Email of the Day: “I hope that nobody is injured …”

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— Domani Spero

Via SSCI Benghazi Report (p74 of 85) |

According to Mr. Nordstrom, the previous U.S. Ambassador to Libya, Gene Cretz, and his Deputy Chief of Mission (DCM), Joan Polaschik, traveled to Washington in mid-February 2012 to specifically ask for additional security personnel. 155 in addition to meeting with Ms. Lamb, they met separately with Mr. Kennedy and other senior officials. Yet, when the Libyan mission transmitted its official request for additional security personnel on March 28, 2012, the push back from Ms. Lamb’s office was swift and significant. While the request, which included five temporary duty Diplomatic Security agents in Benghazi, was clearly reasonable, one of Ms. Lamb’s subordinates asked Mr. Nordstrom why the official cable sought “the sun, the moon, and the stars.” When Mr. Nordstrom stated that he did not understand why this was an issue, the response from Ms. Lamb’s office Was telling: “Well, you know, this is a political game. You have to not make us look bad here, that we’re not being responsive.” 156 in a disturbingly prophetic e-mail to DCM Polaschik following this exchange, Mr. Nordstrom wrote:

I doubt we will ever get [Diplomatic Security] to admit in writing what I was told [in] reference [to] Benghazi that OV[International Programs] was directed by Deputy Assistant Secretary Lamb to cap the agents in Benghazi at 3, and force post to hire local drivers. This is apparently a verbal policy only but one which DSIIP/[Near Eastern Affairs] doesn’t plan to violate. I hope that nobody is injured as a result of an incident in Benghazi, since it would be particularly embarrassing to both DS and DAS [Lamb] if it was a result of some sort of game they are playing.

Mr. Eric Nordstrom - Regional Security Officer, U.S. Department of State (second from left on the full witness panel) "The Security Failures of Benghazi" House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform Hearing, 10-10-12 (Photo via Oversight and Reform Committee/Flickr)

Eric Nordstrom – Regional Security Officer, U.S. Department of State (second from left on the full witness panel)
(Photo via Oversight and Reform Committee/Flickr)

Foreign Policy writes that the SSCI findings are “a case study in how no one and everyone in the State Department, the U.S. intelligence community, and the White House has been held responsible for an attack that has fueled a political firestorm in Washington — and left four Americans dead.”

No one and everyone.

* * *

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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.  

Oversight Committee Announces Names of Benghazi Hearing Witnesses: Mark Thompson, Gregory Hicks, Eric Nordstrom

Via the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee dated May 4, 2013:

House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa today announced three witnesses who will appear at a full committee hearing, “Benghazi:  Exposing Failure and Recognizing Courage,” on Wednesday, May 8, 2013, at 11:30 AM in 2154 Rayburn House Office Building.

“I applaud these individuals for answering our call to testify in front of the Committee.  They have critical information about what occurred before, during, and after the Benghazi terrorist attacks that differs on key points from what Administration officials – including those on the Accountability Review Board – have portrayed,” said Issa.  “Our committee has been contacted by numerous other individuals who have direct knowledge of the Benghazi terrorist attack, but are not yet prepared to testify.  In many cases their principal reticence of appearing in public is their concern of retaliation at the hands of their respective employers.  While we may yet add additional witnesses, this panel will certainly answer some questions and leave us with many new ones.”

Witnesses:

Image via House Oversight Committee

Image via House Oversight Committee

 

In October 2012, the Oversight Committee held the first hearing on the Benghazi attacks, which exposed denials of security requests and forced the Administration to acknowledge that the attacks were not sparked by a protest of a YouTube video, contrary to claims made by Obama Administration officials.

*** NOTE: Press seating will be reserved, but limited. Please arrive early (hearing room will open to press at 10:30 AM) to guarantee a seat. An overflow area will be available. ***

Hearing Details:
Wednesday, May 8th, 2013
Benghazi: Exposing Failure and Recognizing Courage
Full Committee, Chairman Darrell Issa, (R-CA)
11:30 a.m. in 2154 Rayburn House Office Building and streaming live at oversight.house.gov.

