WSJ: FSO Gregory Hicks About That Twice “Declined” Security Team Offer From Gen. Ham

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— Domani Spero

On January 22, FSO Gregory Hicks, former Deputy Chief of Mission at US Embassy Tripoli wrote a piece on the Wall Street Journal on “Benghazi and the Smearing of Chris Stevens” specifically contradicting the portion of the Senate Intel Committee’s report concerning AFRICOM’s offer for “sustaining” the security team in Libya and Ambassador Steven’s reported “decline” of the offer not just once but twice. (See Senate Report on Benghazi: Nothing Surprising, Spreading the Blame, Notable Details). Quick excerpt below:

Shifting blame to our dead ambassador is wrong on the facts. I know—I was there.

Last week the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence issued its report on the Sept. 11, 2012, terrorist attacks in Benghazi, Libya. The report concluded that the attack, which resulted in the murder of four Americans, was “preventable.” Some have been suggesting that the blame for this tragedy lies at least partly with Ambassador Chris Stevens, who was killed in the attack. This is untrue: The blame lies entirely with Washington.
[…]
Since Chris cannot speak, I want to explain the reasons and timing for his responses to Gen. Ham. As the deputy chief of mission, I was kept informed by Chris or was present throughout the process.
[…]
Chris wanted the decision postponed but could not say so directly. Chris had requested on July 9 by cable that Washington provide a minimum of 13 American security professionals for Libya over and above the diplomatic security complement of eight assigned to Tripoli and Benghazi. On July 11, the Defense Department, apparently in response to Chris’s request, offered to extend the special forces mission to protect the U.S. Embassy.

However, on July 13, State Department Undersecretary Patrick Kennedy refused the Defense Department offer and thus Chris’s July 9 request. His rationale was that Libyan guards would be hired to take over this responsibility. Because of Mr. Kennedy’s refusal, Chris had to use diplomatic language at the video conference, such as expressing “reservations” about the transfer of authority.

Read the whole thing here.

The SSCI report on Benghazi was careful to point lots of fingers on lots of people. One might say, a circular firing with no bullets.  The additional views appended to the report was not so.  We’ll post that separately.

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Near, far, wherever you are, Benghazi will go on and on … oh, but do you want to buy a Benghazi thong?

— Domani Spero

The 60Minutes’ Benghazi segment with Lara Logan aired on Oct. 27, 2013 and reignited the Benghazi controversy once again. It included interviews with former US Embassy Libya DCM Gregory Hicks, and Green Beret Commander, Lieutenant Colonel Andy Wood. We’ve heard from Mr. Hicks previously and blogged about it here: “This Week With George Stephanopoulos” Features Former Embassy Tripoli DCM Gregory Hicks and Benghazi Hearing: No Kaboom as Promised, But More Details Fill Up the Dark Space of Sadness.

We’ve also heard from Colonel Wood once before: Benghazi Hearing: Looking for Truth Amidst a Partisan Divide, Outing OGA, Zingers

But we haven’t heard previously from this Morgan Jones fellow. That’s apparently a  pseudonym used by a former British soldier who has been “helping to keep U.S. diplomats and military leaders safe for the last decade.” He was reportedly the “security chief for Blue Mountain Security” in charge of the Libyan guard force.

Shortly after the segment aired, Media Matters cited Fox News correspondent Adam Housley as having said that he had previously spoken to the man “a number of times and then we stopped speaking to him when he asked for money.”

The same day that the 60 Minutes segment aired, Los Angeles Times’ Richard A. Serrano reported that two of theDOJ’s key witnesses in the 2012 Benghazi terrorist attack were summoned to the Oversight Committee earlier in October and “grilled for hours in separate legal depositions” conducted in “a highly guarded and secret interviews.”  The report identified the Diplomatic Security agents as Alec Henderson, who was stationed in Benghazi, and John Martinec, then based in Tripoli. Henderson was reportedly interviewed on Oct. 8 for eight hours and Martinec was interviewed for five hours on Oct. 10.  The report further says that Oversight Committee chairman Darrell Issa earlier had also demanded access to a third agent, David Ubben, who was seriously injured in the Benghazi attack. According to LAT, Mr. Issa learned the identities of the three agents from Gregory Hicks, the former deputy chief of mission in Libya, who testified before the committee in spring.

