HFAC Chairman Ed Royce Introduces “Accountability Review Board Reform Act of 2013” (H.R. 1768)

On April 26, 2013, U.S. Rep. Ed Royce (R-CA), Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee (HFAC), introduced legislation to increase the independence and transparency of future Accountability Review Boards (ARB), the temporary investigative bodies that are  convened to  review security-related incidents that result in “serious injury, loss of life, or significant destruction of property at, or related to, a United States Government mission abroad, and in any case of a serious breach of security involving intelligence activities of a foreign government directed at a United States Government mission abroad.”

According to Mr. Royce’s website the “Accountability Review Board Reform Act of 2013” (H.R. 1768) will increase the independence of future ARBs from the State Department, limiting the Secretary of State’s role.

Here is part of Mr. Royce’s reasoning:  “When then-Secretary of State Clinton testified about the Benghazi attack in January, she repeatedly referred to the ARB findings, calling it an ‘independent’ investigative body.  But the fact is, Secretary Clinton convened the ARB  and hand-picked four of its five members.  This ARB failed to assess the roles of so-called “seventh floor” State Department officials in the decisions that led to the Benghazi mission’s severely compromised security posture, despite strong evidence suggesting these senior officials were involved.  This legislation will ensure that future ARBs are, in fact, independent of State Department leadership.”

The text of the proposed legislation has not been posted yet. But according to Mr. Royce’s website, The Accountability Review Board Reform Act addresses the following:

  • increases the five-member ARB’s independence from the State Department.  Under current law, the Secretary of State appoints four of an ARB’s five members.  Under this legislation, the Secretary will appoint only two of the five members, with the Chair of the Council of Inspectors General of Integrity and Efficiency (the chief U.S. inspector general) appointing two members, and the Director of National Intelligence appointing the fifth member.
  • improves the staffing model of future ARBs.  Currently, an ARB relies on State Department employees to assist with the investigation of other State Department employees.  Under this legislation, ARB staff would be drawn from the Office of Inspector General.
  • eliminates potential conflicts of interest by banning individuals from serving as an ARB member or an ARB staffer if they have a personal or professional relationship with someone expected to be investigated.
  • enhances transparency and allows greater oversight of the ARB process.  Current law requires that the Secretary disclose only the names of the five ARB members.  This legislation requires the Secretary to disclose the names of any senior State Department employees tasked with assisting an ARB.
  • allows greater oversight.  Current law requires that the ARB submit a final report to the Secretary.  This legislation requires that the ARB also submit the final report to Congress.

According to data in congress.gov, H.R.1768 was introduced by Rep Royce, Edward R. [CA-39] on 4/26/2013. It currently has  16 cosponsors  and has been referred to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs.

We’ll post comments after we’ve seen the full text of H.R. 1768.

— DS

Advertisements

House GOP Releases Interim Benghazi Report: Uh-oh, But the Kraken is Still Hungry!

The House GOP recently released its interim report on the terrorist attacks on the temporary facilities in Benghazi. The report is released under the GOP committee chairs of the Armed Services, Foreign Affairs, Judiciary, Oversight and Government Reform and the Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence.

We won’t repeat the whole long woeful report in this blog but if you want to read the 45-page  report, click here (via The Hill).

The kraken is still hungry!

Right upfront the report says this:

The Committees will continue to review who exactly was responsible for the failure to respond to the repeated requests for more security and for the effort to cover up the nature of the attacks, so that appropriate officials will be held accountable. 

Translation #1: one assistant secretary and three DASes did not work.  The kraken is hungry for more!

Translation #2: this is going to go on and on until 2016 unless the kraken choke first or wants a different menu.

The Kraken comes to claim Andromeda

The Kragen comes to claim the offering of an assistant secretary; if not available, any deputy assistant secretary would do; no offering above the bureau level may be presented to the Kraken. (image via wikipedia)

But perhaps the most striking, and the thing that undermines this report for us, more than the fact that this is done by only one side of the house is this:

Screen Shot 2013-04-24

We certainly cannot say whether or not Secretary Clinton approved or saw these critical cables, but to cite these cables as evidence is either poor investigative work or simply aims to further obfuscate the matter.

Look, all cables that originates from the State Department when the secretary of state is in country go out under his/her name.  So in this case, whether she saw,  read, approve this cable OR not, it went out under “CLINTON.” Just because her name appears under the cable does not mean she sent it or she read it.

All cables that originated from US Embassy Tripoli when Ambassador Gene Cretz was chief of mission went out under CRETZ. Unless the cables have handling restrictions or are official-informal (slugged for a specific person, see example here via Wikileaks), you can be almost certain that neither the secretary of state nor the ambassador drafted their own cables. Or read all the cables for that matter.  They have people under them to do that, dudes! And there is a clearance procedure in place that goes on no matter what because it’s — oh, my god, the bureaucracy’s heart goes on just like in the Titanic!

