Benghazi Hearing: No Kaboom as Promised, But More Details Fill Up the Dark Space of Sadness

So there’s this ARB report on Benghazi, this Senate report on Benghazi, and this Interim Progress report on Benghazi.  Then Congress held hearings the last several months (see below, may not be a complete list):

House Oversight Committee chair Darrell Issa promised on May 8th that “This hearing is closed, but this investigation is not over.” Towards the end of the hearing Darrell Issa also asked, “Do we need other whistle-blowers to come forward?” All three witnesses answer in the affirmative.

The May 8 Oversight hearing with State Department whistleblowers, Gregory Hicks, Eric Norstrom and Mark I. Thompson went on from 11:30 am until after 5:00 in the afternoon.  We were off to a prior engagement which could not be rescheduled so we had to play catch up with this.  We’re not going to go through this blow by blow because we don’t have enough booze in the house.

First, we have to say that we were disappointed the kaboom promised did not materialized.  But we appreciate hearing additional details about that night.  Perhaps when the ARB mandate is updated by Congress, it should just be an open hearing on C-SPAN  where the American public can hear first hand what our diplomats do overseas in the service of this country.

We appreciate the fact the Mr. Nordstrom prepared a written testimony, as he did previously in the October 2012 appearance. We admire him for publicly questioning how the ARB fixed the blame on this incident at the lower level. A sentiment that we have heard from people inside the building since the ARB report was released. He also made an excellent argument about elevating both Diplomatic Security and Consular Affairs to the Under Secretary level instead of where it current stands, under the Under Secretary for Management. We don’t think that this would happen but it shows that he was thinking through how things could be made better.

Gregory Hicks and Mark I. Thompson. Neither prepared a written testimony about Benghazi. In its place, both submitted biographic notes.  See Mr. Thompson’s here and Mr. Hick’s here.  Mr. Hick’s statement includes how he “became known as the Ambassador’s bulldog,” and how Charge d’affaires Larry Pope told him his performance was “near-heroic.”  Combined that with the now often repeated line about somebody with balls as in “a State Department officer has bigger balls than somebody in the military” — gave us an eeek feeling.  It might have been better if somebody else, not Mr. Hicks repeated those lines about himself to the Committee.  This led WaPo’s Dana Milbank to write, “And this whistleblower spent a good bit of time tooting his own horn.”  See? That’s what happens.

A few things of note —

Names:

During Gregory Hicks testimony, he named some of US Mission Libya’s staff. Except for David Ubbens, an RSO who was wounded in Benghazi, we are almost certain this is the first time that the names of those working in the mission have been made public. Are we going to now see these guys called before a congressional committee? There were actually more OGA folks than State personnel in Benghazi, but we’re not going to hear from those folks, are we?

  • Regional Security Officer (Tripoli) – John Martinec
  • Regional Security Officer (Benghazi) – Alec Henderson
  • Ambassador Stevens’ Agent in Charge – Scott Wickland
  • Political Section Chief – David McFarland
  • Embassy Tripoli Nurse – Jackie Levesque
  • Embassy Office Manager – Amber Pickens
  • Management Officer – Allen Greenfield
  • Lieutenant Colonel Phillips
  • Lieutenant Colonel Arnt
  • Lieutenant Colonel Gibson
  • Mark Si (Team Tripoli)


Quotables: 

Eric A. Nordstrom , the former RSO in Tripoli who gave us some of the best zingers in the October 2012 hearing did not disappoint.

“Is anything in writing, if so, I’d like a copy for post so we have it handy for the ARB?”

“Our posts in Benghazi and Tripoli were among those posts and the only two facilities that met no OSPB or SECCA standards.”

“[I]f the Secretary of State did not waive these requirements, who did so by ordering occupancy of the facilities in Benghazi and Tripoli?”

“The ARB’s failure to review the decisions of the U/S for Management and other senior leaders, who made critical decisions regarding all aspects of operations in Tripoli, to include occupancy of facilities, which did not meet the aforementioned SECCA and OSPB requirements, is inexplicable.”

“While Department employees are told that they may spend multiple tours in hardship and unaccompanied postings as part of the Department’s new ‘expeditionary’ diplomacy designed to meet the challenges of the 21st century, the Department has not made the appropriate organizational and cultural changes to keep pace with the work expected of its employees.”