On a related note, did you hear that Senator Graham is exceptionally pissed about Benghazi and has promised to block “every appointment in the US Senate” until the Benghazi survivors are produced?   Apparently, he did not know that two DS agents were right next door on October 8 for legal depos that lasted for altogether 13 hours.  Pardon me? Is it purely coincidental that there are bad news in the polls, and that a primary is potentially a headache? Well, is it?

Screen Shot 2013-10-28

In any case, on October 28, Julia Frifield, the State Department’s Assistant Secretary for Legislative Affairs responded to Senator Graham’s previous September 24 letter concerning the Benghazi survivors availability.  Read the response here.

On October 29, Mr. Morgan’s book, The Embassy House published by an imprint of Simon & Schuster went on sale; available in hardcover, Kindle and Audible; the cheapest edition via Kindle currently selling at $10.99.

Previously, in September 2013, Deadline reported that Thunder Road has acquired The Embassy House to use as the basis for a feature about the 2012 attack on the American diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya,

“The film will be written by Taylor Sheridan, whose adaptation of Comancheria has Marc Forster attached. Thunder Road is producing Sheridan’s script Sicario, and they’ve set him to script a look at Benghazi that is one part Black Hawk Down and another Lawrence Of Arabia. //UK-based Luke Speed of the Marjacq Agency repped the book and Gersh’s Bob Hohman and Bayard Maybank and Elevate repped the scribe. Thunder Road used its own resources to buy the book and will fund development, and hasn’t yet enlisted a studio.”

Also in September, The Hollywood Reporter says that HBO has optioned another book, Under Fire: The Untold Story of the Attack in Benghazi, with Jerry Weintraub on board to executive produce.  Under Fire is authored by former DSS Agent and Stratfor VP Fred Burton and Samuel M. Katz and is “Based on the exclusive cooperation of eyewitnesses and confidential sources within the intelligence, diplomatic, and military communities” according to the book’s Amazon page.

If they start filming soon, will the movies be ready in time for the 2nd anniversary of the attack or the 2014 election?

On October 31, WaPo’s Karen DeYoung threw some more fuel on the Benghazi fire:

“[I]n a written account that Jones, whose real name was confirmed as Dylan Davies by several officials who worked with him in Benghazi, provided to his employer three days after the attack, he told a different story of his experiences that night.

In Davies’s 2 1 / 2-page incident report to Blue Mountain, the Britain-based contractor hired by the State Department to handle perimeter security at the compound, he wrote that he spent most of that night at his Benghazi beach-side villa. Although he attempted to get to the compound, he wrote in the report, “we could not get anywhere near . . . as roadblocks had been set up.”

On November 1, The Cable’s John Hudson reported that Star Benghazi ‘Witness’ May Not Have Been an Actual Witness:

“In contrast with the 60 Minutes account, which saw him knocking out terrorists with the butt end of his rifle and scaling a 12-foot wall the night of the attack, the Blue Mountain report has Jones at his beach-side villa for the majority of the night. Despite an attempt to make it to the compound, Jones wrote that “we could not get anywhere near … as roadblocks had been set up.”

Further The Cable points out that “the book titled The Embassy House was published by Threshold Editions, an imprint of Simon & Schuster, which is a part of CBS Corporation, which owns 60 Minutes — a fact not disclosed in the 60 Minutes story.

Oh, dear …. is that what’s called cross promotion or something?

On November 2, The Daily Beast’s Josh Rogin and Eli Lake reported that Dylan Davies, aka: Morgan Jones denied writing the incident report cited by Karen DeYoung’s report in WaPo.  The Daily Beast had obtained a copy of the Blue Mountain Group 4-page incident report that lists Dylan Davies, “PM” as the “Name of Person Reporting.” The report is dated 13:00 hours, September 14, 2012, unsigned and the published copy does not include any indication whether the report was emailed or faxed to the Blue Mountain Group. See for yourself here via Josh Rogin/ScribD.

The Daily Beast report described Jones/Davies as a “Benghazi Whistleblower” and says that “Davies said he did not know who leaked the report to the Post but said he suspected it was the State Department, an allegation that could not be independently corroborated.” More below:

“A State Department official confirmed it matches the version sent to the U.S. government by Davies’s then-employer Blue Mountain Group, the private security company based in Britain, on Sept. 14, 2012, and subsequently provided to Congressional committees investigating the Benghazi attacks.
[…]
Davies said he believed there was a coordinated campaign to smear him. This week, Media Matters, a progressive media watchdog, sent a public letter to CBS News asking it to retract the 60 Minutes Benghazi piece on the basis of the Washington Post article. On the Fox News Channel, reporter Adam Housley claimed on air this week that Davies asked for money in exchange for an interview. Davies denied this charge. 60 Minutes has stood by its reporting.”