 

We can’t seem to find the position of Deputy Assistant Secretary for Counterterrorism  in the State Department directory.  The Bureau of Counterterrorism (CT) is headed in an acting capacity by  Ambassador-at-Large & Coordinator Jerry P. Lanier.  The directory also list Mark I. Thompson as Deputy Coordinator for Operations  (teldir dated May 3,2013 p.OD-16). We can’t say if this is the same person referred to in the Oversight announcement.

Mr. Hicks is running for State VP in the AFSA elections; we cannot locate him in the phone directory so we can’t say what his current assignment is in the State Department.  When the State Department sent  some  embassy personnel back to Tripoli to reopen the embassy in September 2011,  Joan Polaschik was the DCM (see Modest Diplomatic Footprint Returns to Tripoli Without Ambassador Cretz).  So Mr. Hicks must have succeeded Ms. Polachick sometime in 2012. We’re trying to track down when was his exact tenure at US Embassy Tripoli.

Mr. Nordstrom has previously testified at the Oversight Committee on July 26, 2012.

It’ll probably be standing room only.  Come prepared.

— DS

 

 

 

 

Benghazi Hearing: Looking for Truth Amidst a Partisan Divide, Outing OGA, Zingers

The Republican-led House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing on the Security Failures of Benghazi was predictable in many ways. The members of the committee started off beckering about the conduct of the investigation. Elijah Cummings, top Democrat on the committee accused committee chairman Darrell Issa of excluding the Democrats from the investigation by witholding documents, non-access to key witness Colonel Wood (“We could not even get his phone number.”) and says Issa “effectively excluded Democrats from a congressional delegation to Libya this past weekend.” The Republican members lined up to hammer the State Department (and President Obama).

The predictability of bi-partisanship

Cuts to embassy security funding was also brought up. And it turns out this is one of the few bipartisan issue in the House. According to the Oversight Committee, Rep Cummings and other Democrats reportedly helped 147 Republicans slashed that embassy security funding. Oy! Is that right?

It is predictable that the Republicans grilled the witnesses and the Democrats played defense. I’m sure that if this were a Republican administration, the Democrats would have played offense and the Republicans defense. Which sucks when looking for the truth is a seriously possibility and folks have already made up their minds.

Strangely enough, I don’t think anyone during the hearing asked the question as to why we had that office in Benghazi. But U/S Kennedy went on an gave an answer to the unasked question anyway using Ambassador Steven’s words in his prepared testimony.

Not a single representative asked the State Dept reps on the impact of running gigantic diplomatic missions in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan and how these missions siphoned not only funds, but more importantly staffing resources from the rest of the Foreign Service.

How come no one wanna to listen to Dennis?

Congressman Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) says:

It is easy to blame someone else — like a civil servant at the State Department. We all know the game. It is harder to acknowledge that decades of American foreign policy have directly contributed to regional instability and to the rise of armed militias around the world. It is even harder to acknowledge Congress’ role in the failure to stop the war in Libya, the war in Iraq, the war in Afghanistan, the war in Pakistan, the war in Yemen, the war in Somalia and who knows where else. It is harder to recognize Congress’ role in the failure to stop the drone attacks that are still killing innocent civilians and strengthening radical elements abroad. We want to stop the attacks on embassies? Let’s stop trying to overthrow governments.

Go Dennis Go! Oops! Everyone had their ear plugs on.

Point of order — while OGA got outed?

Sometime during the four hour hearing, Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) called out “Point of order! Point of order!” as DAS Charlene Lamb  described the chaotic night of the attack.  Rep. Chaffetz objected to the aerial photo of the U.S. facilities in Benghazi saying, “I was told specifically while I was in Libya I could not and should not ever talk about what you’re showing here today.”

