OIG Steve Linick Seeks Legislative Support For Kill Switch on State Dept “Investigating Itself”

Posted: 1:41 am EDT
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The Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on State Department management, operations and development held a hearing on April 21 with OIG Steve Linick  on the efficiency and effectiveness of State Department operations.

The video is also available here. Or you can watch here via the SFRC.

Only two senators stayed for the duration of the entire hearing, Senator Timothy M. Kaine of Virginia [D]  and Senator David Perdue of Georgia [R] . It’s quite a change from watching other congressional hearings.  No one was angry or hysterical. No one was tearing up.  The senators seem genuinely interested in hearing what Inspector General Linick had to say. They ask informed, thoughtful questions and follow-up questions. Both have also been hosted overseas during a CODEL or two and have complimentary things to say about the men and women of our diplomatic service.

Senator Ron Johnson of Wisconsin [R] did sit down but just long enough to ask and rail about Benghazi.  Senator Chris S. Murphy of Connecticut D] also came in to question the IG about BBG operations. It sounds like he has a lot of concerns about BBG and is working on efforts to shore up the long floundering red headed step child of global engagement.

IG Linick brought up two main challenges during the hearing, one on the OIG’s IT vulnerability and the other, its interest on getting first dibs when it comes to allegations of criminal or serious administrative misconduct by Department employees. Not “M”, not Diplomatic Security, but for the OIG to get right of first refusal on criminal allegations in the State Department.

Inspector Linick also asked for a flexible hiring authority so the OIG is able to hire retired FS employees and former SIGAR employees. These individuals have the experience OIG needs but they face restrictions under the current hiring authority. We hope he gets it.

We strongly support these asks by the OIG.  The first, because it makes sense. The second, because it’s long overdue.  It will remove the “it depends” mantra over in the Big House.  For the OIG to have real oversight, it should have the right to decide whether to conduct the investigations themselves or not.  That decision should not be left to State Department management. The OIG has already requested that the Department revise its current directives on this, but it doesn’t look like anything happened yet.  We would like to see Congress include this in the State Department congressional authorization.

IG Linick’s prepared testimony is here (pdf). Below is an excerpt:

OIG Network Vulnerabilities

Vulnerabilities in the Department’s unclassified network directly affect OIG’s IT infrastructure, which is part of the same network. We noted in our November 2013 Management Alert on information security that there are thousands of administrators who have access to the Department’s computer network. That access runs freely throughout OIG’s IT infrastructure and increases risk to OIG operations. For example, a large number of Department administrators have the ability to read, modify, or delete any information on OIG’s network including sensitive investigative information and email traffic, without OIG’s knowledge.17 OIG has no evidence that administrators have compromised OIG’s network. At the same time, had OIG’s network been compromised, we likely would not know. The fact that the contents of our unclassified network may be easily accessed and potentially compromised places our independence at unnecessary risk and does not reflect best practices within the IG community. OIG seeks to transition to an independently managed information system, which will require the Department’s cooperation and support from Congress.

A footnote on his prepared statement says that DS and the Bureau of Information Resource Management (State/IRM) recently agreed to notify and receive confirmation from OIG prior to accessing OIG systems in “most circumstances. ” 

Right of First Refusal To Investigate Allegations of Criminal or Other Serious Misconduct

Unlike other OIGs, my office is not always afforded the opportunity to investigate allegations of criminal or serious administrative misconduct by Department employees. Department components, including DS, are not required to notify OIG of such allegations that come to their attention. For example, current Department rules provide that certain allegations against chiefs of mission shall be referred for investigation to OIG or DS. However, that guidance further states that “[in] exceptional circumstances, the Under Secretary for Management may designate an individual or individuals to conduct the investigation.”19 Thus, DS or the Under Secretary may initiate an investigation without notifying us or giving us the opportunity to evaluate the matter independently and become involved, if appropriate. Accordingly, OIG cannot undertake effective, independent assessments and investigations of these matters as envisioned by the IG Act.