Continue reading  Benghazi Whistleblower Says He Was Smeared.

Media Matters and Fox News in a coordinated smear campaign?  If I were drunk at 10 o’clock in the morning, that still sounds crazy bad.

The Blue Mountain Group was snared early on in the Benghazi controversy. Remember that time when the State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland said this three days after the attack: “I can tell you that at no time did we contract with a private security firm in Libya – at no time.”  That turned out to be false. This was covered by Danger Room in September 2012:  Feds Hired British Security Firm to Protect Benghazi Consulate.

The contract is a curious one, of course, since security in the State Department falls under the Worldwide Security Protection (WSP) program which has core funding for the protection of life, property, and information of the agency. WSP funding supports not just domestic facilities but also  worldwide guard force protecting overseas diplomatic missions and residences.  Defense Industry Daily has a list of contractors for the 5-year $10 billion WPS security contract inked in 2010.  The Blue Mountain Group is not on that list.  One wonders, given the presence of OGA in Benghazi, if this was in fact an OGA contract, though  the paperwork does say it is a State contract. Or it is possible that none of the WPS contractors are allowed to operate in Libya, so State had to procure services from another provider?  But then, that does not explain why three days after the attack, the State spokesperson was adamant that “at no time did we contract with a private security firm in Libya.”

Screen Shot 2013-11-02

A redacted copy of the Blue Mountain Group contract has now been released after a FOIA by Judicial Watch and can be read/downloaded here.

One thing more. On October 14, 2012, UK’s The Telegraph reported about Blue Mountain, described as a small British firm based in south Wales:

“Blue Mountain, which is run by a former member of the SAS, received paper work to operate in Libya last year following the collapse of Col Muammar Gaddafi’s regime. It worked on short term contacts to guard an expatriate housing compound and a five-star hotel in Tripoli before landing the prestigious US deal.
[…]
But Blue Mountain’s local woes appears to have hampered a coordinated response by the compound’s defenders when the late assault kicked off.

Darryl Davies, the manager of the Benghazi contract for Blue Mountain, flew out of the city hours before the attack was launched. The Daily Telegraph has learned that relations between the firm and its Libyan partner had broken down, leading to the withdrawal of Mr Davies.
[…]
Abdulaziz Majbiri, a Blue Mountain guard at the compound, told the Daily Telegraph that they were effectively abandoned and incapable of defending themselves on the night of the attack.”

So far, no one has gone back to clarify or straighten out that story.

And because the Benghazi controversy simply refuses to die, CNN is reporting that a CIA operatives will testify behind closed doors at a classified Benghazi hearing on the week of November 11.

Then yesterday, Politico reported that Rep. Jason Chaffetz  “slammed the source behind a report that revealed the real name of a British security agent in Benghazi, which was published in The Washington Post.”

“I don’t know who did it, but to release a covert agent’s name to endanger his life should be an absolute outrage in this town,” Chaffetz said Monday on Fox New’s “Fox and Friends” when asked if he thought the White House was behind the leak.

I was seriously looking for something like this to pop up because … hey, it’s too attractive to pass up if you want some screen time.  But now Morgan Jones/Dylan Davies is not only a “whistleblower”  he is also a “covert agent”?

Well, I’ll be …. the Oversight Committee hearing is coming soon.

Have you noticed that Benghazi is not only a popular subject with politicians, it has also gained popularity in the Amazon marketplace? The Benghazi tragedy has spawned not just books but also bumper stickers, a Benghazi album from Moon Records, Cover Up (The Benghazi Song), a Benghazi Memorandum Book,a Benghazi Record Book, whatevs.  There are also Benghazi cartoons, mousepads, coffee mugs, coasters, bottles, tshirts, a pinback button, and a Benghazi memorial license plate. There are more Benghazi-branded products available via Cafepress.com including  Benghazi underwear and panties; don’t  miss the Benghazi Blame and Good Riddance classic thongs. Benghazi products are also available at Zazzle.com; don’t miss the doggie clothing line.

If you’re renovating, there is even a Benghazi light switch cover for a 2 plug outlet.

And now my grey matter is seriously hyperventilating and need to drown itself in sorrow.

