When the Boss Is Last to Know: Chaffetz Snoops at the Secret Service

Posted: 1:06 pm EDT
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The Department of Homeland Security Inspector General has completed its independent investigation into allegations that one or more Secret Service agents improperly accessed internal databases to look up the 2003 employment application of Congressman Jason Chaffetz, Chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. The Inspector General has confirmed that between March 24 and April 2, 2015, on approximately 60 different occasions, 45 Secret Service employees accessed Chaffetz’ sensitive personal information. The OIG concluded that only 4 of the 45 employees had an arguable legitimate need to access the information.

Here is the IG’s conclusion:

This episode reflects an obvious lack of care on the part of Secret Service personnel as to the sensitivity of the information entrusted to them. It also reflects a failure by the Secret Service management and leadership to understand the potential risk to the agency as events unfolded and react to and prevent or mitigate the damage caused by their workforce’s actions.

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via dhs/oig

All personnel involved – the agents who inappropriately accessed the information, the mid-level supervisors who understood what was occurring, and the senior leadership of the Service – bear responsibility for what occurred. Better and more frequent training is only part of the solution. Ultimately, while the responsibility for this activity can be fairly placed on the shoulders of the agents who casually disregarded important privacy rules, the Secret Service leadership must do a better job of controlling the actions of its personnel. The Secret Service leadership must demonstrate a commitment to integrity. This includes setting an appropriate tone at the top, but more importantly requires a commitment to establishing and adhering to standards of conduct and ethical and reasonable behavior. Standards of conduct and ethics are meaningful only if they are enforced and if deviations from such standards are dealt with appropriately.

It doesn’t take a lawyer explaining the nuances of the Privacy Act to know that the conduct that occurred here – by dozens of agents in every part of the agency – was simply wrong. The agents should have known better. Those who engaged in this behavior should be made to understand how destructive and corrosive to the agency their actions were. These agents work for an agency whose motto – “worthy of trust and confidence” – is engraved in marble in the lobby of their headquarters building. Few could credibly argue that the agents involved in this episode lived up to that motto. Given the sensitivity of the information with which these agents are entrusted, particularly with regard to their protective function, this episode is deeply disturbing.

Additionally, it is especially ironic, and troubling, that the Director of the Secret Service was apparently the only one in the Secret Service who was unaware of the issue until it reached the media. At the March 24th hearing, he testified that he was “infuriated” that he was not made aware of the March 4th drinking incident. He testified that he was “working furiously to try to break down these barriers where people feel that they can’t talk up the chain.” In the days after this testimony, 18 supervisors, including his Chief of Staff and the Deputy Director, were aware of what was occurring. Yet, the Director himself did not know. When he became aware, he took swift and decisive action, but too late to prevent his agency from again being subject to justified criticism.

Read the full report here. Check out Appendix 1 for the chronological access to the Chaffetz record which includes multiple field offices, including the London office. Appendix 2 is the timeline of record access.

We can’t remember anything like this happening in the recent past.  There was the 1992 passportgate, of course, which involves a presidential candidate, but that’s not quite the same. In 2009, the DOJ said that a ninth individual pleaded guilty for illegally accessing numerous confidential passport application files, although it was for what’s considered “idle curiosity.”

Whether the intent of the Chaffetz record breach was to embarrass a sitting congressman or curiosity (not everyone who looked at the files leak it to the media), the files are protected by the Privacy Act of 1974, and access by employees is strictly limited to official government duties. Only 4 of the 45 employees who did access the Chaffetz records had a legitimate reason to access the protected information. If the DOJ pursued 9 State Department employees for peeking at the passport records of politicians and celebrities, we can’t imagine that it could simply look away in this case. Particularly in this case.  Winter is definitely coming to the Secret Service.

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Republicans got mad, mad, mad about danger pay, local guards, violence; calls for closures of consulates in Mexico

Posted: 3:37 am EDT
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Gregory Starr, State’s assistant secretary at the Bureau of Diplomatic Security, said in towns like Nuevo Laredo, Mexico — which borders Laredo, Texas — danger pay is not warranted. While U.S. federal employees are prohibited from leaving consulate grounds in the town that recently did away with its local police force, Starr said the workers can easily “walk across the border and be in a Walmart or a Dairy Queen.”

Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, the committee’s chairman, said that convenience would do little to appease family members of Foreign Service officers stationed in the town.

“Shame on you for saying that,” Chaffetz said. “It’s so dangerous they can’t even go outside.” He added employees facing decreased pay should not blame Republicans or funding shortfalls: “You can look at the Obama administration.”

Chaffetz said the cuts were “not useful” and would damage morale, noting the problem fell with State’s management. Starr maintained the department was “not having trouble staffing” the positions in the Mexican towns, and noted employees in some areas of the country would receive a pay bump.

Danger pay is generally used for areas with “civil insurrection, civil war, terrorism or wartime conditions which threaten physical harm or imminent danger to the health or well-being of an employee,” according to federal statute.

There are about 2,800 State employees in Mexico, but the number involved in areas with crime is “minimal,” according to the department’s Assistant Secretary for Western Hemisphere Affairs Sue Saarino. She said in some areas employees are told to stay off the street at night, but “we think it’s manageable.”

The HOGR Hearing: Violence on the Border, Keeping U.S. Personnel Safe was held on September 9.

The video is here, if you have the interest to watch it:

Back in February, we blogged about the expected changes in danger pay (see Danger Danger, Bang Bang — State Department Eyes Changes in Danger Pay). We were under the impression that congressional interest was driving these changes.

Danger Pay

During the hearing, we learned that the State Department has indeed changed its danger and hardship pay incentives. The example cited during the hearing is Matamoros which reportedly gets a 5% bump in danger pay, with Tijuana and Nueno Laredo seeing a reduction of 5% respectively.  DS Starr said that Nuevo Laredo is more safe now than it has been and that the violence in the Tijuana and Nuevo Laredo are not directed at our people. Also those assigned in Mexico can cross into the United States, whereas those assigned in Mali or Chad, for instance, do not have that option.

In fact, according to the State Department’s Allowances Office, only Ciudad Juarez has been able to keep its danger pay differential, currently at 15% as of the September 6 update.  When we last posted about this in February, Nogales was at 10%, Matamoros and Tijuana were at 15% and Nuevo Laredo and Monterrey were at 20%.  With the exception of Ciudad Juaraez, all have lost their danger pay differential.  The representative from WHA says that the staff knew what they were getting into, knew the dangers, and that the allowances can change anytime.

Staffing MX posts

DS says that the incentives are generally reviewed once a year, and that State has had no problem staffing the Mexican posts.  Is that true? Of course, he did not say that part of the reason there is no problem with staffing the Mexican posts is that most jobs there are filled by entry level officers whose assignments are “directed” by State. They do not have the option to decline those assignments. How about the mid-level and senior staffing, any gaps there? How many excursion tours  are offered to Civil Servants to fill those gaps?

Security and Local Guards

DS A/S Starr in response to a query also admitted that there were six times more security incidents in Matamoros in February than the previous month.

Mr. Chaffetz railed that State is talking about training the police force but that there is no police force in Nuevo Laredo.  DS acknowledged that the local police is not functioning but that it cooperates with federal and state authorities in Mexico.

The same congressman was not happy that the local guards are only paid $316/month. DS explained that this is the prevailing wage. The congressman still wasn’t happy. We get the sense that if those local guards were paid 3x the Mexican prevailing wage, the congressman would be railing that the guards are overpaid. This has an easy fix, of course. One, Congress could allow the State Department to issue the local guard contracts base on best value instead of lowest price. That means the guards protecting our U.S. mission overseas are paid good wages not based on the lowest price the contractors can get away with.  Or, if that’s not acceptable, Congress could fund U.S. citizen private security guards to protect all our 275 missions overseas. But that won’t come cheap and we suspect Congress would  not be up for that.

Close the Consulates

Another congressman, Mr. Mica, called for closing all our consulates in Mexico.  We laughed out loud watching the video. No one else laughed.