The directives establishing this arrangement appear to be unique to the Department. By contrast, the Departments of Defense, Justice, Homeland Security, the Treasury (and the IRS), and Agriculture, all of which had within them significant law enforcement entities prior to the establishment of their respective offices of Inspector General (OIG), defer to their OIGs for the investigation of criminal or serious administrative misconduct by their employees or with respect to their programs. Notice must be provided by all agency components to their respective OIGs of, at a minimum, allegations of misconduct by senior employees. In some agencies, notice must be provided of such allegations with respect to all employees. The respective OIGs have the right to decide whether to conduct investigations themselves or refer matters back to the relevant agency component for investigation or other action. However, in some cases, when requested by OIG to do so, the relevant agency component to which the OIG referred back the matter must report to the OIGs on the progress or the outcome of investigations.

Particularly where senior officials are involved, the failure to refer allegations of misconduct to an independent entity like OIG necessarily creates a perception of unfairness, as management is seen to be, as the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) notes, “investigating itself.”*

This risks undermining confidence in the integrity of the Department. Moreover, this arrangement prevents OIG from carrying out its clear statutory duty, set forth in the IG Act, “to provide policy direction for and to conduct, supervise, and coordinate … investigations relating to the programs and operations” of the Department.

Accordingly, we are seeking legislative support—similar to that provided to other OIGs—for early notification to OIG of allegations of certain types of misconduct. In addition, OIG is seeking legislative clarification of its right to investigate such allegations.23 Current Department directives are a barrier to achieving accountable and transparent government operations.

Here is another footnote:

GAO, Inspectors General: Activities of the Department of State Office of Inspector General at 25-26. (GAO- 07-138, March 2007) ([B]ecause DS reports to the State Department’s Undersecretary [sic] for Management, DS investigations of department employees, especially when management officials are the subjects of the allegations, can result in management investigating itself.”); see also OIG’s Review of Selected Internal Investigations Conducted by the Bureau of Diplomatic Security (ESP-15-01, October 2014) (Department policies and procedures appear to have significant implications and created an appearance of undue influence and favoritism, which undermines public confidence in the integrity of the Department and its leaders).

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Benghazi Hearings with Hillary Clinton: Some Take Aways

So after months of endless chatter and lots of ink spilled on Secretary Clinton testifying on Benghazi, the moment finally arrived on January 23, 2013. You’d think that after over four months waiting for the Secretary of State to appear in Congress to answer questions about the Benghazi attack, that our elected representatives had the time to craft questions that would help inform us better.  Unfortunately, that was not the case.    Did we learn anything new from the hearing? Well, not really but we did have a few take aways.

I.  Folks elected to Congress apparently do not need to know basic information before coming to a hearing and asking questions. Uh-oh, brains going commando!  But that’s part of the perks of being an elected representative.  You don’t have to know anything or a lot.

Rep. Joe Wilson asked why there were no Marines in Benghazi.  Oh, Joe!

Rep. Kinzinger suggested that an F-16 could/should have been have flown over Benghazi to disperse the mob/crowd or whatever you call those attackers.

We’ve heard of things called pepper sprays, tear gas, even pain rays for crowd control but this is the first time we’ve heard of the suggestion of using F-16s for crowd dispersal.  You need to get one of those for your post asap.

Rep. Juan Vargas asked again why there were no Marines in Benghazi. Ugh! Juan, do your homework or dammit, listen!

Rep. McCaul asked why Stevens was in Benghazi on September 11, 2012.  Did he bother to read this report, or did he read it and did not believe it?

Rep. Marino on State Dept personnel who were put on administrative leave in the aftermath of the ARB report: “Why haven’t they been fired?” Clinton: “There are regulations and laws that govern that.”

Well, dammit, who wrote those regulations and laws?  Oooh!

 Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen on the Benghazi ARB not having interviewed Clinton: “I think that’s outrageous.”

The good congresswoman from Florida would have wanted the ARB Benghazi to interview the Secretary of State for a report that will be submitted to the Secretary of State. That would have been certainly outrageous, too, no?

She also asked: Why did State not immediately revamp our security protocols prior to the September 11th attacks?