 

* * *

“This Week With George Stephanopoulos” Features Former Embassy Tripoli DCM Gregory Hicks

— By Domani Spero

FSO Gregory Hicks, the former Deputy Chief of Mission at the US Embassy in Tripoli (July 2012-October 2012) was one of George Stephanopoulos’s Sunday morning guests on “This Week With George Stephanopoulos” on September 8.  Below is an excerpt from the transcript:

Via ABC News

Via ABC News

via ABC News

via ABC News

Read the full transcript here.

Asked for a response by ABC News, a spokesman said the State Department has “not punished Mr. Hicks in any way” and that “the circumstances that led to his departure from Libya was entirely unrelated to any statements he may have made relating to the attack in Benghazi.” Full statement below:

State Department spokesman Alec Gerlach’s statement to ABC News:

The State Department has not punished Mr. Hicks in any way. We appreciate his exemplary service on the evening of September 11 and his long career as a member of the Foreign Service.

Although the State Department ordinarily does not discuss the details of personnel matters publicly, because he has alleged mistreatment, we will state generally that the circumstances that led to his departure from Libya was entirely unrelated to any statements he may have made relating to the attack in Benghazi. When Mr. Hicks voluntarily curtailed his assignment, he was in the position of finding another assignment in between standard assignment cycles. The Department made significant efforts to find him a new position at his level, including identifying an overseas position which he declined and succeeded in finding him a short-tour assignment in the Office of the Special Representative for Global Intergovernmental Affairs, pending the next assignment cycle. We continue to value his service and are working with him through the normal personnel process and assignment timetable to identify his next permanent assignment.

The State Department is deeply committed to meeting its obligation to protect employees and the State Department does not tolerate or sanction retaliation against whistleblowers on ANY ISSUE, including Benghazi.

 

Of course, it would be a lot easier to believe Mr. Gerlach’s statement but for Peter Van Buren.  And let’s not even start with a gag order as a condition for a resolution within the State Department.  (By the way, speaking of gag orders, FSO Russell Sveda who was gay and went through a 14-year bureaucratic battle with State got around the media gag order by speaking to ADST’s Oral History Project, a non-media entity who published the interview online.  Smart.  You may read his account here).

Back to the Hicks affair — in May this year after Mr. Hicks appearance in Congress, a couple of unnamed US Embassy Tripoli employees dished to Hayes Brown of ThinkProgress about Mr. Hicks performance as deputy chief of mission in Tripoli (see EXCLUSIVE: Embassy Staff Undercut ‘Whistleblower’ Testimony On Benghazi).  Apparently, this includes “a lack of diplomatic protocol” by “going to a meeting with the Libyan Prime Minister Mohammed Magarief in a t-shirt, cargo pants, and baseball cap” and allegedly being “too upset to wear a suit.”  I don’t know about you, but “several troubling incidents” criticizing a senior officer’s performance at post ought to include more than simple bad choice in clothes.

What did he do that necessitates a curtailment?  We’ll never know.

Mr. Hicks on his May 8 testimony before the Oversight Committee also said this:

“After I arrived in Tripoli as Deputy Chief of Mission (DCM) on July 31, 2012, I fast became known as the Ambassador’s “bulldog,” because of my decisive management style.”

But why would anyone need a “bulldog” in a collegial embassy setting?

The American Bulldogs is one of the Top 10 Banned Dog Breeds (banned in Denmark, Singapore and various municipalities, the dog’s specialty is catching feral hogs and it is known for its very high pain threshold).  Meanwhile, the American Kennel Club (AKC) also says that a Bulldog’s “disposition should be equable and kind, resolute and courageous (not vicious or aggressive), and demeanor should be pacific and dignified.” Take your pick.

Voluntold Curtailment

We don’t know Mr. Hicks and we’ve never meet him.  We have previously sent him a couple of emails but those were never acknowledged, so we’re not e-pals either.  We know that Tripoli was his first assignment as a DCM, so there is no paper trail on OIG inspections that we can locate.  The folks who worked for him (at least those who talked to the press) could only point to a bad choice in wardrobe as an example of bad performance. By his own admission, he “voluntary curtailed” from his assignment in Tripoli barely three months into his tour. Following the Benghazi attack, the Libya mission went on ordered departure. Curtailment during OD is widely viewed as a “no fault” curtailment, which in turn means, there would be no career repercussions.

But people inside the building also know that if you say “no” to management’s suggestion of voluntary curtailment, you risk incurring a “loss of confidence.”  Even if you say “no,” the chief of mission can still request the Director General of the Foreign Service for curtailment. Except in this case, management will be required to: (1) Include background information on any incidents that support the request(2) Confirm that the employee has been informed of the request and the reasons therefore; and (3) Confirm that the employee has been advised that he or she may submit comments separately.  In short, the bosses will need to do the work to justify an involuntary curtailment.