“There has to be consequences. How many consulates do we have? I count about nine in Mexico. Is that right? I think we should close every one of those consulates immediately. Put the properties up for sale,” Mica said. “I think you have to have consequences for actions. The place is out of control.”

Mr. Cartwright picked-up Mr. Mica’s idea and asked the DHS/CBP and AFGE representatives how would closure of these consulates cut down the violence.  The witnesses were restrained in their response.

Travel Warnings

Mr. Hurd, the former undercover CIA officer who is now representing Texas’s 23rd congressional district complained that Mexico is treated like one place and it’s not. He said that 80% of violence occurs in 20% of the country and wanted to see the Travel Warning reflective of that. Mr. Hurd did talk a lot but he is probably the only one in that panel who previously served with members of the Foreign Service overseas.

I got as far as Mr. Hurd, then I finally had to give up. Did I miss a lot?

Our congressional representatives appeared to be easily distracted and jumped from one topic to the next. In most cases, they seemed to enjoy hearing themselves talk rather than listen to their witnesses. Which makes me wonder if they were really interested in the answers … why bother with hearings if minds are already made up?

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State Department Denies Raymond Maxwell’s Document Scrub Allegations. Peeeeriod!!!!

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We did a blog post yesterday on former NEA Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Raymond Maxwell and Benghazi (see Former State Dept DAS Raymond Maxwell Alleges Benghazi Document Scrub Pre-ARB Investigation).

A Fox News report cited State Department spokesman Alec Gerlach denying the allegations:

“That allegation is totally without merit. It doesn’t remotely reflect the way the ARB actually obtained information,” he said in an email. He explained that an “all-points bulletin”-type request went out department-wide instructing “full and prompt cooperation” for anyone contacted by the ARB, and urging anyone with “relevant information” to contact the board. 

“So individuals with information were reaching out proactively to the Board. And, the ARB was also directly engaged with individuals and the Department’s bureaus and offices to request information and pull on whichever threads it chose to. The range of sources that the ARB’s investigation drew on would have made it impossible for anyone outside of the ARB to control its access to information,” Gerlach said. He further noted that the leaders of the ARB have claimed they had unfettered access to information and people. 

Looks like that’s the press guidance.  Below is a clip of  the Deputy Spokesperson of the State Department, Marie Harf, responding to a question on Maxwell’s allegations using similar words — full indirect access, completely without merit, completely ill-informed, ARB co-chairs are of impeccable credentials, period. So she did not call the State Department’s former Deputy Assistant Secretary of State a liar, she just called him “completely uninformed.” Except that only one of the them was in that room.

Here is the text:

MS. HARF: The ARB had full and direct access to State Department employees and documents. Any accounts to the contrary, like that one you mentioned, are completely without merit, completely ill-informed. It was – these reports show a complete lack of understanding of how the ARB functioned. It collected its own documents directly from anybody in the Department. There was a Department-wide call for information to be given directly to the ARB; that’s what happened. The ARB’s co-chairs, Tom Pickering and Admiral Mike Mullen, both public servants of impeccable credentials, have both repeated several times that they had “unfettered access” to all the information they needed, period.

 

One could argue that until he was dragged into this Benghazi mess, Mr. Maxwell, a career diplomat of over 20 years was also a public servant of impeccable credentials.  One who initially did not even have access  to what was written about him in the classified report of ARB Benghazi.

Of course, as can be expected, the GOP is embracing this new revelation, and the Dems are simply shrugging this off as old news.  We know that Mr. Maxwell had a grievance case that was dismissed in June this year, we blogged about it. (See The Cautionary Tale of Raymond Maxwell: When the Bureaucracy Bites, Who Gets The Blame?).  But the allegation about this scrub had apparently surfaced about a year ago.  Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, confirmed to FoxNews.com on Monday that Maxwell told him and other lawmakers the same story when they privately interviewed him last year about the attacks and their aftermath. Folks will question that because Mr. Chaffetz is not the most impartial individual to collaborate that story. But if there were Democrats present in that interview, would anyone be wiling to say anything, anyway?

