in the United States are committed by aliens.

Security-related incident refers to: “A case of serious injury, loss of life, or significant destruction of property at or related to a U.S. Government mission abroad, or a case of a serious breach of security involving intelligence activities or a foreign government directed at a U.S. mission abroad (other than a facility or installation subject to the control of a U.S. area military commander).”

With this exception:

Public Law 109-140 and Public Law 111-117, the Secretary of State is not required to convene a Board in the case of an incident involving serious injury, loss of life, or significant destruction of property at or related to a U.S. Government mission in Afghanistan or Iraq and which occurs in the period beginning on October 1, 2005 and ending on September 30, 2010. *

What can possibly be going on behind the scenes?

Within the State Department is supposedly a small group called the ARB Permanent Coordinating Committee (ARB/PCC). What does it do?

The Committee will, as quickly as possible after an incident occurs, review the available facts and recommend to the Secretary to convene or not convene a Board. (Due to the 1999 revision of the law requiring the Secretary to convene a Board not later than 60 days after the occurrence of an incident, except that such period may be extended for one additional 60-day period the Committee will meet within 30 days of the incident, if enough information is available.) In addition, the Committee will meet yearly to review the ARB process, existing policies and procedures, and ensure that any necessary changes are effected.

A check with the current directory dated September 12, 2012 does not include a list of this committee. But in any case, a decision has already been reached that an ARB will be convened.

Who are the members of the ARB/PCC?

The FAM lists the membership of the ARB/PCC as follows:

(1) The Director of the Office of Management Policy, Rightsizing and Innovation (M/PRI), who will chair the Committee. ( The Director of M/PRI is currently listed in state.gov as William J. Haugh but the Sept 12,2012 directory indicates that this position is currently vacant).

(2) The Assistant Secretary for Diplomatic Security or the Principal Deputy; (this is currently, Eric J. Boswell or PDAS, Scott P. Bultrowicz)

(3) The Senior Deputy Assistant Secretary for Intelligence and Research; (currently listed as Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary Daniel Rubenstein)

(4) The Coordinator for Counterterrorism; (this would be the Ambassador-at-Large & Coordinator Daniel S. Benjamin)

(5) The senior deputy assistant secretary (or secretaries, as appropriate) of the relevant regional bureau(s); (the Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs  is Elizabeth L. Dibble)

(6) One representative designated by and representing the DNI; and

(7) The Deputy Assistant Secretary for Visa Services (currently listed Deputy Assistant Secretary for Visa Services (CA/VO) is Edward J. Ramotowski)

c. Other participants: As a result of the State-Justice Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) dated September 20, 2001, the Department of Justice has been invited to attend PCC meetings. Also, as determined by the Chairperson, representatives of other offices and agencies may be invited to work with the Committee.

In addition, the Director of the Office of Management Policy, Rightsizing and Innovation (M/PRI) shall appoint a member of the M/PRI staff to be the ARB Staff Officer. If M/PRI is indeed vacant, then that is a problem, isn’t it?  The ARB Staff Officer will:

(1) Oversee the ARB process and ensure that all policies and procedures relating to the ARB are adequate and up-to-date;
(2) Serve as the institutional memory and primary point of contact within the Department for ARB matters;
(3) Maintain all permanent files, rules, procedures, rosters, libraries, etc., for the ARB; and
(4) Carry out ARB related staff work for the Committee.
b. ARB Executive Secretary: When a Board is convened, M/PRI will name an Executive Secretary to coordinate and facilitate the work of that Board. The Executive Secretary will normally be a senior Foreign Service officer or a retired senior Foreign Service officer who is recommended by DGHR/CDA. The tenure of the Executive Secretary will coincide with the tenure of the Board.

As well, the ARB Staff Officer maintains a list of potential members and at the Committee’s yearly meeting the list will be reviewed and updated. If the Committee recommends that the Secretary convene a Board, it will forward a list of potential Board members to the Secretary for approval. The Committee coordinates its activities in this area with the DNI’s representative.