The lesson State Department employees can expect to have taken from Benghazi: “Whether you’re at a mission, preparing for a hearing, or you’re standing on top of a building “surrounded by a mob […] the message is the same: You’re on your own.”

Gregory Hicks also gave us some quotes and additional details that we did not know previously.

“We have about 55 diplomatic personnel in the two annexes.”  [This is a lot more than what was previously reported]

“I think at about 2 p.m. the — 2 a.m., sorry, the Secretary of State Clinton called me along with her senior staff were all on the phone, and she asked me what was going on.”

“My jaw dropped and I was embarrassed.”

Undersecretary of State Elizabeth Jones “told me I had to improve my management style and that some people were upset.”

“A phone call from that senior a person is generally considered not to be good news.”

“It’s a demotion […] foreign affairs officers… are desk officers. I’ve been effectively demoted from deputy chief of mission to desk officer.”

“[Washington] asked me in one of the phone calls, when are you going to move [from the embassy] to the annex?” I said dawn, because none of our people had experience driving the armored vehicles.

Hicks says that Secretary Clinton “wanted Benghazi converted into a permanent constituent post. The timing of this decision was important. Chris needed to report before Sept. 30, the end of the fiscal year… [and file] an action memo to convert the facility.”

Mark I. Thompson, the Deputy Coordinator for Operations for the CT Bureau who was careful to let us know in his bio-note that the position is equivalent to a Deputy Assistant Secretary.

The team “is designed… to get all the options on the table for the decision-makers.”

Later he said when he knew they couldn’t find the ambassador “I alerted my leadership.”

On why was FEST not called into action? “I do not know.”

A pretty good account of the hearing with timeline via the Guardian here if you want to read more.


Something DGHR might be interested in — Rep. Jackie Speier, a Democrat from California asked  Mr. Hicks where in the world he’d like to be posted next.

“The country that I would most like to go to and be assigned to…” Hicks says, then pauses. “I’d really want to talk to the chief decision-maker in my family, my wife, because her opinion is really more important than mine.”

“I think this committee will help you get a good onward assignment,” Speier says.

That’s when we just ahaha fell off the chair!  Has there ever been an instance when Congress successfully waded in on the onward assignment of a mid-level official in a State Department? We’d like to see that. We imagine that Congress can drive Assignments Officers literally as nuts as Jack Nicholson in The Shining. We suspect that the good representative from California had absolutely no idea how that works. Maybe they should hold a hearing about that, too, because why not?


He Said vs. He Said vs. They Said

Via Jonathan Karl/ABC:  The GOP reportedly said that Thomas Pickering – the co-chairman of ARB Benghazi refused to testify on May 8.  The State Department disagreed:  “Ambassador Pickering volunteered to appear,” a State Department official tells ABC News. “But Government Oversight and Reform Committee Chairman Darrell] Issa said no.” Issa spokesman then released a letter dated February 22 inviting Pickering (read them here) to the SubCommittee on National Security on March 2013.  State Department says Pickering is ready to go right now – and happy to testify on May 8.

Via Andrea Mitchell/NBC: Gregory Hicks said that Clinton’s Chief of Staff, Cheryl Mills “was very upset” that the lawyer was barred from the classified briefing during the Chaffetz CODEL in Tripoli.  Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s longtime aide Philippe Reines responded in a lengthy email to NBC News/MSNBC regarding the allegation that Mills was angry that a State Department attorney was excluded from meetings in Libya with republican Congressman Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, of the House Oversight Committee.

Via Thinkprogress and Foreign Policy  Gregory Hicks vs. Embassy Tripoli staff.  “Staff who served in Libya with Gregory Hicks, the GOP’s primary “whistleblower” in this week’s hearing on the Benghazi terror attacks, undercut his story that State Department officials demoted him as retribution for speaking out, instead telling ThinkProgress about a man who one described as “the worst manager I’ve ever seen in the Foreign Service.”  Another anonymous official told Foreign Policy’s Gordon Lubold that Hicks is a “classic case of underachiever who whines when big breaks don’t come his way.”

So — that’s that. Maybe we’ll have a separate post on Mr. Hicks and whistleblowing  later ….