Media Matters deployed its rapid response ninja calling Mr. Maxwell a “dubious source”:

Maxwell himself is a dubious source. He was placed on administrative leave after the Accountability Review Board’s investigation found a “lack of proactive leadership” and pointed specifically to Maxwell’s department, saying some officials in the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs “showed a lack of ownership of Benghazi’s security issues.” A House Oversight Committee report released findings from the classified version of the ARB report, which revealed that the ARB’s board members “were troubled by the NEA DAS for Maghreb Affairs’ lack of leadership and engagement on staffing and security issues in Benghazi.”

 

Damn, where is that NEA DAS office for staffing and security issues in Benghazi here?

Extracted from DIPLOMATIC SECURITY | Overseas Facilities May Face Greater Risks Due to Gaps in Security-Related Activities, Standards, and Policies – GAO-14-655 June 2014 (click on image for larger view)

 

This will unfold with Raymond Maxwell either demonized or hailed a hero.   We don’t think he’s either; he’s just a dedicated public servant unfairly tainted by Benghazi who wants his good name back.  It looks like he’ll have to walk through fire before he gets a chance to do that.

We’ve heard about this document scrub allegation this past summer. We understand that there were others who were told about this incident last year. Some NEA folks reportedly also heard this story.

So why now?

Only Mr. Maxwell can answer that.  We hope he gets to tell his full story under oath before the Select Committee.

While we refused to see a conspiracy under every rug in Foggy Bottom, and we did not  support the creation of the Benghazi Select Committee, this changes it for us.

We just hope the Committee can keep its adult pants on and not turn the Benghazi hearings into a clownsport.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A few days ago, this piece went online:

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

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

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

The online publication made the following suggestion:

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

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

This one:

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From State Magazine, December 2011

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

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

In another part of the article is this:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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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: Hey! Can we call Representatives Issa and Chaffetz as witnesses, too?

Via CSM:

Earlier claims from Chaffetz and fellow Republican Congressman Darrell Issa that the administration ignored pleas for more security from Libya embassy officials should be treated with caution until there’s some proof.
[…]
Since retaking control in 2010, House Republicans have aggressively cut spending at the State Department in general and embassy security in particular. Chaffetz and Issa and their colleagues voted to pay for far less security than the State Department requested in 2011 and again this year.
[…]
Is that responsible for the tragedy in Benghazi? Probably not, at least not entirely. Usually when security goes wrong, it’s down to a cascade of small failures piling up. But it’s a bit rich to complain about a lack of US security personnel at diplomatic missions on the one hand, while actively working to cut the budget to pay for US security personnel at diplomatic missions on the other.
[…]
The Worldwide Security Protection program (WSP), which the government says provides “core funding for the protection of life, property, and information of the Department of State,” and a separate embassy security and construction budget, which in part improves fortifications, have both been under fire.

“In 2011 they came in and passed a continuing resolution for the remainder of that fiscal year. The House proposed $70 million cut in the WSP and they proposed a $204 million cut in Embassy security,” says Mr. Lilly. “Then the next year, fiscal 2012, they cut worldwide security by $145 million and embassy security by $376 million. This year’s bill is the same thing all over again. The House has cut the worldwide security budget $149 million below the request.”

Rep. Jason Chaffetz, the Utah Republican co-leading a House investigation on October 10 regarding the “Security Failures of Benghazi” said in a interview last week that the number of American diplomatic security officers serving in Libya had been reduced in the six months prior to the attacks. Via The Daily Beast:

“The fully trained Americans who can deal with a volatile situation were reduced in the six months leading up to the attacks,” he said. “When you combine that with the lack of commitment to fortifying the physical facilities, you see a pattern.”

Rep. Jason Chaffetz (UT-R) and Rep Darrell Issa (CA-R), currently top hunters of the security failures of Benghazi, hopefully leaving no stone unturned even in Congress

Sure you see a pattern. Some might think there’s a pattern apparent in the Congress, too.

Here is what the State Department says about its Worldwide Security Protection (WSP) Program in its funding request to the Congress:

The Worldwide Security Protection (WSP) program affords core funding to provide a safe and secure environment for the conduct of U.S. foreign policy. The promotion of American interests and foreign policy protects life, property, and information at more than 274 missions abroad. In order to do this, the Department must address threats against U.S. personnel, facilities, and equipment worldwide. The civil unrest in Abidjan, Egypt, and Tunis; the increasingly volatile situation in Mexico; the physical assault on the Embassy in Syria; and the suspension and reactivation of operations at the U.S. Embassy in Libya highlight the need for continued vigilance, program execution, and funding. As U.S. diplomatic humanitarian efforts in critical threat and unstable locations expand, increased security and security training will ensure all U.S. Government employees (USG) are prepared to work safely in these areas. WSP provides funding for the Bureau of Diplomatic Security (DS), and other Departmental bureaus.

Last year, when Congress slashed State’s budget, Matt of Feral Jundi  asked:  Is The DoS And The WPS Program Being Set Up For Failure By Congress?

Another point I wanted to make is WPS will be vital for the ‘other’ DoS missions out there as a result of the Arab Spring.  The cards are being re-shuffled in the middle east and diplomatic missions in these countries will be vital for national interest. These are dangerous times, and security for these diplomatic missions is essential. Congress should do all it can to ensure DoS and it’s security apparatus is successful, because lives and national interest are on the line.

Here is Stimson’s The Will and the Wallet:

Looking at the House and Senate Appropriations Committee reports for State and Foreign Operations, the committees both cut from the administration’s request but did so to different degrees and in different ways. The House made substantially deeper cuts than the Senate, shaving 11.6% ($6.3B) off of the President’s request, while the Senate cut by a smaller 4.7% ($2.6B). Beyond overall funding levels, the House and Senate agreed on some budget priorities while sharply disagreeing on others.

Notably, both Committees cut deeply into the State Department’s operating costs, each slashing about $2.5 billion, or about 22% of the President’s request, from State’s Diplomatic and Consular Programs account. In fact, this cut accounts for over a third of the House’s $6.3 billion overall net cut and falls only about $50 million short of the Senate’s net cut.

The Cable reported the significant cuts in the 2011 budget with the actual numbers:

As part of the budget deal struck to avoid a government shutdown, the White House has agreed to reduce the State Department and foreign operations budgets for the rest of fiscal 2011 by $8 billion.

Other programs that will lose large portions of their requested funding include the operating expenses for USAID ($122 million less than the request), the Civilian Stabilization Initiative (-$144 million), the office of the Global AIDS Coordinator (-$155 million), the Peace Corps (-$71 million), the International Clean Technology Fund (-$215 million), the International Strategic Climate Fund (-$185 million), and Worldwide Security Protection (-$61 million).

So we’ll probably make a big deal about “Main State” rejecting a request for a DC-3 but … but how about how much money Congress slashed from the security protection portion of the budget request?

For the sake of clarity and whatnot, and so that we, the people can have both the real low down on these failures and also a big picture idea on how these security failures happen, the Committee on Oversight reps should call themselves as witnesses to this very important hearing and ask the following questions for starters:

  • Did I or did I not vote to cut the State Department’s embassy security budget in 2011?
  • Did I or did I not cut the same security budget again in 2012?
  • Did I think through the possible consequences to that reduction in security budget for over 270 American missions overseas?  Was my vote sequestered from reality?
  • When allocating blame for this incident, what percentage of that should I assign myself? What methodology for calculating blame would be helpful?
  • Before I get hopping mad and write all sorts of letters, did I stop and think how the reduction in security funds might have affected the hiring of Libyan local guards at $32 a day versus American private security contractors at say $750 a day?
  • This guy has serious questions about inadequate security that need some answers, too. Dammit, didn’t I get elected to Congress so I get to ask the hard questions?

Should be interesting to watch. I’ll bring my 16 oz Bloomberg drink and popcorn.