Convening the ARB, Congressional Notification and Timeframe

According to regulations, the Secretary of State, makes the decision to convene a Board in writing and sets forth the names of the Board’s Chairperson and members, the purposes and jurisdiction of the Board (as established in Section 304 of the Act or, as appropriate, Section 140(c)) and its duration. The decision will be published in the Federal Register, or other similar document, if deemed appropriate by the Secretary.

As of to-date no noticed has yet been published in the Federal Register. However, the Secretary has 60 days from the occurrence of an incident to convene the ARB.  An extension of an additional 60 days is provided at the Secretary’s determination.  Any further delay beyond this requires congressional notification.

Whenever the Secretary convenes a Board, the Secretary is also required to promptly inform the chairman of the Committee on Foreign Relations of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives that the Board has been convened, the membership of the Board, and other appropriate information about the Board.

As to the timeframe of the ARB, the Board is expected to begin its work within a reasonable period of time following the Secretary’s decision to convene the Board. And it must be given ample time to conduct its investigations and write its report. Should a Board decide that the time allotted for its work is insufficient, it must apply, in writing, to the Secretary for an extension of time. A Board’s authority terminates on the date set forth in the Secretary’s order convening the Board, or on such date as is subsequently set by the Secretary.

The regs also says that the Secretary will, not later than 90 days after the receipt of a Board’s program recommendations, submit a report to the Congress on each such recommendation and the action taken or intended to be taken with respect to that recommendation.

ARBs Through the Years

Unfortunately, this is not the first ARB convened nor will it be the last.  The ARB with the most attention, of course, is the twin-ARBs chaired by Admiral William Crowe for the Embassy Bombings in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam on August 7, 1998. Admiral Crowe was sworn in September 2008 and the final report was released publicly in January 1999. The members of that ARB are listed here. Other ARBs were convened in 2003, 2005 (twice), 2006, 2008, then 2010 as follows:

  • On 27 Jan 2003, an Accountability Review Board was convened for the Murder of Laurence Foley, USAID Official in Amman, Jordan. Secretary Colin Powell appointed Ambassador Wesley Egan as Chair of the Board. He was assisted by Frederick Mecke, Timothy Deerr, George Wachtenheim, Charles S. Phalen, Jr., and by Executive Secretary Howard Perlow.
  • On 11 Mar 2005, the Accountability Review Board for the December 6, 2004 Attack on the U.S. Consulate in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia was convened.  Secretary Condolezza Rice appointed David C. Fields, a retired U.S. ambassador, as Chair of the Board. He was assisted by Melvin Harrison, John Geoff O’Connell, Carolee Heileman, Robert Benedetti and by the Executive Secretary to the Board, Mark Jackson.|
  • On 8 December 2005, Secretary Rice convened another Accountability Review Board to Examine the Circumstances of the Death of DS Special Agent Stephen Sullivan and Seven Security Contractors in September 2005 in Iraq.  She appointed Edward G. Lanpher, a retired U.S. Ambassador, as Chair of the Board. He was assisted by M. Bart Flaherty, Frederick Mecke, Mike Absher, Laurie Tracy and Executive Secretary to the Board, Robert A. Bradtke.
  • On May 2006  an Accountability Review Board To Examine the Circumstances of the Death of David E. Foy and Mr. Iftikhar Ahmed in March 2006, Karachi, Pakistan was convened. Secretary Rice appointed David C. Fields, a retired U.S. Ambassador, as Chair of the Board. He was assisted by Carolee Heileman, William Pope, Melvin Harrison, John Weber and the Executive Secretary to the Board, Hugo Carl Gettinger.
  • On 14 April 2008, Secretary Rice convened her fourth ARB, this time to Examine the Circumstances of the Death of John M. Granville and Abdelrahman Abees in Khartoum, Sudan in January 2008.  She appointed Michael W. Marine, a retired U.S. ambassador, as Chair of the Board. He was assisted by M. Bart Flaherty, Wayne S. Rychak, Lewis R. Atherton, Michael Pastirik and by Executive Secretary to the Board, Hugo Carl Gettinger.
  • On 22 October 2010, Secretary Clinton convened the first ARB during her tenure relating to the Death of Three DoD Personnel Assigned to the U.S. Embassy’s Office of Defense Representative Pakistan (ODRP) on February 3, 2010. She appointed Joseph Lake, a retired U.S. ambassador, as Chair of the Board. He was assisted by Robert Bryson, Lewis Atherton, Barbara Martin, Wayne Rychak and by the Executive Secretary to the Board, Linda Hartley.