For now, it looks like the famous “talking points” is the star of the press show again.

Meanwhile —

US Embassy Tripoli went on partial ordered departure yesterday with some personnel ordered to depart the country, while others continue the work they were sent out to do in Libya.  Tripoli according to Eric Nordstrom is one of the “two facilities that met no OSPB or SECCA standards” and yet we are there.  Has anyone asked to see Tripoli and Benghazi’s emergency plans?  Was there even one for Benghazi?  Who approved these posts without the required security waivers? Neither the ARB nor Congress knows despite the various reports and multiple hearings.  For now, the Marines’ Task Force Tripoli is reportedly on site on a six-month rotation.

At the same time, at a neighboring embassy (one of those breached in mob attacks last year) where the front office is seriously suffering from clientitis and on denial about security and the future of a seriously messed up country —  work on updating the mission’s emergency plan finally started.  But the country is falling apart and if you have not Nordstromed your requests yet, better start before it’s too late.

By the way, on the same day when  the Benghazi hearing was held, our U.S. Ambassador to Syria Robert Ford made a secret trip into northern Syria.  NPR reported that Ambassador Ford who is still accredited to the Syrian Government crossed into rebel-held territory at the Bab al-Salama crossing of the Turkish frontier without permission from the Syrian Government.

And so —

The work continues in over 285 posts around the world. If you know how these hearings have made our people overseas any safer or  better equipped to managed the risks they faced every day, please tell us because we’ve been depressed for a long, long time now.

— DS

Note: With apologies to our regular readers. We have currently disabled the comment section. We don’t have enough Prozac to help us deal with the ever excellent conspiracy theorists who came to leave us love notes.  So we will go hide under the bed with our favorite GAO reports and catch up on our reading.  

Advertisements

Is the State Dept’s Bureaucratic Firewall Crumbling? Former DCM Says Accountability Review “let people off the hook” …

Via CNN:

Greg Hicks, former deputy chief of mission at the U.S. Embassy in Tripoli, Libya, told congressional investigators that the State Department internal review of the catastrophe at the mission in Benghazi “let people off the hook,” CNN has learned.

The Accountability Review Board “report itself doesn’t really ascribe blame to any individual at all. The public report anyway,” Hicks told investigators, according to transcript excerpts obtained by CNN. “It does let people off the hook.”
[…]
Rep. Darrell Issa, the chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, said Sunday on CBS that Hicks will testify Wednesday in a congressional hearing on the deadly attack in Benghazi.

“In our system, people who make decisions have been confirmed by the Senate to make decisions,” Hicks told investigators.”The three people in the State Department who are on administrative leave pending disciplinary action are below Senate confirmation level. Now, the DS (Diplomatic Security) assistant secretary resigned, and he is at Senate confirmation level.  Yet the paper trail is pretty clear that decisions were being made above his level.

Whom might Hicks be referring to? He specifically mentions Under Secretary of State for Management Patrick Kennedy.

“Certainly the fact that Under Secretary Kennedy required a daily report of the personnel in country and who personally approved every official American who went to Tripoli or Benghazi, either on assignment or TDY (temporary duty), would suggest some responsibility about security levels within the country lies on his desk,” Hicks said.
[…]
The day after Rice’s appearance on the Sunday shows, Hicks says, he asked Acting Assistant Secretary for Near Eastern Affairs Beth Jones, ” ‘Why did Ambassador Rice say that?’ And Beth Jones said, ‘I don’t know.'”

Hicks said he didn’t think Jones “welcomed the question at all. … Both the sharpness of the ‘I don’t know’ and the tone of voice … indicated to me that I had perhaps asked a question that I should not have asked.”

Continue reading, Benghazi whistle-blower Hicks: Internal review ‘let people off the hook’.

If you missed this weekend’s Face the Nation, see the CBS Face the Nation Transcript, May 5, 2013, the first part is on Benghazi.

We have written previously how we were troubled by the ARB fixing the blame at the bureau level (see How long will the State Dept’s bureaucratic firewall hold at the bureau level?; and These bureaus don’t exist in a vacuum? Oh, but they do – since …).

 We find the “fixin” the blame ‘er accountability at the bureau level quite disturbing but also laughable.  We are tempted to start calling this the “Accountability for Mid Level Officials Review Board” as suggested.