Huh?

Sen. Jeff Flake  asked if Clinton was consulted before Susan Rice was chosen to go on Sunday morning shows.

Rep. Matt Salmon: “Eric Holder has repeatedly misled about an international gun-trafficking scheme.”

Gawd, no more Rice, pleeeeaase! And did somebody scramble Matt’s hearing schedule again?  Was Eric Holder in the building?

At the SFRC hearing, the more deliberative kind, Senator Rand Paul gave himself a lengthy talk and then asked: “Is the U.S. involved in shipping weapons out of Libya to Turkey.”

Clinton’s response: “To Turkey? I will have to take that question for the record. That’s … Nobody has ever raised that with me.”

Dear Senator Paul, please check with OGA, the Annex people may know.

Of course, President Senator Paul will also be remembered for stealing the thunderbolts from Senator McCain with his: “Had I been president at the time and I found out that you did not read the cables … I would have relieved you of your post.”

Hookay!

Senator Paul was only topped by Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin with his inquiry which started a heated exchange with Clinton:  “Did anybody in the State Department talk to those folks [people evacuated from Libya] very shortly afterwards?”

With all due respect, the fact is we had four dead Americans,” Clinton told him angrily. “Whether it’s because of a protest or whether a guy out for a walk decided to go kill some Americans, what difference at this point does it make?”

And perhaps because of that heated exchange, we will forever remember Senator Johnson as the guy who got Hillary mad, and got a public spanking in the process.  His response? “Thank you, Madame Secretary.”

II.  2016 looming large in their minds, oh my!

Tom Udall of New Mexico praised Secretary Clinton for her work on “cookstoves” which  improve lives for third world people.

Were there cookstoves in Benghazi?

Rep. Ami Bera said: “I think I speak for all the freshmen that we’re not gonna get much time to serve with you, but we hope in a few years we’ll get that chance to serve again.”

Rep. Juan Vargas said: “I have to say that because it’s true, one, and secondly, I don’t think that my wife, my 16-year-old daughter or my nine-year-old daughter … she’d probably even turn on me and wouldn’t let me in the house if I didn’t say that.  You are a hero to many, especially women ….”

That’s just a sampling of the other extreme reception that Secretary Clinton received from one side of the aisle while the other side were reportedly “grilling” her.  If you call what she got a grilling, we hate to see what a real roasting is like.

III.  1.4 million cables

Secretary Clinton told Congress that about 1.4 million cables go to the State Department every year, and they’re all addressed to her.  All you need to do is peek at those Wikileaks cables and you’ll quickly notice that almost all cables going back to Washington are addressed to  SECSTATE.  The Secretary doesn’t read all of them because that would be a crazy expectation; that’s why there are tiered leadership within that building.  There’s a cable reportedly floating around the net sent by Ambassador Stevens to the State Department about security. From best we could tell, the cable was drafted by one officer, cleared by one officer, and released by one officer under Ambassador Stevens’ signature. He is the chief of mission. All cables that went out of Tripoli were sent under his signature.

The question the reps should have asked is how many NODIS cables did Ambassador Stevens send from Tripoli?  Cables captioned NODIS identifies messages of the highest sensitivity between the chief of mission and the Secretary of State.  All other regular cables marked Routine, Priority or Immediate would have gone through the appropriate distribution channels, and up the offices and bureaus within State.  Security request cables would have been received at Diplomatic Security, any deliberation beyond the bureau would have gone up to the Under Secretary for Management (“M”).  That’s within their pay grades.  We doubt very much that any would have gone to the Secretary’s office.  Note that this is not the first time that an ambassador’s request for additional security was not seen by the Secretary of State. Ambassador Bushnell prior to the bombing of the US Embassy in Nairobi made a similar request to Secretary Albright. In the aftermath of the bombing  Secretary Albright told the ambassador she never saw the letter.

 

IV.  Iraq and Afghanistan sucked out resources

Okay, we all know this already. But here the Secretary of State, for the first time publicly acknowledged that an emphasis on security in Iraq and Afghanistan in the past decade diverted resources from other outposts around the world.