If you did not know it, Rep. Chaffetz  went to Libya over the weekend to get “an on-the-ground assessment of the attack that killed Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans.”  This report says that “Specifically, he wanted to probe whether claims for more security were denied by the U.S. government.” He did not go to Benghazi, where the deaths actually occurred, but Tripoli is on the ground enough.  He spent a grand total of five hours in Tripoli.

Five hours in Tripoli via miljet? Don’t raise your voice. That’s exactly 300 minutes on the ground in Libya.  Five hours more than either DAS Lamb and U/S Kennedy as neither have ever been to Libya.  There were reportedly five RSOs in Benghazi at the time of the attack, none were sitting before the committee yesterday.   The five includes David Ubben who is currently recuperating at Walter Reed for his wounds; none of these RSOs were called in talk about what happened that night.  Presumably they are talking to the FBI and will talk to the ARB.

Anyway, about that point of order, here is  WaPo’s take on how the Other Government Agency or OGA got outed:

In their questioning and in the public testimony they invited, the lawmakers managed to disclose, without ever mentioning Langley directly, that there was a seven-member “rapid response force” in the compound the State Department was calling an annex. One of the State Department security officials was forced to acknowledge that “not necessarily all of the security people” at the Benghazi compounds “fell under my direct operational control.”
[…]
The Republican lawmakers, in their outbursts, alternated between scolding the State Department officials for hiding behind classified material and blaming them for disclosing information that should have been classified. But the lawmakers created the situation by ordering a public hearing on a matter that belonged behind closed doors.

Republicans were aiming to embarrass the Obama administration over State Department security lapses. But they inadvertently caused a different picture to emerge than the one that has been publicly known: that the victims may have been let down not by the State Department but by the CIA. If the CIA was playing such a major role in these events, which was the unmistakable impression left by Wednesday’s hearing, having a televised probe of the matter was absurd.

Oops, too?  The NYT reported that among the over two dozens employees evacuated from Benghazi the morning of September 12 were a dozen of apparently CIA operatives and contractors.

This makes me wonder if the CIA is also the owner of the 50-minute video of the attack whose existence was confirmed by State; and which Rep. Issa said is not FBI’s. Well, whose video is it – the Department of Commerce?

Best and Worst Witnesses?

The best witness among the four witnesses hauled up before the committee is no doubt, RSO Eric Nordstrom. He was prepared, straightforward and articulate. He spoke in a commanding manner, was respectful but also forceful in his testimony.  If I were overseas, I would want him as my Regional Security Officer, too. Pardon me? You love him to pieces because he does not hold his punches? Well, he sure didn’t hold his punches yesterday.

He also talked about a “new security-reality” in his prepared statement which, frankly was lost during the hearing. No one bothered to ask him what we should be doing differently in this new reality or how Congress might best support addressing this new reality. The reps were busy listening to themselves talk. But here is what he said:

“The ferocity and intensity of the attack was nothing that we had seen in Libya, or that I had seen in my time in the Diplomatic Security Service. Having an extra foot of wall, or an extra-half dozen guards or agents would not have enabled us to respond to that kind of assault. I’m concerned that this attack will signal a new security-reality, just as the 1984 Beirut attack did for the Marines; the 1998 East Africa bombings did for the State Department, and 9/11 for the whole country. It is critical that we balance the risk-mitigation with the needs of our diplomats to do their job, in dangerous and uncertain places. The answer cannot be to operate from a bunker.”

The other issue that RSO Nordstrom had in his prepared statement was the persistent matter of staff turnover, which is not a reality just in Libya but in other posts around the world, particularly in hardship posts.