So when your leadership suggest that you take a “voluntary” curtailment, you can either say “yes” even if you don’t want to shorten your assignment, or you can say “no” and still be curtailed anyway.

Perhaps when people sign their names to a “voluntary” curtailment request that they don’t want, it should be appropriately called “voluntold”curtailment?

How will this end?

Assignments in the Foreign Service are typically handed out a year before the actual job rotation. So if one curtails from an assignment, one does not have a lot of jobs to choose from and may have to take what is normally called a “bridge” assignment.  An assignment between your previous job and the next assignment with a start date in the foreseeable future.  We don’t know what happened in this case but — paging —

Rep. Jackie “I think this committee will help you get a good onward assignment” Speier — where are you?

This Week’s interview did not indicate Mr. Hicks’ current assignment.  But a couple of things we should note:

1) Mr. Hicks ran for State-VP in the 2013 AFSA election and failed in his quest to represent the Foreign Service. (see AFSA Elections 2013: Unofficial Results, Asada Defeats Hicks2013 AFSA Election Results: 3,505 Out of 16,000+ Members Voted, Plus Vote Count By Candidate).  His congressional testimony occurred just prior to the AFSA elections where he ran in the slate of the IAFSA Coalition.  It was a typical low turn out election.   If there were sympathy votes, there were not enough to overcome  his closest opponent; he lost by about a hundred votes.

2) If Mr. Hicks was not in trouble before, he could be in trouble now for going on “This Week…” without prior clearance under FAM 4170 Official Clearance of Speaking, Writing, and Teaching.  This is something that similarly “got” Mr. Van Buren in hot water during his very public battle with the State Department bureaucracy (After a Year of Serious Roars and Growls, State Dept Officially Retires FSO-Non Grata Peter Van Buren).

The question now is how far will this escalate.

👀

AFSA Elections 2013: Unofficial Results, Asada Defeats Hicks

—By Domani Spero

AFSA ballots and candidate statements were mailed on April 15, 2013.  On June 6, the ballots were counted.  Since most of the elected positions were unopposed, the only results not previously known were those of the State VP, State Rep and Retiree Rep. We have the unofficial results for the State VP and Retiree Representive races (confirmed by two sources), but do not know as yet the results of the State Representative race.  We will update this post when the official results are released by AFSA.

Probably the big news in this race is that Gregory Hicks, the former DCM of US Embassy Tripoli who was called a Benghazi “whistleblower” by the Oversight Committee failed in his quest to represent the Foreign Service. The winner of the State VP race is Matthew K. Asada, a “fourth generation Japanese-American and third generation public servant from Detroit. “ He joined the Foreign Service in 2003 and is currently an entry-level Career Development Officer.  He was first elected AFSA State Representative in 2011.

 

President:
Robert Silverman * (unopposed)

Secretary:
Robert F. Ritchie * (unopposed)

Treasurer:
Charles A. Ford *  (unopposed)

State VP: 3 Candidates/1 Elected Position
Matthew K. Asada (elected)
Gregory N. Hicks *
Donald L. Moore

USAID VP:
Sharon Wayne (unopposed)

FCS VP:
Steve Morrison (unopposed)

FAS VP:
David Mergen (unopposed)

Retiree VP:
Lawrence Cohen * (unopposed)

USAID Rep (2):
Jason Singer (unopposed)

FCS Rep (1):
Barbara Lapini (unopposed)

FAS Rep (1):
No candidate

IBB Rep (1):
Andre de Nesnera (unopposed)

State Reps (11):  15 Candidates/11 Elected Positions (don’t have results for this)
Clayton Bond *
Andrew Burton
Everett “Alex” Copher *
Tim Corso
Todd Crawford *
Chuck Fee *
David Jea
Kenneth Kero-Mentz *
Elise Mellinger
Ken Reiman
Nancy Rios-Brooks *
Sue Saarnio
Michael D. Thomas *
Lillian Wahl-Tuco *
David Zwach *

Retiree Reps:  8 Candidates/4 Elected Positions
Marshall Adair  (elected)
David Greenlee (elected)
Tex Harris (elected)
Ed Marks (elected)
Barry Friedman *
Stephen Keat *
Chris O’Donnell
Leon Weintraub

(* = member of the iAFSA Coalition slate)

(^-^)b

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.  

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

 

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

 

 

 

 

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