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:

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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

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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

 

 

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State Department’s Worldwide Caution, Etcetera — #Benghazi, So Soon Forgotten

On February 19, 2013, the State Department issued a Worldwide Caution to update everyone on “the continuing threat of terrorist actions and violence against U.S. citizens and interests throughout the world.” The notice replaced the one issued on July 18, 2012 “to provide updated information on security threats and terrorist activities worldwide.”

Below is the relevant section from the Worldwide Caution, can you spot what’s missing? (the full notice is here):

MIDDLE EAST and NORTH AFRICA:  Credible information indicates terrorist groups also seek to continue attacks against U.S. interests in the Middle East and North Africa.  The U.S. government remains highly concerned about possible attacks against U.S. citizens, facilities, businesses, and perceived U.S. and Western interests.  Terrorist organizations continue to be active in Yemen, including al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP).     Security threat levels remain high in Yemen due to terrorist activities and civil unrest.  In September 2012, a mob of Yemeni protestors attacked the U.S. Embassy compound.  U.S. citizens have also been the targets of numerous terrorist attacks in Lebanon in the past (though none recently) and the threat of anti-Western terrorist activity continues to exist there.  There are a number of extremist groups operating in Lebanon, including Hizballah, a group designated by the U.S. government as a terrorist organization.  Iraq remains dangerous and unpredictable.  U.S. military forces departed as of December 31, 2011, but the threat of attacks against U.S. citizens, including kidnapping and terrorist violence, continues.  In Algeria, Al-Qaida in the Lands of the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) is active and operates throughout the country.  Terrorists sporadically attack westerners and Algerian targets, particularly in the Kabylie region, and near Algeria’s borders with Libya and Mali.  In January, terrorists attacked a natural gas facility at In Amenas resulting in the deaths of dozens, including three U.S. citizens.  Terrorists have also targeted oil processing plants in Saudi Arabia and Yemen.   Some elements in Iran remain hostile to the United States.  U.S. citizens should remain cautious and be aware that there may be a more aggressive focus by the Iranian government on terrorist activity against U.S citizens.   No part of Syria should be considered immune from violence, and the potential exists throughout the country for unpredictable and hostile acts, including kidnappings, sniper assaults, large and small-scale bombings, as well as arbitrary arrest, detention, and torture. The conflict in Syria has resulted in tens of thousands of deaths with many thousands wounded and over one million displaced persons.

In September 2012, civil unrest, large scale protests and demonstrations as well as violent attacks – some of which were in reaction to an anti-Islamic video and cartoons – targeted U.S. missions and schools overseas including in Libya, Tunisia, Egypt, Sudan, and Yemen.  U.S. citizens are warned that demonstrations intended to be peaceful can escalate into violent clashes.  U.S. citizens are also reminded that demonstrations and riots can occur with little or no warning.  U.S. citizens are urged to avoid areas of demonstrations if possible and to exercise caution if within the vicinity of a demonstration.

Frankly, we kinda stop paying attention to these notices because we pretty much follow the news, and these do not offer anything more than what is already available out there. But we recently got a note from one of our readers urging us to look for Benghazi in the latest Worldwide Caution released. Um, nuthin’ there.

A from a distant post sends:

 [T]here is not a single mention of Benghazi anywhere? The only reference is an oblique statement about generalized violence and attacks across North Africa in part related to the Mohammed videos. It does not mention Benghazi by name, nor the deaths of any USG personnel, nor explains the reasoning behind the attacks.  That seems like a startlingly blind omission given the political catfighting going on over the attacks, their cause, the timeline, and subsequent ARB.  

 It makes you wonder what the caution is supposed to be for.  Does it mean that it is safe for AMCITs to go to Benghazi? Or if it isn’t, how did this make it through the clearance process without someone saying “Uh, what about Libya? Maybe we should note that USG personnel were killed there less than 6 months ago?” 

Maybe we should. This is not crowdsourcing or anything but wouldn’t that make sense? We understand that the CA Bureau cannot be expected to cite all security threats and terrorist activities in the last six months in its Worldwide Caution notice, but given that U.S. personnel actually died there …

Dear Consular Affairs Bureau, four U.S. citizens died in Benghazi, one more than In Amenas. Shouldn’t that merit a mention in your latest Worldwide Caution?

We were also looking over its Libya Country Specific Information updated last on February 8, 2013 and below is part of what it says under the THREATS TO SAFETY AND SECURITY section:

Recent worldwide terrorism alerts, including the Department of State’s Worldwide Caution, have stated that extremist groups continue to plan terrorist attacks against U.S. interests in the Middle East region. In June 2012, an unknown group of attackers detonated an improvised explosive device outside the compound of the U.S. embassy’s office in Benghazi. There have also been attacks on diplomatic vehicle convoys. Any U.S. citizen who decides to travel to Libya should maintain a strong security posture by being aware of surroundings, avoiding crowds and demonstrations, keeping a low profile, and varying times and routes for all required travel.