“This brings me to the issue of staff turnover. At traditional posts most staff are assigned for periods of one to three years. In re-establishing our presence in Libya after the revolution, we needed to rely on a high number of staff who could serve temporarily (what we call TDY), so that we could adjust staffing quickly in the event that the security situation drastically changed. In the short term, that can and did work very well. However, what I found is that having only TDY DS agents made re-establishing and developing security procedures, policies and relationships more difficult. I understood it was also difficult for my colleagues in Washington to fill constant staffing requirements from a limited pool of available agents with high-threat tactical training. As the sole permanent RSO for the first seven months I was in Libya, I was unable to focus resources on developing traditional RSO programs as much as I would have wished, and instead spent a significant amount of time training new TDY staff, who were often set to leave eight weeks after they arrived. Nowhere was this more evident than in Benghazi, which had no permanent staff assigned to provide continuity, oversight and leadership to post’s programs.”

RSO Nordstrom, blessed his heart also has the best zingers.

“We were not going to get resources until the aftermath of an incident.”

“How thin does the ice have to get before someone falls through.”

“For me, the Taliban is on the inside of the building.”

Man, oh, man. That last one is a keeper and will zinged just about everyone up his chain of command and the regionals.

To me the worst witness among the four is without a doubt, Deputy Assistant Secretary Charlene Lamb who told the panel, quote, “We had the correct number of assets in Benghazi at the time of 9/11.”

In fairness, we have  over 270 posts around the world. Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan are the exceptions when it comes to the number of RSOs. Apprently, US Mission Baghdad has something like 88 DS agents. It is important to note that posts normally have one RSO and one ARSO or Assistant Regional Security Officer. Some consulates and smaller posts like the American Presence Posts would be lucky to have one RSO. In most cases, an FSO has collateral duty as Post Security Officer if there is no RSO at post.

And – if you were testifying before Congress next to your boss, three layers up, you probably would squirm, too. I watched her sit there with the three men and she looked nervous as a sitting duck who knew what’s coming but was unable to leave. Even her introduction was dull. This is a woman who in 1989 volunteered for duty in Beirut, where she managed a 500-person guard force at the height of the civil war in Lebanon. But you wouldn’t know that listening to her.

But — four Americans died in the attack, and to say that we have “the correct number of assets in Benghazi at the time of 9/11” is like disconnected wifi. I’m sorry to say this but — how socially intelligent are you to say something like that? The Cable’s top article after the hearing was Lamb to the slaughter, and it was not talking about Roald Dahl’s book.

Post-hearing and language

As if the four-hour Oversight hearing wasn’t enough, U/S Kennedy went back to Foggy Bottom and gave an On-The-Record Briefing. He mentioned the RSOs who were in Benghazi that night:

And we know that David (Ubben) was so badly injured that at this very moment he still remains in serious condition at Walter Reed Hospital. And we know that Alec and Zack and Scott and Renaldo and Dave went in and out of the burning building again and again, trying to find both Chris and Sean.
[…]
Let me say a little bit about the process and how things work as well. We have security professionals in Washington – many, many, if not all of them who have many years of experience in the field. And then we have the field professionals, our Regional Security Officers. This is not a matter of rejecting requests. This is a matter of a dialogue that goes back and forth between our professionals in the field and our professionals in Washington looking for the right solution. We make sure that they do that, and they do it all the time. And one of the ways that happens, because this is a dialogue, someone says, “I need A, B, and C.” The professionals in Washington, with all the experience they have, say, “I see your point. Functionally, isn’t this what you’re asking for? What about if we send you B, C, and D instead?” We arrive at a solution. We arrived at solutions for Benghazi.

In short, as the familiar goes in Foggy Bottom, “it depends.”

The first question the press asked was about one of RSO Nordstrom’s zingers, the clip that made it to prime time news:

QUESTION: […] I want to concentrate on something else he said towards the end, and he seemed to make a point, or was given the opportunity to make the point of saying that, “For me” – this is the quote: “For me, the Taliban is on the inside of the building.” And as a career Foreign Service officer, I’m wondering what your reaction to that is, if you’ve talked to anyone else in the building about that comment, and what they think about it —

UNDER SECRETARY KENNEDY: No. I mean —

QUESTION: — and what it says about Mr. Nordstrom, if anything.