Now if these committees really wanted to find out the originator of these “critical” cables, they could have asked for the cables that included the raw content – name of drafter/s, who cleared the cables, who approved the cables, the distribution and which office the cables originated from (see example here via Wikileaks, a NODIS cable from Eagelburger to Kissinger). If all that’s floating around is a routine or immediate cable with a Clinton signature at the bottom, and you call it a smoking gun or whatever,  then there are 1.2 million cables that looks exactly the same in State’s cable arsenal, and they’re all too wet to blow up.

About building leadership:

When draft talking points were sent to officials throughout the Executive Branch, senior State Department officials requested the talking points be changed to avoid criticism for ignoring the threat environment in Benghazi. Specifically, State Department emails reveal senior officials had “serious concerns” about the talking points, because Members of Congress might attack the State Department for “not paying attention to Agency warnings” about the growing threat in Benghazi.56
[…]
After slight modifications were made on Friday, September 14, a senior State Department official again responded that the edits did not “resolve all my issues or those of my building leadership,” and that the Department’s leadership was “consulting with [National Security Staff].”57 Several minutes later, White House officials responded by stating that the State Department’s concerns would have to be taken into account and asserted further discussion would occur the following morning at a Deputies Committee Meeting.5

This reaction would not be beyond the realm of possibility but it would be interesting to see which senior official did this, and if “building leadership” referenced to here went as high as the under secretaries or up to the deputies and the secretary.

Yes, go ahead and um, enhanced interrogate that senior official to find out what he/she knows about this “building leadership.” As far as we know, that’s not even a single individual with SSN. More like a Borg collective. May we know at least, if the senior official is Locutus of Borg?


Accountability Review Board Legislation Coming

While Secretary Hillary Clinton claimed she accepted “responsibility” for Benghazi, the Committees remain concerned that the ARB neglected to directly examine the role that she and her Deputy Secretaries played in overseeing the gross mismanagement or the “systemic failures” within the Department. The Committees note the Board has failed to provide a satisfactory explanation as to why it did not interview Secretary Clinton or her Deputies. In a similar vein, it is unclear why the ARB report made no reference to Under Secretary Patrick Kennedy’s decision to withdraw a SST from Libya, despite multiple warnings from Ambassador Stevens of a deteriorating security environment. The ARB’s complete omission of the roles played by these individuals undermines the credibility of its findings and recommendations.

The Committees have determined that this Accountability Review Board was staffed by current and former State Department employees. The Board’s reluctance to undertake a more comprehensive investigation, and to make more forceful recommendations, may have stemmed from the fact that the State Department’s decisions and actions were investigated internally, undermining public confidence that the review was objective and conducted by individuals free from institutional bias. The current “in-house orientation” of an ARB may have provided a built- in motivation or prejudice, even for the best-intentioned investigators, to deflect blame and to avoid holding specific individuals accountable, especially superiors. The House Foreign Affairs Committee will soon introduce legislation to increase the ARB’s independence and objectivity. Although the report did provide some helpful recommendations regarding various State Department procedures, the Committees conclude it stopped well short of a full review of the policymakers, policies, and decisions that created the inadequate security situation that existed at the Benghazi Mission on September 11, 2012.

This part on the ARB we definitely would like to see. We have written briefly about our disenchantment with the Accountability Review Board in its current form. If the ARB is to be the sole vehicle for assigning accountability, the regulation that dictates it should be improved significantly – from the composition of the council that recommends convening an ARB to the secretary of state, to how the ARB reports are released/disposed of,  as well as how and who tracks  the implementation of these recommendations. Congress might even decide that the ARB should not reside in the institution that is the subject of its investigation. And that would not be a bad thing altogether.

— DS

Quickie: Progress on Post-Benghazi Reforms

Via WaPo:

Seven months after the deadly terrorist attack in Benghazi, Libya, the State Department says it has reorganized itself so that security concerns rise more quickly to the top and risks are more thoroughly assessed.

But some of the most substantive changes promised in the wake of the attack — including more Marines to protect U.S. embassies, a bigger diplomatic security staff, and more reliable local guards and translators for high-risk posts — will not take effect for months or even years.
[…]
Secretary of State John F. Kerry, whose budget testimony Wednesday will mark his first appearance before Congress since taking office, plans to tell lawmakers that the department has taken action on all 24 recommendations made by an independent board that reviewed the Benghazi incident, a senior administration official said.