With the exception of the Nairobi/Tanzania ARB which is online, none of the above ARB reports appear to be accessible to the public which makes us genuinely grumpy.

As far as we know there was no ARB convened for the August 8, 2012 suicide bombing at the Kunar Province of Afghanistan that killed a USAID Officer and wounded an FSO. The USAID/State officers were  presumably under the control of a military commander, so an ARB is not required.  We are also unaware of an ARB for the September 3, 2012 suicide car bombing which targeted a US Consulate General Peshawar vehicle that wounded four staffers.

Both cases, of course, are still within the 60 days (plus 60) timeframe for convening the Board.


Below is the section where I need to wear a paper bag over my head 😳 . No great excuse for the mess up except to cite the perils of blogging at midnight.  The 60 days (plus 60) provision under the regs is only for convening the ARB. Once the Board is convened, there does not appear to be anything on the regs that dictates the tenure of the Board except that it be given ample time to do its work. I believe that the Secretary may also specify the length of the Board (The FR notice says the Board will submit its conclusions and recommendations to Secretary Clinton within 60 days of its first meeting, unless the Chair determines a need for additional time). The only publicly available report was on an ARB convened sometime after September 1998 and with final report out in January 1999.  While I cannot make a direct correlation on the timeframe  in that ARB with the ARB for Benghazi, the place of investigations for the former included Kenya and Tanzania, where security issues were not as difficult as Libya in its post-civil war state.  I remain skeptical that the DS/OIG would have better luck putting agents on the ground than the FBI in support of the ARB or that the report would be ready before the election or the inauguration.

If we presume the shortest route possible for the Benghazi Attack ARB– let’s say the full Board is convened by end of October, it shall have until the end of December to do its work. Which is way too late for politicians in the middle of an election.  The Board can have an additional 60 days if needed, which would put us until the end of February.  Way too long after the inauguration of either a second term president or  first term president. If true that the FBI agents have yet to set foot in Benghazi, how long do you think it would take for the DS/OIG agents to get shoes on the ground?

So then, apparently, our senators could not wait to get more answers about the Benghazi attack.  They sent a letter to Secretary Clinton demanding more answers, and the letter itself has already sparked a partisan disagreement.  Is it a huge shocker then that Congress which created the ARB back when, could not wait for the ARB to start/conclude its work now?

Maybe Congress ought to seriously rethink the idea of an Accountability Review Board for the following helpful reasons:

1) Since Senators do not have the patience to wait 60-120 days for the ARB to work and deliver its report, and now uses the dead as political props, they deserve rotten tomatoes on their faces (pies would do also).  Why create the ARB in the first place if you do not trust that it will deliver the results you need? Go delete it from the regs so there is one less issue of 9,999 partisanship issues in Congress that you can concentrate on.

2) The ARB investigations are supported by OIG and DS agents, not by FBI agents who already are conducting their own interviews. If you double the work, will you double the results?

3) We note that the ARB exemptions for security incidents in Iraq and Afghanistan went into the books after the September 2005 attack which killed DS Agent Sullivan and seven contractors in Iraq.  How is it that we do not wish to “determine accountability and promote and encourage improved security programs and practices” in war zones?  Too much work or too many deaths?

That said, if you do not want to scratch out the ARB from the rules books, can you please make sure that all ARB reports are accessible to the nosy public?

Pub. L. 112–74, div. I, title VII, § 7034(m)(2),Dec. 23, 2011, 125 Stat. 1216, provided that: “The authority provided by section 301(a)(3) of the Omnibus Diplomatic Security and Antiterrorism Act of 1986 (22 U.S.C. 4831 (a)(3)) shall remain in effect through September 30, 2012.”