Not Going Benghazimazi But Let’s Revisit the ARB’s “Full & Unfettered Access” to State Dept Documents

Posted: 7:42 pm EST
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Last fall, Ray Maxwell alleged that there was a Foggy Bottom operation to “separate” damaging State Department documents before they were turned over to the Accountability Review Board investigating security lapses surrounding the Sept. 11, 2012, terrorist attacks on the U.S. mission in Benghazi, Libya. (see Former State Dept DAS Raymond Maxwell Alleges Benghazi Document Scrub Pre-ARB Investigation).

At that time, the State Department deputy spox, Marie Harf  called the allegations “a crazy conspiracy theory about people squirreling away things in some basement office and keeping them secret.” She also said this:

QUESTION: Did people involved in preparing the documents for the ARB separate documents into stuff that was just whatever and then things that they thought were – made people on the seventh floor, including the Secretary, look bad?

MS. HARF: Not to my knowledge, Matt, at all. The ARB had full and unfettered access and direct access to State Department employees and documents. The ARB’s co-chairs, Ambassador Pickering and Admiral Mullen, have both repeated several times that they had unfettered access to all the information they needed. So the ARB had complete authority to reach out independently and directly to people. Employees had complete authority to reach out directly to the ARB. And they’ve said themselves they had unfettered access, so I have no idea what prompted this somewhat interesting accounting of what someone thinks they may have seen or is now saying they saw.

But the ARB has been clear, the ARB’s co-chairs have been clear that they had unfettered access, and I am saying that they did have full and direct access to State Department employees and documents.

Read more: State Dept on Former DAS Raymond Maxwell’s Allegations: Crazy. Conspiracy Theory. What Else?

The State Department spokesman Alec Gerlach also denied the allegations (see State Department Denies Raymond Maxwell’s Document Scrub Allegations. Peeeeriod!!!!).

“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. 

In both cases, these government officials emphasized one thing: that the Pickering-Mullen Accountability Review Board “had full and unfettered access and direct access to State Department employees and documents.”

In the September 2013 congressional hearing, the Benghazi ARB co-chair also told Congress, “We had unfettered access to State Department personnel and documents. There were no limitations.” 

Shouldn’t we now consider the absent server as one such limitation?

In light of reports that Secretary Clinton exclusively used a personal email account to conduct government business as secretary of state, and that her private emails were never reportedly actual residents of Foggy Bottom, would these current and former government officials now revisit their statements on the ARB’s “unfettered” access to documents?

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Admiral Mullen on How ARB Benghazi Defined “Systemic Failure”

— By Domani Spero

We’re just wading into the recently posted 160-page transcript of Admiral Mullen’s interview with the Oversight Committee which was conducted back on June 19, 2013.  Below is an excerpt from the Transcript of Interview (see p.107) where he was asked how the Accountability Review Board defined “systemic failure.” Read and see if you can find the hole:

Q: How did the board define systemic failure? And does that imply a failure throughout the whole system?

A: I think if I were going to — if I were going to describe systemic in that way, it’s both in sort of depth and breadth. And if I were going to pick a time to start it, it would be right about the time that Benghazi — maybe a month or two before the memo that Under Secretary Kennedy signed to extend it for a year. And over the course of that, let’s say, 9, 10 months, there were failures tied to, in particular, creating a security platform that would give it a chance, if you will.

What is — and that included personnel policy. So the short duration, TDYs from very junior, inexperienced people who actually wanted to go there because they knew it was good for their career, who didn’t get the right kind of training, didn’t have it when they went, for example; systemic again with — in Sean Smith’s case, who was the IMO, basically the communicator, but IMO is really the management officer, and that’s a broader set of skills that you’re supposed to have to manage, to handle money and budgets and planning, not just be a communicator; to the churn that was created, which then didn’t — there was nobody to oversee sort of the systematic improvements in the compound from just a physical aspect. They did do some things with respect to security projects to improve the overall posture. I think the broad systemic, two bureaus, if you will, almost working separately in that sense in terms of security as opposed to working together, figuring out, you know, this is a risky place, what should we do?

Some of the — I talked about security projects from both inside the compound where the Ambassador was that night — inside — I’m sorry, the villa as well as broadly in the compound to include security inside, literally security projects inside. That there was, you know, a lack at very senior levels, particularly in Washington, of what I would call active interventionist leadership to make the right kind of changes. There was to a certain degree a failure on the part of the Ambassador to bring all these things together.

Excuse me, but IMO [information management officer] is not/not really a management officer.  An IMO is a specialist and different from a management officer who is a generalist.  The specialists including IMOs, medical officers, financial management officers, HR officers to name a few generally report to management officers.   It is not in an IMO’s career track to become a MGT officer, but it is possible for an IM specialist to rise through the IM ranks, bid on and receive a management job or two, and apply for conversion.