But the official, speaking on the condition of anonymity before Kerry’s public statement, drew a distinction between those matters that have been resolved and those on which implementation has barely begun.

“Some take some time to accomplish,” the official said.

Continue reading,  Kerry to cite progress on post-Benghazi reforms, but some measures may take years.

 

Sure take some time … see  2005 Jeddah ARB Recommended “Remote Safe Areas” for Embassies – Upgrades Coming … Or Maybe Not.

 

Since you’re reading this, you may want to read Bloomberg editorial board’s piece, Breaking Congress’s Benghazi Fever:

Republicans on the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, for instance, were seized with the “lies” told by administration officials during the presidential race about the nature of the attack and its perpetrators’ possible links to al- Qaeda. Only one committee member (a Democrat) focused on an actual step to improve security, asking if Kerry supported a bill to allow the department to hire local security guards on the basis of the best-value, rather than lowest, bid.

This is a shame, because history suggests that the State Department isn’t going to fix the security challenges it faces without strong support and scrutiny. More fundamentally, as threats grow and budgets decline, Congress needs to vigorously debate the best way for the U.S. to conduct diplomacy in dangerous places.
[…]
Ferreting out a supposed White House election-year coverup might have immediate partisan appeal, but it won’t advance the safety of U.S. diplomats in the future.

Thanks Bloomberg View for linking to our piece on the Jeddah ARB and the missing remote safe areas.

— DS

 

 

Related articles

Zabul Attack: Walking But Not Lost, More Details But Not Official; Plus Update on Kelly Hunt

On Friday, April 12, the AP citing a senior State Department “not authorized to speak to the news media” reported that the initial reports that members of the group were in vehicles, as well as subsequent media reports that they were lost, are incorrect.

The official reportedly provided the details on condition of anonymity.  This report contradicted the eyewitness account of an Afghan reporter cited by McClatchy news on Wednesday, April 10.

You may read the full AP report here.

Last weekend, The Skeptical Bureaucrat  (TSB) posted about this here:

It’s quite bad enough already, judging by the details that have come out so far. Let’s see … the book donation visit to the Sheik Baba Metti school by a team from the U.S. Embassy and PRT Zabul was announced to the press one day in advance. But, despite that lack of operational security, the team was allowed to walk to the school from the PRT’s base at FOB Smart rather than use protected vehicles. The roughly 100-meter long route to the school evidently wasn’t swept before the team’s walk, or blocked to traffic during the movement. The team’s military escort didn’t know which gate to use to enter the school – a school that the PRT itself funded and regularly visited – which required the team to double back to FOB Smart and further expose themselves to attack.

Lastly, the attack reportedly involved a roadside bomb as well as a suicide driver in a bomb-laden vehicle. If that’s true, it means that the Taliban were able to plant a command-detonated bomb in the street immediately outside FOB Smart despite the surveillance that street was undoubtedly under by both the U.S. and Afghan military.

There is reportedly an ongoing FBI investigation. The FBI investigates bombings in the U.S. and overseas where incidents were acts of terrorism against U.S. persons or interests. But this is the war zone. Was there also an FBI investigation on the suicide bombing that killed a USAID officer and wounded an FSO in Kunar Province last year? (Update: We’re told by a blog pal in Afghanistan that the FBI investigates a lot of different incidents in Afghanistan and that there is “nothing unusual” with them investigating the April 6 attack.  Was also asked about an ARB for Camp Bastion.  Camp is under military control so that’s a clear exception to ARB regs; nothing to keep DOD from pursuing its own inquiry but we haven’t heard anything moving on that direction. Read this piece by Rajiv Chandrasekaran on the Taliban attack that resulted in the deaths of two Marines and the largest loss of allied materiel in the 11-year-long Afghan war).

No way to tell right now if there will be an Accountability Review Board. As TSB pointed out, there is a limited exception for convening an ARB if the security incidents involving serious injury or loss of life occurs in Iraq or Afghanistan. We found an exemption for incidents between October 1, 2005-September 30, 2009. In December 2009, that exemption remained in effect through September 30, 2010.

Following the findings of “accountability” from the ARB on Benghazi, we are not holding our breath on an ARB on this latest incident. After not seeing any ARBs convened for several attacks on embassy properties with significant damages last year, we’re starting to think that an ARB in its current authority is not the best use of time/resources to assign accountability.

The notion that an ARB is convened to investigate security incidents that result in “serious injury, loss of life, or significant destruction of property” and then keep the result secret and the interviewees secret is absurd. Add to that the fact that the Secretary of State did not even convene an ARB for all the mob attacks last year which resulted in significant destruction of embassy properties, makes one think that the ARB on its present form is not as useful or effective as it should be.  It also leaves the recommendation on whether or not the Secretary of State should convene an ARB on the hands of the Permanent Coordinating Council in the State Department, staffed by people who answer to their chain of command.