UNDER SECRETARY KENNEDY: I’ve just gotten back, after being on the Hill. I am extremely, extraordinarily proud of the Diplomatic Security Service. These are individuals I’ve worked with for almost 40 years. They are the best of the best. They’re extraordinary professionals. And I was simply surprised to hear language like that used.

It looks like even the best of the best gets pissed.

And since language is always evolving, I’ll end with a new word my blog pal, Kolbi came up with as the hearing was unfolding:

Nordstrom, \nord-struhm\, verb;

1.)  To document your position so effectively and completely that, in the event of a very public Congressional hearing, if there are rear ends left flapping about in the breeze at the end of it, yours sure isn’t one of them.

Examples of Usage:

– “…So I made sure I Nordstromed the hell out of it…”

– “…And I told them that I would be Nordstroming that up one side and down the other, just so we were all clear on where I stood…”

That’s a free lesson right there, no need for FSI’s distance learning.

 

 

Security Failures of Benghazi: Today’s Hearing

Today: Security Failures of Benghazi Hearing
12:00pm in 2154 Rayburn House Office Building


Witnesses:

Ms. Charlene R. Lamb (testimony)
Deputy Assistant Secretary for International Programs, Bureau of Diplomatic Security
U.S. Department of State

Mr. Eric Nordstrom (testimony)
Regional Security Officer
U.S. Department of State

Lt. Col. Andrew Wood (testimony)
Utah National Guard
U.S. Army

Ambassador Patrick Kennedy (testimony)
Under Secretary for Management
U.S. Department of State

Video is currently streaming online. Should also be accessible after the hearing here.

Quick takes from the hearing’s Q& A:

  • RSO Nordstrom is a strong and articulate witness. DAS Lamb not so much. U/S Kennedy so-so.
  • DAS Lamb and U/S Kennedy have never been to Libya
  • U/S Kennedy defended Susan Rice’s statement on tv, wrangles with various members of the Committee including Congressman Labrador  (Idaho, first district-R) who just dot-connected Rice’s “shameful” statement to the WH.
  • RSO Nordstrom’s security request was turned down as the danger pay for post was bumped up.
  • There is a 50-minute video, other agency as source; video not yet made available to Congress
  • Offense/defense skirmishes on staffing, funding, use of classified materials in open hearing, etc. etc.
  • It looks like a classified hearing will also be held.
  • Col. Wood said he expected an attack to happen, it was only a matter of time
  • RSO Nordstrom request was called a recommendation not a request by DAS Lamb.  Confirmed phone call request prior to the cable request; identified DAS Lamb as the person who turned it down.
  • U/S Kennedy cites his 39 service as FSO including service under six Secretary of State and eight presidents since President Nixon, and on his honor declared that there was no political pressure exerted.
  • Professional malpractice?
  • Rep. Gawdy wants to drag Ambassador Rice to a hearing, cites Rep Chaffetz being emotional “by what he saw in Libya”; Rep Cummings defends.
  • Somebody’s head gonna roll; I don’t think it will be RSO Nordstrom. Can’t say the same for DAS Lamb.
  • None of the witnesses were in Libya during the attack; no one mentions RSO David Ubben who survived the attack and is in the DC area.
  • DAS Lamb just gave two other names in Diplomatic Security chain of command who has responsibility for deciding on RSO Nordstrom’s request; acknowledged decision was not her sole discretion: PDAS Scott P. Bultrowicz and Assistant Secretary of State for Diplomatic Security Eric J. Boswell; PDAS Lamb just gave an underhanded compliment to RSO Nordstrom
  • Kennedy: “We cannot end the security risks to our for our people overseas.”
  • Nordstrom: “We were not going to get resources until the aftermath of an incident.”
  • Nordstrom: “How thin does the ice have to get before someone falls through.
  • Regional Director, Near Eastern Affairs
  • Nordstrom:Wood:  “We were fighting a losing battle; we could not even keep what we had.”
  • Nordstrom: ““For me, the Taliban is on the inside of the building.”
  • Issa:  “You don’t decrease security at the same time you are increasing hazard pay”
  • RSO Nordstrom sounded calm, DAS Lamb sounded frazzled; U/S Kennedy a seasoned congressional witness who did not hesitate to interupt.