As IMOs get promoted, they typically become Information Tech Managers, they do not become Management Officers unless they go through a conversion in skills code.  Of the 24 Information Tech Managers who competed for promotion in 2011, only 4 made it into the Senior Foreign Service. The average length of service of those promoted was 24 years. (Read more in SBU Foreign Service 2011 Promotion Statistics Officially Published, Color Specialist Gets an “F”).

Now, Mr. Smith was an IMO from 2002-2012.  He was a tech guy; when did IMOs start having responsibility to “oversee sort of the systematic improvements in the compound?”

Also, Mr. Smith had been with the State Department reportedly from 2002-2012 and had served in our posts in Baghdad, Pretoria, Montreal and The Hague.  Presumably, his first two tours as is typical in the service, would have been two-year duration while the third and last tours were three years. So while he was on TDY in Benghazi, he was far from being “very junior.”

Admiral Mullen is citing this as an example of “systemic failure” but there’s a hole in this wall; the hole gave the wrong picture.

(Note: corrected to clarify that career progression of IMOs, with exceptions, do not typically include track to become management officers).


Congress Serves Three Benghazi Events This Week – Tickets Running Out!

— By Domani Spero

This week, Congress will have three events focused on Benghazi, two State Department related hearings and one on-the-record interviews with a couple of spooks or OGA folks.

The week started off with the release of the House Oversight Committee’s Benghazi Attacks: Investigative Update Interim Report on the Accountability Review Board (See Read and Weep: Congressional Committee Releases Report Questioning Benghazi ARB Investigation).  An excellent primer on people just doing their jobs.  The 99-page report is worth reading if you work inside the building. Similarly, the Pickering and Mullen transcripts (see links below) are a must-read, too.

On Wednesday, September 18, the House Foreign Affairs Committee (HFAC) will hold the following hearing with State Department Under Secretary for Management Patrick F. Kennedy:

Hearing: Benghazi: Where is the State Department Accountability?
2172 House Rayburn Office Building Washington, DC 20515 |
Sep 18, 2013 10:00am

Several days ago, the Best Practices Sullivan Report leaked to AJAM was quite blunt.  The item was followed by AJAM’s Patrick F. Kennedy: The man in the middle. The Project for Government Oversight (POGO) a few days ago also has the following headlines: State Department Gives Misleading Testimony to Senate and Benghazi Ignored: New Evidence Exposes Gaps in Kabul Embassy.  And now, Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., chairwoman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Subcommittee on Contracting Oversight wants answers.  This will be a rough week for some folks but we can almost imagine how this will play out.

On September 19, the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee will hold a hearing on “Reviews” of the Benghazi Attack and Unanswered Questions.  No witnesses have been identified on the OGRC website but word has it that Ambassador Thomas Pickering and Admiral Michael Mullen will be two of the witnesses during Thursday’s hearing. Perhaps in preparation for that hearing, the Oversight Committee has posted the full transcripts of the interviews with ARB co-chairs Ambassador Thomas Pickering and Admiral Michael Mullen.

Reviews of the Benghazi Attack and Unanswered Questions
2154 Rayburn House Office Building
September 19, 2013 | 9:30 a.m.

Transcript of interview with Admiral Michael G. Mullen

Transcript of deposition of Ambassador Thomas R. Pickering

Previously announced on September 11, but we understand happening this week, the  House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence will also conduct an on-the-record interview with two Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) officers who were on the ground in Benghazi on September 11, 2012 later this month.

HPSCI Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee Announces Benghazi Oversight Agenda

Whew! Are you ready?

Updated 9/18 – 7:30 am: We missed this one, not directly related to Benghazi, but one that came about in the aftermath of Benghazi.  The Senate Foreign Relations Committee on September 19 will also have a hearing on the nomination of Gregory Starr to be Ambassador Eric Boswell’s successor as Assistant Secretary for Diplomatic Security.

Mr. Gregory B. Starr
of Virginia, to be Assistant Secretary of State for Diplomatic Security

Thursday, September 19, 2013 | 10:00 AM | Senate Hart 216

Updated 9/18 at 10:13 am PST: Oops, what’s this? Former and current colleagues are talking to John Hudson of The Cable about Mr. Starr.  Allegations Swirl Around Obama’s Pick for State Department Security Chief.  State Department Chief of Staff David Wade waded in and added his support to the nominee. “Anyone smearing a distinguished public servant should have the guts to do it on the record instead of seeking cowardly refuge in anonymous quotes.”