So – we’d much rather see the FBI conduct these investigations.

Also last Thursday, Lt. Col. Justin Kraft, the Zabul Provincial Reconstruction Team commander released the following statement via FB:

We recently lost three of our nation’s finest warriors. They were sons, brothers, one was a father, and all were men who lived, served and died with honor. They gave to their country and their brothers and sisters in arms the last full measure of their courage. 

We are less for this loss. 

Please keep their families in your thoughts and prayers at this difficult time.

DOD identified the three soldiers killed in the April 6 attack but to-date the identity of the DOD civilian who perished in the same attack had not been released. Who was he/she? Did he/she leave behind a family?

On April 14, Staff Sgt. Chris Ward was buried at Oak Ridge. According to knoxnews.com, Maj. Gen. Jeffory Smith, commander of Fort Knox, Ky., presented  the Purple Heart and the Bronze Star to Ward’s mother. The passing of these casualties was heartbreaking  to their loved ones, fellow soldiers and largely ignored by the public. The death of  three  soldiers in the battlefield of Afghanistan … not much was said.

On April 18, knoxnews.com also reported that Kelly Hunt, the State Department employee wounded in the attack arrived earlier this week at the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Washington.  Friends of Ms. Hunt at her home state are organizing a fund-raiser online to help the family.  You can check it out here. We have been looking but have not been able to find a contact email for the organizers.  The family Friends of Ms. Hunt have also put up a Facebook page – Kelly Hunt’s Road to Recovery , it includes updates from Dinah Hunt, Kelly’s mother.

 

— DS

 

Updated on April 22@1720 PST with info on ARB

Updated on April 22 @21:41 PST with FB page correction; page put up by friends not family.

 

 

 

 

2005 Jeddah ARB Recommended “Remote Safe Areas” for Embassies – Upgrades Coming … Or Maybe Not

The results of the Accountability Review Board convened after the terrorist attack of the U.S. Consulate General in Jeddah was never released to the public. So the only recommendation that we know of, which to-date has not been remedied is that one about the construction of safe areas within the embassy compounds.  And the only reason we know about this? The OIG posted its 5-page review online.

A remote safe area, cited by a March 2013 5-page OIG review is “a designated area within a building that serves as an emergency sanctuary and provides at least 15- minute forced-entry and ballistic-resistant (FE/BR) protection, emergency power, ventilation, communications, and emergency egress (12 FAH-5 H-040, Glossary).”

Correct me if I’m wrong, but I think the intent for this is to have a temporary sanctuary for people who are not able to get into the safe haven which offers a longer FE/BR protection.

The brief OIG document published online details the background:

During the December 6, 2004 terrorist attack at the U.S. consulate in Jeddah, gunmen killed four locally employed staff members and injured nine others working outside the consulate building. An ARB determined that these employees were killed or injured because the general services annex building did not have a safe area to which the employees could retreat. The Department concurred with the ARB recommendation to construct safe areas throughout compounds at posts worldwide. It planned to address first the most vulnerable posts with critical and high terrorist threat levels and proposed that the OSPB address compound safe areas as a formal security standard for all posts.

Here is a clip of that attack:

Why is this coming up now?

Apparently the OIG did four inspection cycles in 2012 where inspectors visited 17 missions.  65 percent of the missions visited  (11 out of 17) did not have remote safe areas.  What more, “none of the RSOs could identify a safe area that was constructed as a result of the Jeddah ARB.”  The inspectors also found that four missions rated high or critical for terrorist threat or political violence “lack of a compound emergency sanctuary.”

During four inspection cycles in 2012, security inspectors visited 17 missions and made several significant observations. The inspectors identified 11 missions that did not have remote safe areas and made formal or informal recommendations to construct compound emergency sanctuaries on the compounds. Of the remaining six posts, three had sufficient safe areas and three were small enough that employees could quickly access the chancery safe areas during an emergency. Security inspectors noted the lack of a compound emergency sanctuary at each of four missions rated high or critical for terrorist threat or political violence. In addition, none of the regional security officers in the 17 posts could identify a safe area that was constructed as a result of the Jeddah ARB.

The OIG document only indicates review of 17 missions out of over 283 compounds worldwide.  A high percentage of the 17 missions reviewed, about 65% did not have the recommended safe areas.  So if we expand that to cover all post worldwide, that’s potentially 185 compounds around the world with no safe areas.  The OIG says:

Inspectors also found that new embassy compounds constructed after the Jeddah attack did not include remote safe areas. OIG subsequently learned that the Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations (OBO) will implement the standards for all new embassy compound projects planned after FY 2012.