Here are the bump up danger pay rates from June – October 2012 (first column is the rate for Tripoli, the second column is the rate for all other places in Libya, including Benghazi).  This is in addition to the hardship differential and COLA for posts. For context, Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan all get 35% danger pay in the latest rates published).

June 17, 2012             25%                      25%

July 29, 2012             30%                      30%

August 26, 2012        30%                      30%

Sept 23, 2012             30%                      30%

Oct 7, 2012                 30%                      30%

Hope to have more later.

Issa’s Committee Calls First Hearing On Benghazi Attack, Diplomatic Security to Testify as More Info Drips …

Updated October 5 @ 8:17 PST
CBS News reports that the Committee has issued a subpoena for Lt. Col. Andy Wood, a Utah National Guard Army Green Beret who headed up a Special Forces security team in Libya to appear at the October 10 hearing.  Secretary Clinton is reportedly also scheduled to attend although she is not listed among the Committee’s witnesses.

ABC News’ Jake Tapper reported a couple days ago that the House Oversight and Reform Committee chaired by Darrell Issa (CA-R) has called its first witnesses for the hearing on the Benghazi attack.  The report names the following State Department/Diplomatic Security employees to testify:

  • Regional Security Officer Eric Nordstrom was stationed in Libya from September 2011 to June 2012. The Department of State provided Mr. Nordstrom to the Committee for a briefing, where he confirmed for the Committee the security incidents cited in the letter, and confirmed that the mission in Libya made security requests.
  • Deputy Assistant Secretary for International Programs Charlene Lamb is an official in Washington is involved in reviewing security requests.

Her official bio says that Ms. Lamb is:

“a key member of the DS management team, responsible for providing strategic planning, management support, and establishing budget priorities to senior DS management. Ms. Lamb manages more than $1.2 billion in security assets and programs and thousands of personnel dedicated to that purpose. She is also responsible for the safety and security of over 285 overseas Embassies and Consulates and oversees the 550 special agent/security professionals posted at those locations.

Ms. Lamb joined Diplomatic Security in 1987, serving her first assignment as a Special Agent in the San Francisco Field Office. In 1989, Ms. Lamb volunteered for duty in Beirut, where she managed a 500-person guard force at the height of the civil war in Lebanon.”

The letter that the Committee sent to Secretary Clinton includes a list of about a dozen security incidents in the lead up to the Benghazi attack.  The Committee said that the information it cites is based on those “provided to the Committee by individuals with direct knowledge of events in Libya.” It also said that “multiple U.S. federal government officials have confirmed to the Committee that, prior to the September 11 attack, the U.S. mission in Libya made repeated requests for increased security in Benghazi.  The mission in Libya, however, was denied these resources by officials in Washington.”

Can’t say who provided the list to the Committee, but who closely tracks these incidents, anyways? In any case, it appears that the Regional Security Officer in Libya has already confirmed these incidents during a private appearance at the Committee.

Here is the list of security incidents.