 

V. Accountability Review Boards. 

Since 1988 there have been 19 Accountability Review Boards investigating attacks on American diplomats and diplomatic facilities worldwide.   Of those 19 ARBs only the ARB for the East Africa Bombings and the ARB for Benghazi are available for public view.  Can some media or accountability group please FOIA the remaining 17 ARBs? Better yet, if Congress can get its act together, it should update the regs to allow for the automatic publication of the ARBs after a certain length of time deemed appropriate.

We should note that the Accountability Review Boards are not “independent” bodies as they are often described in news reports. They are composed of individuals recommended by the Permanent Coordinating Committee (PCC) inside the State Department. A committee so transparent that you can’t find it listed in any of the DoS telephone directory.  In almost all of them, the chairman is a retired ambassador, with former, retired or current members from the federal bureaucracy.

The PCC composition itself is interesting.  Are we to understand that the PCC did not/not recommend to Secretary Clinton convening ARBs for the embassy breaches in Tunis, Sana’a, Cairo and Khartoum despite significant destruction of properties? Four ARBs in addition to Benghazi would have been too much, huh? Do please take a look at the PCC membership, and perhaps there’s the reason why.

 

VI. High Threat Posts. 

Secretary Clinton told the panel that she named the first Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for High Threat Posts, “so Missions in dangerous places get the attention they need.”  She’s talking about the newly designated 17 (20?) diplomatic posts considered high threat, which obviously need its own assistant secretary and an entirely new support staff.

That’s good and that’s bad. Perhaps we need to remind the somebodies that when the US Embassy Kenya was bombed, it was not a high threat post.  Nobody seems to know how or what factors were used in determining which post get into this list.  Even folks who we presumed should know are scratching their heads; they are in the dark.  As we have pointed out previously, some posts on this high threat list are not even considered danger posts.  And some posts considered dangerous enough that the Government pays employees a danger differential to be there are not on this list. Go figure.

Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Egypt, Indonesia, Iraq, Jordan, Kenya, Libya, Mauritania, Nigeria, Pakistan, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, Syria, Tunisia, Yemen.

One other reminder. In the aftermath of the East Africa Bombing in 1998, and upon recommendation of the ARB for that incident, the State Department kicked off its Crisis Management Exercise program for its worldwide posts. The Crisis Management Training Office (CMT) went from a one-person shop ran for years by, if we remember correctly, a retired Special Forces colonel and Vietnam vet, to a big shop with lots of trainers and travel money ran by an FSO who was not a crisis management professional.  Yeah, you should read some of the scenarios they table-top sometimes where there’s a plane crash, and an earthquake and hell, a tsunami and a hostage taking, too, all on the same day, why not?

See if you can find an assessment on how much impact the CMEs have on mission preparedness. Particularly, if the local employees who play a large part in any catastrophic event overseas are not included in the exercise.  Did any of the CMEs ever written in the last 10 years imagined any of the events that played out in the last two years?

In the immediate aftermath of a terrorist attack, Congress often is lax with its purse strings. It does not want to be perceived as functioning on the wrong side of the story. It’s bad for reelection.  We have no doubt that Congress will increased funds for building new embassy compounds or hardening old ones, as well as increase US Marine Guards and Diplomatic Security personnel.  We don’t know if the MOU between DOD and State has been updated to allow the active use of force. Because what does it matter if you have more Marines if they are only allowed to engage in a passive response? Did anyone ask that during the hearing?

Perhaps the important take away in all this is that once you create and fund something in the bureaucracy, it lives almost to perpetuity; it is easier to stand up an office than remove an old one.  Has the Crisis Management Office served its purpose in the last decade? Maybe, maybe not. We have no way of knowing but it continue to exist.  Was the new directorate for High Threat posts within Diplomatic Security well thought of? Maybe, maybe not. But the office now exist and will operate with new authority, staff, funding and  the accompanying high profile within and outside the building.  Until the next big one happens, in which case, a new program or office will be quickly created in direct response to the incident.

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