$200 million needed to upgrade 283 compounds, but then it gets tricky ….

The FY 2013 Department budget request to Congress included $688 million for security upgrades, including $87.7 million for CSUP. According to the budget request, the program funds comprehensive security upgrades, major FE/BR door and window replacements, chemical/biological retrofit projects, emergency egress projects, and security upgrades for soft targets. The budget request does not specifically mention compound emergency sanctuaries as one of the projects; however, the action memorandum signed in 2011 identified CSUP as the source of funding for the estimated $200 million necessary to upgrade 283 compounds. The memorandum also notes that funding for compound emergency sanctuary upgrades would be provided in competition with other worldwide priorities.

Funding for CSUP has declined over the past 5 years from a high of $108 million in FY 2008 to the current level of $95 million under the continuing resolution. Adding another $200 million security program to the CSUP without a corresponding increase in funding will likely result in many embassies not receiving a compound emergency sanctuary upgrade for many years.

And that’s where we’re at on a 7-8 year old Jeddah ARB recommendation. How many more accepted recommendations from that ARB alone are languishing in dark binders labeled “implementations?”  How many more from other unreleased ARBs?

Doesn’t it make you wonder if an ARB is just a pretty harmless paper hammer.

— DS

 

Related post:

A ‘Rocking Affair’ and Finally Watching the Terror Attack on U.S. Consulate Jeddah

 

Related item:

Review of Department of State Implementation of Jeddah Accountability Review Board of Recommendation to Consider Remote Safe Areas at Missions Worldwide (pdf)

 

 

 

Benghazi Hearings with Hillary Clinton: Some Take Aways

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Huh?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hookay!

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

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

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

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

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

Were there cookstoves in Benghazi?

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

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

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

III.  1.4 million cables

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

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

 

IV.  Iraq and Afghanistan sucked out resources

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

 

V. Accountability Review Boards. 

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

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

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

 

VI. High Threat Posts. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

sig4

In the post-Benghazi bureaucratic world — going forward. To where?

TSB over at The Skeptical Bureaucrat noticed the words being bandied about in the post-Benghazi bureaucratic world:

“Going forward” was the phrase we heard over and over at last month’s hearings. Will embassy security get better “going forward” after Benghazi? Will any real improvements come out of that disaster?
[…]
According to Hillary’s letter to Congress, the Department will now prioritize resources on a list of about twenty specially designated high threat posts. All well and good. But, if the next attack happens at one of those posts, will we then blame middle managers in an office annex in Rosslyn for not having sent more money and manpower to High Threat Post A and less to HT Posts B and C? And if the next attack happens at one of the 250 or so other diplomatic missions in the world, will we blame the same managers for not having upgraded Post D to the high threat group? And won’t every post in the world request every security measure it can think of “going forward” after Benghazi? Yes, yes, and yes. We can prioritize by risk, or we can cover our bureaucratic asses by spreading resources around evenly, but we can’t do both at the same time.

By the way, what’s up with that very odd term being used to describe those posts of special concern? High threat posts? As Diplopundit has noted, they are not literally the Department’s high threat level posts, and the criteria for designating them has not been explained, so far as I know. The ARB used the phrase “high risk/high threat” posts but that’s no better, not to mention kind of incoherent if you are a stickler for risk management definitions, since “threat” is only a component of “risk.”

Why isn’t the Department using the perfectly good term “Special Conditions” posts? That’s already an established category of diplomatic post with its own special rules for applying security standards and providing resources under extreme conditions. You can find it in 12 FAM 057.3, which the department has made publicly available here. That would be a step forward in terms of clarity, at least.

Read in full, The Skeptical Bureaucrat on Risk Management “Going Forward.”

You betcha every post in the world will have their requests down in bold, dark ink. Especially, if they are a designated danger post but not on the newly designated “high threat” list.  Then the somebodies will be on record approving or denying such and such request.  But you know, the request was on record when Ambassador Bushnell made her request on behalf of the US Embassy in Nairobi.  And there were paper trails and sworn testimonies concerning the requests made for the security in Benghazi.  Yeah. A lot of good it did them.

The other thing we’ve been thinking about on that high threat designation — surely, the people who are intent on doing our people harm are not totally dumb.  Given the opportunity to attack – would they really expend more efforts on those US diplomatic posts already considered “high threat” (what with the accompanying spending for fortifying/protecting those posts)?  If you were in their shoes, wouldn’t you attack targets that are not on those “high threat” list? Because why would you bang yourself against the hard wall when there is a soft wall um, okay, a wall of lesser hardness elsewhere?