  • April 6, 2012, BENGHAZI – Two Libyans who had been fired from a contractor providing unarmed static security for Consulate Benghazi, threw a small IED over the Consulate fence.  There were no casualties or damage and the suspects were arrested but not prosecuted.
  • April 11, 2012, BENGHAZI – A gun battle between an unidentified armed group and forces loyal to the Transitional National Council (TNC) occurred about 4km from Consulate Benghazi.  The unidentified armed group attacked a Ministry of the Interior building in an attempt to seize a fleet of vehicles that had belonged to the Gaddafi regime.   The gun battle included use of antiaircraft guns and RPGs.
  • April 25, 2012, TRIPOLI – A US Embassy Local Guard Force officer traveling in a diplomatically-plated vehicle was detained and his Embassy-issued radio seized at a militia checkpoint.  He was released without further incident.
  • April 26, 2012, BENGHAZI – While a Foreign Service officer stationed at Consulate Benghazi was attending a trade-related event at the International Medical University, a fistfight escalated to gunfire between security forces for the trade delegation and militia providing security for the University.  A US Foreign Service officer was evacuated by members of the 17th of February Martyrs Brigade, a Libyan militia, stationed at Consulate Benghazi.
  • April 27, 2012, BENGHAZI – Two South African contractors were kidnapped by armed men while walking through a residential area of Benghazi.  After a brief interrogation about their nationality and purpose in Libya, they were released unharmed.
  • May 1, 2012, TRIPOLI – The Deputy Commander of Embassy Tripoli’s Local Guard Force was carjacked, beaten and detained by a group of armed youth.  He escaped by climbing over a fence and notifying the Embassy by phone.  Libyan security forces fought a gun battle with the assailants in order to recover a number of stolen vehicles and release other detainees.
  • May 22, 2012, BENGHAZI – Two RPG rounds were fired at the Benghazi office of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), approximately 1 km from Consulate Benghazi.  The attack occurred during the early morning hours and there were no casualties.  A Facebook posting that claimed responsibility for the attack said: “After we confirmed that the ICRC were giving out the Bible to the refugees of Tuwerga in Benghazi, a group of Mujaheddin attacked the HQ of the ICRC with an RPG and it targeted the meeting room inside the building. We didn’t want to hurt the Christians it is just a warning, we also didn’t want to hurt any Muslims working there. We recorded it on video and will publish it soon – so the ICRC must take down their flag with the red cross and close its offices in Libya. We announce that Libya is an Islamic State. We did not attack the Sahara Bank.  Finally, now we are preparing a message for the Americans for disturbing the skies over Derna.”
  • June 2012 – Ambassador Stevens was in the habit of taking early morning runs around Tripoli along with members of his security detail.  According to sources, sometime in June 2012, a posting on a pro-Gaddafi Facebook page trumpeted these runs and directed a threat against Ambassador Stevens along with a stock photo of him.  It is reported that, after stopping these morning runs for about a week, the Ambassador resumed them.
  • June 6, 2012, BENGHAZI – Under cover of darkness, assailants placed an IED on the north gate of Consulate Benghazi, blowing a hole in the security perimeter that was described by one individual as, “big enough for forty men to go through.”
  • June 10, 2012, BENGHAZI – On or about June 10, 2012, a two-car convoy carrying the British Ambassador to Libya from a conference on reforming Libyan military law was attacked in broad daylight by a militant with an RPG.  This attack was an important escalation in the violence against Western targets in Benghazi, as prior attacks had been at night and were often preceded by warnings from the attackers.  Photos from the aftermath of the attack are attached.
  • Late June 2012, BENGHAZI – The ICRC building was attacked again, this time in broad daylight while people were inside.  Once the ICRC pulled out, the US Consulate was the last Western flag flying in Benghazi, making it an ideal target for militants.
  • August 6, 2012, TRIPOLI – Armed assailants attempted to carjack a vehicle bearing diplomatic plates operated by U.S. security personnel.
  • WEEKS BEFORE September 11, 2012, BENGHAZI – The unarmed Libyan guards employed by British contractor Blue Mountain Group were being warned by their family members to quit their jobs guarding Consulate Benghazi because there were rumors in the community of an impending attack.