Back in December, we’ve also speculated at three future scenarios:

  1. That the four resignations will temper the noise and hold the firewall at the bureau level.
  2. That the four resignations will increase the noise, add more questions, breach the bureau firewall and one or more of the Under Secretaries will roll.
  3. That with the holiday week coming, people will be riveted by last minute shopping, and will be so Benghazid-out to care.

It looks like scenarios #1 and #3 are now out.  Remains to be seen how scenario #2 plays out with this week’s Oversight hearing.  We suspect that one or more of the under secretaries will soon announce a desire to “spend more time with the family” or retire or whatever.

We understand that Mr. Hicks was the deputy chief of mission in Tripoli from June 2012 – October 2012.  We don’t know why this tenure was only for four months.  We have tried reaching out to Mr. Hicks but have not heard anything back. He presumably also became the charge d’affaires in the aftermath of Ambassador Steven’s death.  Mr. Hicks is an FS-01 Econ Officer with 22 years of service.

On October 11, 2012, retired FSO Laurence Pope assumed office as charge d’affaires at the US Embassy in Tripoli (see Officially Back: Ambassador Laurence Pope to Tripoli as Chargé d’ Affaires.

In January 2013, a career FSO took over running the embassy from Ambassador Pope (see US Embassy Libya: New Chargé d’ Affaires William Roebuck Assumes Office.

On March 19, 2013, President Obama announced his intent to nominate Deborah Jones as the next ambassador to Libya (see  Officially In: Deborah K. Jones, from MEI Scholar-in-Residence to Libya).  Ambassador Jones is scheduled to have her confirmation hearing at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee tomorrow, Tuesday, May 7, 2013.

Mr. Hicks is scheduled to testify at the House Oversight Committee hearing on Wednesday, May 8. We have a prior engagement that day so we’ll be late.

— DS

 

Acting A/S Beth Jones Yanks Out “Disaster” DCM from NEA Post — Brava!

Back in January, we posted a brief item about Ambassador Beth Jones, the Acting Assistant Secretary of State of Near Eastern Affairs. (see QotW:  Will Beth Jones Be Formally Nominated as Assistant Secretary for Near Eastern Affairs?)

Recently, Laura Rozen of the Back Channel posted more on the rumored potential successor to Jeffrey Feltman at the NEA Bureau. Excerpt:

Acting Assistant Secretary for Near East Affairs Beth Jones will not stay in the job in Obama’s second term, the Back Channel has previously reported. Among the rumored candidates in the mix to possibly succeed her, US Ambassador to Egypt Anne Patterson, Syria envoy Ford, and US Ambassador to Jordan Stuart Jones, who previously served as deputy US Ambassador in Iraq and DAS for Europe, diplomatic sources said. Other possibilities mentioned include US envoy to Iraq Robert Stephen Beecroft, US envoy to Turkey Francis Ricciardone, and NSS Senior Director for the Persian Gulf Puneet Talwar. The administration is, however, unlikely to pick an outsider/non career diplomat for the sensitive NEA post, especially in the wake of Benghazi, diplomatic sources said Friday, and suggested Patterson or Ford, both with past ambassadorships in the Arab world, would have an edge.

Read in full here.

While Ambassador Jones is not in the running for the top job at the NEA Bureau, we think she deserves credit for yanking out a deputy chief of mission described as “a disaster” from one of her NEA posts. Instead of letting things fester, as is often the case in the bureaucracy, this one was sent out packing to land back in WashDC.

The traditional arrangement for running an embassy assigns internal management of the mission to the deputy chief of mission. And while we recognize the many challenges in doing that, we are also convinced that not everyone who is a DCM is cut out to be one.  When the bureau let it stew too long particularly in a  sort of pressure cooker place, the mission gets, well, overly chewy and unpleasant.

So let’s hope that whoever takes over Ambassador Jones’ job at the NEA Bureau will show a similar propensity for tackling difficult managers in our overseas missions.  And while Secretary Kerry is reportedly relying on senior managers to take care of the big house while he is starting to beef up his miles, he ought to do something about the State Department’s  Recycling Division for bad managers.  We’re getting awfully tired seeing recyclees pop up here, there and the most unexpected places.