By designating those missions as “high threat” posts, is it possible that we have discouraged the attacks against those facilities but have merely shifted the targets to diplomatic posts not on that list?  Okay, think about that for a moment.  There are about 250 posts not/not on that high threat list.

 

WhirledView: Benghazi and State: Where do the bucks stop?

WhirledView’s Patricia Kushlis (a 27-year veteran of the Foreign Service) asks, where the bucks stop on Benghazi?

Why, at the lower floors absolutely, where else?

But — we heard that people inside the building have been asking/discussing uncomfortable questions like — by what process did the State Department chose one NEA deputy assistant secretary (DAS) who may or may not have had Libya in his portfolio and three Diplomatic Security (DS) officials for discipline?  What were the criteria for such discipline?  Why were the NEA Assistant Secretary and Principal Assistant Secretary (PDAS) not in the mix? Who made the decision? Also on what basis did Administration/Department officials decide to extend the “temporary” Benghazi presence by another year?  On the basis of what criteria did Department leaders recently designate top-priority high risk, high threat posts?

All that we’ve talked about in our previous postings.

New Diplomatic Security Office to Monitor 17 High Threat Diplomatic Missions (With ARB Update)

State Dept’s New High Threat Posts Are Not All Danger Posts

Accountability Review Board Fallout: Who Will be Nudged to Leave, Resign, Retire? Go Draw a Straw

How long will the State Dept’s bureaucratic firewall hold at the bureau level?

Patricia’s post asking where those darn bucks should stop is good reading because so far those bucks have not stopped spinning.  She talks about leadership or lack thereof insider the big house, some of the characters in this badly done episode and a possible resolution in the next season.  Excerpt below:

The report corroborates that multiple mistakes were made – not just that tragic night – but in the months before. They go deep into the heart of the system’s weaknesses.  Leadership – or actually lack thereof – is a problem the report alludes to with capital Ls although names of officials above the Assistant Secretary, or bureaucratic Firewall, as Diplopundit put it, are missing. This might be adequate for a networked organization but the State Department is institutionalized hierarchy personified and the report tells us that news of the attack was being called in as it happened to State’s 24/7 Diplomatic Security Center and relayed to the NSC and elsewhere.  At least that piece of the building apparently works as it should.
[…]
Before Hillary Clinton set foot in the department, she knew that it suffered from severe financial and administrative stress.  She smartly established a Deputy Secretary for Management and Resources bringing in Jack LewObama’s current Chief of Staff and now nominee to become the next Treasury Secretary – to fill the new position.  Lew lasted at State about a year, spent his time addressing budgetary deficiencies and much to his credit, got Congress to approve major funding increases for the beleagured department before he moved on and over to the White House.

Hillary didn’t, however, tackle other flashing yellow light administrative shortcomings – leaving management of the department and the embassies to Patrick F. Kennedy who had been brought back to State by mentor and then Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte in 2007. But before that Kennedy had been Chief of Staff at the US Transition Unit in Baghdad in 2004 where he worked for Negroponte and had held the same position in the CPA (2003) – a period of chaos in Iraq when millions upon millions of dollars disappeared.

Why Hillary kept Kennedy in the position after her arrival in 2009 is a mystery.  Anyone who was responsible for coordinating the reorganization of the foreign affairs agencies under Madeleine Albright – a real hash job whose Sandy-like after-effects reverberate today – or forbidding American Embassy officers from  attending Obama’s speech in Berlin July 24, 2008 on the grounds it was partisan politics despite the fact that Americans have the freedom to assemble under the US Constitution shrieks foremost, in my view, of a serious lack of judgment.

Deja Vu All Over Again

Then there’s that thorny not-so-little issue of State’s mismangement of diplomatic security  in Africa August 7, 1998 when Al Qaeda blew up the US Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania killing over 220 people including 12 Americans and injuring over 4,000.

For the record: Kennedy was Acting Under Secretary for Management from 1996-7 and Acting Assistant Secretary of State for Diplomatic Security in 1998 and  Eric Boswell’s first carnation as  Head of the Bureau of Diplomatic Security (he was in the same position when Benghazi ignited in September, was supposedly fired but is apparently still in place) was from 1996-98. So Boswell and Kennedy would have been in top management positions in State responsible for Embassy security when then US Ambassador Prudence Bushnell’s requests for better security for Nairobi had been refused.

[…]

It’s too late for Hillary to houseclean as she should have four years ago.  Calling her up to the Hill to confess guilt – or deflect blame – won’t make a difference in the next encounter between American diplomats and militant Islamic terrorists.  But John Kerry, her likely successor, should make tending State’s garden, investigating its Byzantine byways as well as focusing on its financial and human resources – a top priority.  Benghazi needn’t have happened.  There needn’t be a reprise.

Read in full here. 

If Senator Kerry is confirmed, we’d really like to see him stay home some more and and not try and break Condi or Hillary’s travel records. There are lots of stuff that really needs fixing right there inside The Building.

domani spero sig

Related articles

QotW: Will Beth Jones Be Formally Nominated as Assistant Secretary for Near Eastern Affairs?

Laura Rozen of The Back Channel has the Buzz on Obama 2.0 Middle East team.  Excerpt below related to the ARB fallout:

Among the top questions is whether acting Assistant Secretary of State for the Near East Affairs Beth Jones will be formally nominated for the post under Secretary of State-nominee John Kerry , or whether someone new will be tapped.  Jones, a career foreign service officer, is, like Kerry, the child of US Foreign Service parents, who spent much of her childhood living abroad accompanying them on foreign assignments, including in Germany and Moscow.

Jones, who previously served as Ambassador to Kazakhstan, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for the Near East, and Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs (2001-2005), came out of retirement in the private sector (APCO Worldwide) to assist in the Near East bureau in 2011. She assumed the Acting Assistant Secretary job for the bureau after Jeff Feltman retired to take the number three job at the United Nations last May.

Department sources said, however, that some State rank and file officers are troubled that the Benghazi investigation resulted in the departure of Jones’ deputy, Raymond Maxwell, who had come out of retirement to serve as deputy assistant secretary of state for Libya in 2011, department sources told the Back Channel. The perception among some in the ranks is that Jones let Maxwell take the fall, while escaping blame herself, in part because of her relationship with Tom Pickering, the veteran diplomat who chaired the Benghazi Accountability Review Board investigation, a department source who declined to speak for attribution said. Jones and Maxwell did not immediately return requests for comment.

Read in full here.

So that’s the question of the week.

We have previously blogged about the ARB fallout on personnel at State, both in the DS and NEA bureaus here and here.  We do not think that Ms. Jones will be formally nominated for a couple of reasons:

  1. While it is true that she has been on the job for about three months as acting Assistant Secretary at NEA when the September 11 attack occurred, she was the incumbent sitting at the top of the accountable regional bureau during the Benghazi Attacks. Formally nominating her for the job would look like a promotion despite the deadly fiasco inside the bureau in the lead up to the attacks.  That’s not good optics and the conspiracy sector will have a field day.  Frankly, we can’t even imagine what that confirmation would be like at the SFRC with Senators John McCain and Rand Paul plus newly minted senator from Arizona named Flake, joining in the fun, if she is nominated.
  2. If rank and file officers were troubled with the departure of NEA DAS Raymond Maxwell in the aftermath of the ARB report, imagine what the morale would be like if she formally assumes the job. With a new secretary of state, not sure, this is something he would really want to deal with at the start of his tenure. The incoming SecState has an opportunity to start with a new slate, we think that’s what he’ll do — not because of inside knowledge (we have none) but because that makes the most sense.

Besides — what’s this proclivity with calling people back from retirement?  How about these folks?  None of them qualified to run the bureau with lots of countries in the hotzones?  Where’s the next generation of State Department leaders coming up the ladder? Zap us an email if you know their undisclosed locations.

domani spero sig

 

 

 

 

Senate Report on Benghazi Cites “Grievous Mistake” for Non-Suspension of Operations Despite Vulnerabilities

The Senate Committee On Homeland Security And Governmental Affairs on December 30, 2012 issued its Benghazi report, Flashing Red: A Special Report On The Terrorist Attack At Benghazi.

The report says that the State Department’s Under Secretary for Management Patrick Kennedy noted in a briefing for the Committee, that Libya and Benghazi were “flashing red” around the time of the attack.

And?

The follow-up query and the response must have fallen off the, well, what else, the cliff!

The “flashing red” went kaboom !!!

… and four men were dead.

Here is one of the findings:

“Despite the inability of the Libyan government to fulfill its duties to secure the facility, the increasingly dangerous threat assessments, and a particularly vulnerable facility, the Department of State officials did not conclude the facility in Benghazi should be closed or temporarily shut down. That was a grevious mistake.”

The Senate report refers to the Benghazi post as the “Temporary Mission Facility in Benghazi.”  The ARB refers to the Benghazi post as the “The U.S. Special Mission in Benghazi” or the “U.S. Special Mission compound (SMC) and Annex.”

According to the ARB, the U.S. Special Mission in Benghazi, established in November 2011, was the successor to Chris Stevens’ “highly successful endeavor as Special Envoy to the rebel-led government that eventually toppled Muammar Qaddafi in fall 2011.”

2 FAM 411.1 dictates that the assistant secretary for the requesting regional bureau prepares a written proposal requesting authorization to open, close, or change the status of a Foreign Service post.

Presumably, the request to open the SMC in Benghazi originated from State’s NEA bureau, which has jurisdiction over Libya.

According to 2 FAM 400, the final decision to open, close, or change the status of a consular post, consular agency, branch, or special office is made by the Under Secretary for Management.  The same person who noted the “flashing red.”

There are 18 factors to consider in the books when opening or closing or changing the status of an overseas post. One of those factors, as may have been the case here considering the presence of OGA, is this:

(9) Expressed interest of U.S. Government agencies (other than the Department) in the maintenance of a post in the locality;

If you’re interested on how the final decision is arrived at, read up on 2 FAM 411.4.

Here are some other interesting parts of the Senate report:

  • U.S. government security personnel who were based in Tripoli had deployed to Benghazi by chartered aircraft after receiving word of the attack, arriving at the Benghazi airport at 1:15 a.m. They were held at the airport for at least three hours while they negotiated with Libyan authorities about logistics. The exact cause of this hours-long delay, and its relationship to the rescue effort, remains unclear and merits further inquiry. Was it simply the result of a difficult Libyan bureaucracy and a chaotic environment or was it part of a plot to keep American help from reaching the Americans under siege in Benghazi?

The host country government failed in its obligation to protect accredited members of the diplomatic corps, the least they can do is answer a few questions as to why security personnel were held at the airport for at least three hours.

A side note here. A second secretary at the Saudi embassy in Bangladesh was killed last March. Five men had just been sentenced to death for the diplomat’s murder. Saudi Arabia is a work destination for many Bangladeshis, so Bangladesh did not foxtrot around the death of a Saudi Arabian diplomat.

  • General Ham did not have complete visibility of the extent and number of government personnel in Benghazi in the event that a NEO was required. 88 If sufficient time had been available for such an evacuation, we are concerned that this limitation could have impeded AFRICOM’s ability to respond and fulfill its mission responsibility.

NEO interoperability between DOD and State has some challenges but we’ll have that for a separate post.

The Senate report further says:

States whose governments do not exercise full control over their sovereign territory, or that have a limited security capability, cannot be counted on to safeguard U.S. diplomatic personnel and facilities. This is usually true, of course, in the aftermath of a revolution or civil war – as was the case in Libya – where the provision of protective services by the host nations is unpredictable at best. In those instances, the Department of State must improve one or more of the other three protectors of mission security within its control: Marine Corps Security Guards, Diplomatic Security agents, or private security contractors.

There is already a move in Congress to increase the number of Marines to almost double its current size (1,200 Marine security guards currently assigned to more than 130 countries).

The State Department is also reportedly asking Congress for an additional $750 million to hire about 150 more security officers.

And the private security contractors could not be far behind.  Wired.com recently had a piece on the potential financial bonanza for security contractors for U.S. embassy security in the post-Benghazi era. The decision whether to continue spending cash on hired guards or to bolster the ranks of State Department employees that protect diplomats themselves will be one that must be tackled by the next secretary of state and soon.

The Senate report also has the following on funding and how they impact priorities:

Resourcing for security is a joint responsibility of the Executive Branch and the Legislative Branch. The Department of State’s decisions regarding security at the Benghazi facility were made in the context of its budget and security requirements for diplomatic facilities around the world. Overall, the Department of State’s base requests for security funding have increased by 38 percent since Fiscal Year (FY) 2007, and base budget appropriations have increased by 27 percent in the same time period. Other security funding provided beyond that in supplemental appropriations bills has been nearly entirely for diplomatic facilities in just three countries—Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan.63 Less has gone elsewhere and very little is available to the temporary facilities such as the one in Benghazi.

Congress’ inability to appropriate funds in a timely manner has also had consequences for the implementation of security upgrades. RSO Nordstrom stated that Continuing Resolutions had two detrimental effects on efforts to improve security in Benghazi. First, the Department of State would only allow funds to be expended at a rate of 80 percent of the previous year’s appropriations level, so as not to risk a violation of the Anti-Deficiency Act. Second, in the absence of a supplemental appropriations or reprogramming request, security funds for Benghazi had to be taken “out of hide” from funding levels for Libya because Benghazi was not included in previous budget requests.

To the congressional reps and their friends who insist that the Benghazi tragedy has nothing to do with funding, the conclusion is simple: Congress’ inability to do its job has real deadly consequences.

Mistakes were made that’s for sure.  But no one honorable has yet come forward to claim those mistakes as his or her own.

And so we are painfully reminded that success has many parents. But a mistake is an orphan, conceived in a vacuum with neither father, mother or extended relatives present at creation. 😥

domani spero sig