US Embassy Libya’s Warden Messages for U.S. citizens which normally alerts  American citizen residents of security-related situation is here.  You will note that it released exactly five messages between May and August 2012, and only three coincide with the list provided to the Committee:

And then — just days before the House hearing, somebody leaked a State Department email to ABC News showing the mothership (aka Main State not “State Main”) rejecting a security asset request from US Embassy Tripoli/Security Support Team.

Via ABC News:

The subject line of the email, from Miki Rankin, the post management officer for Libya and Saudi Arabia, reads “Termination of Tripoli DC-3 Support.”

Rankin informs [Ambassador] Stevens and the others on the email, whose names have been redacted, that Undersecretary of State for Management Patrick Kennedy “has determined that support for Embassy Tripoli using the DC-3 will be terminated immediately. Post’s request to continue use of the plane in support of the SST was considered. However, it was decided that, if needed, NEA will charter a special flight for their departure.”

The email is posted online here.

ABC News reports that an “SST” is a Security Support Team, about 16 Special Forces troops assigned to protect officials from the U.S. State Department. And that this particular SST was assigned to the U.S. Embassy in Tripoli. Also this:

The U.S. government official who provided the email to ABC News – and wanted to remain anonymous because of  the sensitivity of the matter – described the small DC-3 plane as an asset for a security team to more freely and safely move throughout the country, and to more easily transport arms and other security equipment. In short, having the plane allowed the security team to better perform its duties, the official said.
[…]
The State Department official acknowledged that the plane was used to get around Libya, not just to get in and out of the country. But once commercial air service was re-established, the State Department decided that the SST didn’t need the plane anymore. The security team, it would seem, disagreed.

Taken in itself, not sure that a DC-3 would have changed the outcome of what happened in Benghazi. But taken with the rest of what is going on right now, this will add fuel to the charges furiously flying around.

  • The rush, or the wait or whatever with Ambassador to USUN Susan Rice.  Is Libya or Intel/Security her portfolio? No, so whhhhyyy?
  • First CNN’s then WaPo’s reporter walking around and finding things in the unsecured Benghazi compound. CNN reported on Ambassador Steven’s journal, and WaPo has an online scrapbook of Sensitive But Unclassified documents found inside the building.
  • The Local Guard Program appears to terminate the same day the compound was attack. If not, where are the guards?  Wired.com reports that documents recovered from the grounds of the mission show that the guards there were paid an hourly rate of 5.21 Libyan Dinars — the equivalent of $4 per hour and quipped: “Perhaps if the U.S. had spent more than $4 per hour on Benghazi’s security, it wouldn’t need to dispatch quite so many of its most valuable troops.” We don’t yet know if the Blue Mountain contract was awarded based on “best value” or was this awarded based on the “lowest price technically acceptable.”
  • The Government of Libya says it will cooperate with the US on this incident, but is it not still under international obligation to protect whatever is left of the mission in Benghazi? And what’s with those “It’s not our job to stop people from taking things” gardeners anyway; if they re still USG-employed, they should already be fired. Jeez! Can you see me stomping my foot?  They’re “tending the grounds” for what, the next Fourth of July?
  • Philippe Reines, Hillary Clinton’s longtime aide and personal spokesman getting into a public meltdown with BuzzFeed correspondent Michael Hastings. He’s Hillary’s guy so his job is not going to go on Now Vacancy until the Secretary leaves the building for good, but his demeanor was not at all helpful on this.  That’s why there’s a lockbox for your email when you get mad, dude!
  • The FBI stuck in Tripoli until this week while the crime scene got contaminated by curiosity seekers and journalists rummaging through the rubble; uninvited visitors were not issued CSI suits, gloves, boots.

The Committee may have a couple or so names to add as possible witnesses for the October 10 hearing:

Miki Rankin, Post Management Officer, Washington, D.C. (now Deputy Executive Director at the Bureau of Administration/EX)

Patrick Kennedy, Under Secretary for Management, Washington, D.C.

Blue Mountain UK, Benghazi Office security contractor cited by Wired.com (located in Wales)

 

 

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