Dear Secretary Kerry, can you please send these recyclees to a leadership bootcamp, and no we don’t mean to the NFATC/ Foreign Service Institute where they cure them with Myers-Briggs.

A side note —

We recently posted about the “abysmal morale” at the US Embassy in Cairo, another NEA post (see US Embassy Bangui: 15% Danger Post With Terrifically Bad Trimmings, It’s Not Alone –Wassup Cairo?).  While writing this post, we received a note that a high-level visitor from DC will soon be in Cairo to discuss post morale.  We hope that trip is fruitful. We’d volunteer to be baggage handler so we can live-tweet the trip and the expected town hall with mission staff but folks might get shy ….

sig4

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

 

 

 

 

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

Various news outlet described the Accountability Review Board’s unclassified report in the following terms:

NYT: Panel Assails Role of State Department in Benghazi Attack

ABC News: Benghazi Review Finds ‘Systemic Failure’

USA Today: Benghazi review slams State Department on security

Also that the ARB has “harsh” criticisms, “faults” State and on and on …
Well, did we expect that it would be otherwise when four people died and some more wounded?

We blogged in the early morning about the unclassified report released last night (see Accountability Review Board Singles Out DS/NEA Bureaus But Cites No Breach of Duty).

We were going through the recommendations when we just saw the news that heads are starting to well, as the cliché goes, roll.

While the ARB report did not fault any one person, CBS News is reporting that Eric Boswell, the Assistant Secretary of State for Diplomatic Security at the State Department, has resigned.

An official  speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss personnel matters publicly told  the AP that Eric Boswell, as well as Charlene Lamb, the Deputy Assistant Secretary for International Programs responsible for embassy security, “stepped down under pressure after the release of the report.” The third official with the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs also reportedly stepped down but was not identified.

We kinda expected this. But the bureaucratic casualties appear to be firewalled for the moment at the bureau level.  The DS bureau is under the Undersecretary for Management, encumbered by popular Hill witness, Patrick Kennedy.  The NEA Bureau is under the Undersecretary for Political Affairs, encumbered by political appointee, Wendy Sherman who assumed office in September 2011.

The ARB on DS and NEA bureaus:

“The DS Bureau showed a lack of proactive senior leadership with respect to Benghazi, failing to ensure that the priority security needs of a high risk, high threat post were met. At the same time, with attention in late 2011 shifting to growing crises in Egypt and Syria, the NEA Bureau’s front office showed a lack of ownership of Benghazi’s security issues, and a tendency to rely totally on DS for the latter. The Board also found that Embassy Tripoli leadership, saddled with their own staffing and security challenges, did not single out a special need for increased security for Benghazi.”

And this:

“Throughout the crisis, the Acting NEA Assistant Secretary provided crucial leadership guidance to Embassy Tripoli’s DCM, and Embassy Tripoli’s RSO offered valuable counsel to the DS agents in Benghazi.”

A note on the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs: Since June 2012, the bureau has been headed by Elizabeth Jones in an acting capacity.  She was previously Deputy Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan. The NEA bureau was headed by Jeffrey Feltman from August 2009 to June 2012 when he retired from the Foreign Service.  He is currently the UN Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs. If she is nudged out when she was on the job barely three months when Benghazi happened, we might think that the pressured shakeup is for purposes of appearances.

Update: AP is now reporting that Raymond Maxwell, the deputy assistant secretary of state who oversees the Maghreb nations of Libya, Algeria, Tunisia and Morocco is the NEA official who reportedly resigned.  That’s like one of the number #3s in the bureau. Not the Assistant Secretary, not the Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary but one of NEA’s seven officials below PDAS.  So if Eric Boswell retired from DS last month, somebody, anybody at the DS Front Office would have been pressured to stepped down, too?

Folks, we do not like the look of this bureaucratic firewall. The NEA resignation if true looks contrived and the artificiality offends us.  What decisions regarding Benghazi did Mr. Maxwell actually do, that the NEA Assistant Secretary and Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary and their bosses at “P” and beyond did not sign off?  Did the seven NEA officials below PDAS had to draw a straw on who should step down? Inquiring minds would like to know.

domani spero sig

 

 

 

%d bloggers like this: