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.

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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?

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When Sorry is Not Enough: US Calls on Tunisia to Bring Embassy Attackers to Justice

On October 14, the one month anniversary of the attacks on the U.S. embassy and American school in Tunis, the US Ambassador to Tunisia Jacob Walles released a statement calling on the Government of Tunisia to bring the perpetrators to justice. While the statement lauds the 200 year relationships between the two countries — the first agreement of friendship and trade was concluded between Tunisia and the United States on March 26, 1799; the United States was the first major power to recognize Tunisian sovereignty and established diplomatic relations with Tunisia in 1956 following its independence from France — it also reminds Tunisia of its obligation to protect its “guests.” Excerpt below:

“One month ago on September 14, 2012, a group of violent extremists attacked the U.S. Embassy and the American Cooperative School of Tunis.  These violent attacks endangered the lives of the American and Tunisian employees who were inside the Embassy during the attack. The attackers inflicted millions of dollars of damage to the Embassy compound, burned more than 100 vehicles, most of which belonged to the Embassy’s Tunisian staff, and also destroyed private property in the area near the Embassy.  At the American Cooperative School of Tunis, the attackers destroyed, looted, and burned books, musical instruments, and computers used to educate young minds from more than 70 countries.  One thing the attackers did not damage is the strong bond between the American and Tunisian people and the commitment of the United States to support Tunisia’s transition from an unjust dictatorship to a free and tolerant democracy that provides security, economic opportunity and freedom to everyone who calls Tunisia home.
[…]
I am proud of this long history of partnership, but continued cooperation and investment in Tunisia requires a safe and secure operating environment.  The Tunisian government has an obligation to provide security for its citizens and its guests – and I call on the Government of Tunisia to carry through with its investigation and to bring the perpetrators and masterminds of this attack to justice.  I also look to the Tunisian people to speak out against violence and terror and to play an active role in shaping the future you so richly deserve.”

Read the full statement here.

Here are a few things that the United States has done the last many months since the Arab Spring according to the Tunisia Fact Sheet,:

  • Since the January 2011 revolution, the U.S. has committed more than $300 million to support Tunisia’s transition, focusing heavily on technical and financial assistance to Tunisia’s economy and private sector.
  • The United States provided $100 million to pay directly debt that Tunisia owes the World Bank and African Development Bank, allowing the Government of Tunisia to instead use an equal amount for its priority programs, and to accelerate economic growth and job creation.
  • The United States is providing assistance to more than 4,500 Tunisian youth in market-relevant skills training, job placement, and access to start-up business resources.
  • A $50 million Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC)  franchising facility providing working capital to Tunisian franchisees interested in working with American, European, and Tunisian franchisors; ultimately creating an estimated 10,000 local jobs for Tunisians.

You’d think that perhaps all that and more would have generated a tad of goodwill, even just enough to make people stop and think before they go berserk over there.  Alas, not. The angry protesters were not satisfied with shouting or throwing rocks. They went over the embassy walls, torched cars, set fire to several facilities within the compound, destroyed the children’s playground and even tried stoopidly to set fire to the embassy pool. And the rampage did not stop after an hour or two. It went on for hours on end.

To be blunt — it is the host country’s international obligation to protect foreign diplomats and diplomatic premises. If a country is slow or unable to provide such protection, should be even be there?  We also must wonder if this is for lack of resources, or if the host government is complicit in the attacks or indifferent to the outcome. It took several hours before local authorities were able to control the situation, after several structures within the compound have already been torched, after over 100 cars were already burned to the ground.

There has to be consequences for such abrogation of responsibility; otherwise this will happen again.

On September 21, just a few days after the embassy attack, the Tunisian Foreign Minister Abdessalem was in the Treaty Room of Foggy Bottom and said:

“I’m also here to express our regret and full and strong condemnation for the storming of the American Embassy and school in Tunisia last Friday. This event does not reflect the real image of Tunisia.[…] We already taken the necessary measures to protect the American Embassy, the American schools, and all diplomatic presence in Tunisia, members of foreign communities. It is our duty, and I’m sure that we have the ability and the capability to protect all private and public institutions in Tunisia.”

That’s good talk, too bad nobody saw this in action on September 14.

The question remains — did elements of the host country government allow the attack to happen thinking it would be a harmless demonstration only to have it spin out of control? We must not forget that the Tehran embassy takeover started as a “harmless” demonstration on a February day, and when the actual hostage taking occurred in November, the protesters knew exactly how to get in.

Say what you will about fortress embassies, but if Embassy Tunis was less than fortified, how many more flag-draped coffins would have arrived at Dover AFB that week?

As in Benghazi, there are somethings “sorry” can’t fix.  It must be said that Embassy Tunis was lucky not to have any casualty given the size and ferocity of the crowd that day.  But we might not be so lucky next time; and that next time may not be very far off.

Obama Nominates Ambassador Robert Godec as Next Ambassador to Kenya

On September 20, President Obama announced his intent to nominate Ambassador Robert F. Godec as the next Ambassador to the Republic of Kenya. The WH released the following brief bio:

Ambassador Robert F. Godec, a career member of the Senior Foreign Service, Class of Minister-Counselor, is currently Chargé d’affaires at the United States Embassy in Nairobi, Kenya.  From 2009 to 2012, he was Principal Deputy Coordinator for Counterterrorism at the Department of State, and from 2006 to 2009, he served as the U.S. Ambassador to Tunisia.  Ambassador Godec served as a Deputy Assistant Secretary in the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs from 2005 to 2006 and as Deputy Coordinator for Iraq from 2004 to 2005.  Ambassador Godec’s overseas posts include: Acting Deputy Chief of Mission (2002), Minister Counselor for Economic Affairs at the U.S. Embassy in Pretoria, South Africa (1999-2002), and Economic Counselor at the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi, Kenya (1996 -1999).  Additional posts in Washington include: Assistant Office Director for Thailand and Burma in the Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs (1994-1996), and Director for Southeast Asian Affairs at the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative (1992-1994).

Ambassador Godec received a B.A. from the University of Virginia and an M.A. from Yale University.

His official bio at State says that he joined the Foreign Service in 1985.  He earned a Master of Arts degree in International Relations from Yale University as well as a Bachelor of Arts degree in Foreign Affairs from the University of Virginia. He attended the State Department’s Senior Seminar and has received a Distinguished Honor Award and numerous other awards and commendations.  Also that he speaks French and German.

In 2009 while he was the US Ambassador to the US Embassy in Tunis, Ambassador Godec was one of the few Chief of Missions who had a Tumblr.  Here he is with students at the American Cooperative School of Tunis, a school founded in 1959 and burned down by protesters in the September 2012 protests over an anti-Islam movie.

“Reading Rocks!” at the American Cooperative School of Tunis a few weeks ago. Here you see some great kids dressed up as their favorite book characters and two ambassadors playing along. My friend and colleague, UK Ambassador Chris O’Connor, is in the Union Jack hat and I’m the Cat in the Hat, of course.
(Photo and caption from Ambassador Godec’s blog)

If confirmed, Ambassador Godec would succeed political appointee, Scott Gration who resigned from his position last July over “differences” with Washington.

Related item:

September 20, 2012 | President Obama Announces More Key Administration Posts