The Department of State advises U.S. citizens to exercise caution and comply with local regulations when traveling in desert and border regions of Libya. Terrorist attacks in Algeria, the June 2009 murder of a U.S. citizen teacher in Mauritania, kidnappings of Western tourists in desert regions of Tunisia and Egypt in 2011 and 2012, northern Niger in 2010, and Mali in January 2009, and the terrorist activity of al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb in North Africa are indicative of a continued threat in the region.

Dear God! Has this job been outsourced to a robot with an outdated software? How else can you explain mentioning the IED attack on Benghazi in June 2012 but missed altogether mentioning the attack on September 2012.

Look it’s on Wikipedia!

The Diplomatic Security/RSO also prepared the Crime and Safety Report for Libya dated February 22, 2013 which includes three specific mention of Benghazi, but not the attack of the temporary U.S. mission there:

  • The majority of the 16,000 criminals released during the revolution remain free. Carjacking, robberies, burglaries, and thefts continue. Unlike in Benghazi, acts of terrorism, targeted assassination campaigns, and violence specifically against Westerners have not been characteristic of the Tripoli landscape.
  • Civil Unrest: Violent clashes between armed groups are possible, particularly at night. Clashes often include the use of heavy weapons. Public demonstrations occur frequently in the central squares of cities, such as Martyrs’ Square in Tripoli and Freedom Square in Benghazi.
  • Areas to be Avoided: Because of ongoing instability and violence, the Department of State warns U.S. citizens of the risks of traveling to Libya and strongly advises against all but essential travel to Tripoli and all travel to Benghazi, Bani Walid, and southern Libya, including border areas and the regions of Sabha and Kufra. The Department’s ability to provide consular services to U.S. citizens is extremely limited.

We don’t know about you but this is kinda hinky.   It’s as if the Benghazi attack did not even happen … have we forgotten that we took casualties there?  Or has Benghazi been purposely scrubbed clean from these products?  But why?

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Mario Montoya’s Mission to a Revolution Spurs Search for Stevens’ Benghazi Security Detail?

In December, Congressman Jason Chaffetz (R- UT) told Breitbart News that he has been “thwarted” by the State Department from seeing any Americans who survived the deadly attack on the U.S. diplomatic mission in  Benghazi.

“My understanding is that we still have some people in the hospital. I’d like to visit with them and wish them nothing but the best but the State Department has seen it unfit for me to know who those people are—or even how many there are,” Rep. Chaffetz said. “I don’t know who they are. I don’t know where they live. I don’t know what state they’re from. I don’t even know how many there are. It doesn’t seem right to me.”

May we just say that it’s actually a good thing that the good congressman from Utah does not know where the survivors live?  Why? Because who’s to say that a congressman running for reelection every two years would not use the survivors as props in a future campaign?  This is the same congressman who did an overnight trip to Libya (via miljet?) to do some investigation, did not go to Benghazi but did show up pretty promptly at Fox News after the trip.

Don’t know if there is a cure for it, but Opportunistic Disorder Syndrome (ODS) is a common affliction among elected officials.

Seriously, does Congress really think they could find out more the what and whys and hows from talking to the survivors, the same ones who most probably are recovering from physical, emotional and psychological trauma? And what are they going to ask the survivors? Whether or not there was a demonstration prior to the attack?  Or what was Susan Rice doing on the Sunday talk shows? Are they going to ask the survivors why they were in Benghazi? Orders! Dammit, they got orders. Why were they in Benghazi is beyond their pay grades, folks.  Didn’t Congress folks ask the OGA people what they were doing in Benghazi? For sure, they were not there for the fun of it. They were there because somebody had made the decision that it was in our national interest that they be there.  But the OGA people could not possibly be there just on their own. They needed some leafy cover.

Dear god! Senator McCain wants to see the survivors come to Capitol Hill and give their account of what happened in Benghazi on September 11.  Because obviously, the survivors have not already talked to the FBI investigators and they need to answer questions from a bunch of self-serving politicians who cannot get their heads out of their collective posteriors? Ew, apologies for that imagery.  Anyway, maybe they should served these survivors with congressional subpoenas.  Let’s see what kind of PR Congress get for dragging these survivors to a useless hearing. The same survivors who were wounded in the attack; people who have watched their colleagues bleed and die and are never the same again, even if they made it out alive.  They’re not the perpetrators but by all means, go call them to your hearing and grill them to death.

We should note that only a fraction of the Benghazi survivors, about 7 individuals are State Department folks. There were reportedly 32 survivors from the Benghazi attack. Besides the 7 State Dept employees, the rest of the survivors are OGA people; okay call them Annex people, or former Petreaus people. Why are these Hill people not screaming bloody murder that the CIA is hiding their 25 Benghazi survivors from Congress?

And then there’s a spin off. First the Benghazi survivors were “hidden” and now apparently Ambassador Stevens security detail’s identities were “suppressed”.

A few days ago, this piece went online:

State Dept. Publicized Names, Photos of Stevens’ Benghazi Security Detail Before 9/11/12; Suppressed Their Identities Afterward |  February 1, 2013

Before the Sept. 11, 2012 terrorist attacks in Benghazi, the department undertook a calculated effort to publicize the agents’ names and faces–presenting them in a State Department promotional magazine posted on the Internet. After the Sept. 11, 2012 terrorist attacks, the State Department has treated the names and faces of the DS agents who survived those attacks as if they were classified information.

On January 28, the House Oversight Chairman Darrell Issa, House Foreign Affairs Chairman Ed Royce, and House Oversight National Security Subcommittee Chairman Jason Chaffetz had sent a letter to Secretary Clinton asking her to provide them with certain documents and information relating to the Benghazi attack. Among the things the committee asked Clinton to handover was: “A complete list of every individual—including name, title, and agency—interviewed by the ARB for the December 19, 2012, report, and any documents and communications referring or relating to the interviews.”

The online publication made the following suggestion:

If the committee wanted the names of the DS agents who were in Benghazi with Chris Stevens during the 2011 rebellion—as opposed to those who were with Stevens in Benghazi during the Sept. 11, 2012 terrorist attack—all they would need to do is go to the State Department’s website and look up the December 2011 issue of State Magazine.

The cover story of this official government publication is entitled: “Mission to a Revolution.” It was written by Mario Montoya, identified in the magazine as one of the DS agents who protected Stevens in Benghazi during the 2011 Libyan rebellion.

This one:

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From State Magazine, December 2011

In pages 18-23 of the article, are indeed the names of some of the DSS agents in Benghazi:

DS agents Jeremy Clarke, Chris Little and Mario Montoya, medic Jack Van Cleve, Regional Security Officer Mike Ranger and Security Protective Specialists Domingo Ruiz and Ronald Young protected mission staff traveling in Benghazi or in the rebel-controlled towns in eastern Libya.

In another part of the article is this:

But the group’s members needed more than a warm welcome; they needed a place to bed down for the night. In expeditionary diplomacy, they key is to make do with what you have, so the mission’s first night was spent aboard ship while Diplomatic Security Service agents Brian Haggerty, Kent Anderson, Josh Vincent, Chris Deedy, James Mcanelly, Jason Bierly and Ken Davis, Agent in Charge Keith Carter and Political Officer Nathan Tek scoured the city for rooms. They soon settled into a formerly government-owned hotel where other foreign missions and international journalists were lodged, but had to move when a car bomb exploded in the hotel parking lot.

We presumed that the main reasons the names and the photos actually made it to publication was that those agents were no longer in Libya.

And oh, hey! Did you hear that the DSS agents tour of duty at the temporary mission in Benghazi was a series of 45-60 days TDY rotations? The memo highlighted by the Oversight Committee containing the security request mention a permanent staffing for an RSO on a one year assignment.  Traditionally, RSOs have regular tours that range from 1-3 years depending on the locations of their assignments.  But Benghazi was unique; it did not have a permanent staff similar to other embassies and consulates. It was staffed by temporary duty personnel.

The Libyan Revolution occurred from 5 February 2011 – 23 October 2011.  Chris Stevens was the Special Representative to the National Transitional Council  during the Libyan revolution. He got to Benghazi in April 2011 and left sometime in November 2011.

In September 2011, the accredited US Ambassador to Tripoli Gene Cretz  returned to Libya. Chris Stevens  later that fall returned to Washington, D.C. President Obama officially nominated him to be the U.S. Ambassador to Libya in January 2012.   Chris Stevens remained in DC to prepare for his confirmation hearing.  The SFRC held his nomination hearing on March 20, 2012.

His nomination confirmed, Ambassador Stevens arrived in Tripoli on May 26, 2012 and presented his credentials the following day.

In any case, most of the names mentioned in the Montoya article have very light digital footprint. A quick look online indicate that one is now assigned in D.C. and we found one who actually made the news on his own.  Chris Deedy who in November 2011 was accused in a Waikiki shooting during the APEC conference in Hawaii was one of the DSS agents who was in Benghazi when Chris Stevens was the Special Representative to the Transitional Council.

Some of the related headlines made it sound as if these were the same agents.  Our source intimately familiar with the comings and goings  told us that none of those who accompanied  Chris Stevens to Benghazi as Special Rep in April 2011 were with him when he returned to Benghazi as ambassador in September 2012.

While we can understand why the government would want to protect the OGA names,  we can’t think of a reason why the names of the rest of the interviewees could not be made public. We would not have any argument about Congress forcing State to make public the list of individuals interviewed by the Accountability Review Board.  This was done in the East Africa Embassy Bombing ARB.  Besides, this is after all an “accountability” report, we believe the names of those interviewed should be made public. We are not so much interested on the names of the survivors as much as the names of the senior officials who were or were not interviewed by the Board.

That said, we certainly would not want Congress to add to the trauma that the survivors already suffered by parading them around under the broad cover of “investigating” this incident in political perpetuity (until 2014 for the senator on the growl or the next four years, take your pick).  Presumably, the FBI have talked to all the survivors.  If Congress cannot trust the FBI investigators to talk to the survivors and investigate this incident, why the foxtrot do we have an FBI?

Meanwhile, just a couple days ago, over in the less dysfunctional Washington, Anne Stevens, sister of the late Ambassador Stevens and a doctor at Seattle Children’s Hospital is finishing the work her brother started — creating a collaborative relationship with U.S. doctors to advance Libyan health care.  According to Seattle Times, Dr. Stevens thought that the most fitting tribute to her older brother’s life was to complete the work he had started in Benghazi, helping Libyans improve emergency care in the troubled and dangerous city.

 

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Hillary Clinton Handles a Mansplainer in Gifs

It was only a matter of time. #whatdifferencedoesitmake got a hashtag soon after it was uttered. There are even Hillary Clinton 2016 signs printed with it. Then Hillary Clinton Not Impressed During Benghazi Hearing got a photo caption contest.  And can Hillary Clinton in gifs be far behind? Of course not!

Over at feministing.com, columnist Zerlina Maxwell posted a series of gifs as part of a humorous “how-to” guide to dealing with “mansplainers” (defined as “a person — typically a man — who explains something condescendingly or patronizingly to a listener — usually a woman — who, in fact, does not require an explanation”).

Here are three of our picks:

Step 4: Raise your hands up like, “What’s your point?” and clown the mansplainer for not having an actual relevant point.

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The really hillaryious part is when the guy at the other end of the conversation ends up his turn with “Thank you, Madame Secretary.” He could have asked a bunch more follow-up questions had he attended the classified hearing on Benghazi and did his homework.

Step 5: When Senator John McCain calls you combative and proceeds to rant endlessly, nod with a sly smile.

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Step 7: Rearrange all of the random crap on your desk.  You can never be too organized when getting grilled by angry white dudes.

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If you want the full tutorial, head over to How to deal with a mansplainer starring Hillary Clinton in gifs.

We think that this woman is still going places, never mind what the press release says.  You noticed, of course, that no one has bothered to put Senators McCain, Paul or Johnson in gifs?  And they’ve got gorgeous ties.  Maybe the gifs are the new bubble heads and signs of things to come?

Stoooop! We’re not going there, not to 2016 even if she already got a Ready for Hillary Super PAC and a second memoir in the works.

In any case, did you see Matt Damon tie and gag Jimmy Kimmel on teevee?   What a great idea! The next congressional rep who ask brainless questions during a hearing after skipping a classified briefing on the matter being discussed ought to be gagged with a tie duct-tape ala Jimmy Kimmel. Because it’s really annoying when we have to listen to our elected representatives listen to themselves talk.  But hey! Don’t ask Matt Damon to do it.

Wait —  wouldn’t it be great if in addition to requesting tickets, flags, congressional interventions over visa matters, constituent services could also include volunteer opportunities to administer the duct-tape?
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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.

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At the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations this week: Clinton on 1/23, Kerry on 1/24

The outgoing and the incoming Secretary of State will both be at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee this week. It looks like both events will be presided by the presumptive incoming chairman of the SFRC, Robert Menendez of New Jersey. Senator Menendez is not/not our pick for next chairman (oh god, that one) but that’s beyond our magical powers.  All we can do is hope that he does not mess up so badly that he makes it into the front pages of both The Daily Caller and Gawker, again.


Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Benghazi: The Attacks and the Lessons Learned
Presiding: Senator Menendez
Time: 09:00 AM EST
Location: Senate Hart 216

Witness:
The Honorable Hillary Rodham Clinton
Secretary of State
U.S. Department of State
Washington, DC

The hearing should be broadcast live here.


Thursday, January 24, 2013

Nomination Hearing
Presiding: Senator Menendez
Time: 10:00 AM EST
Location: Senate Hart 216

Nominee:
The Honorable John F. Kerry
of Massachusetts, to be Secretary of State

 

The video of the confirmation hearing should be available here.

—> Domani Spero

 

 

 

 

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

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