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.  

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