Burn Bag: Diplomat Writes About “The Slog of Leadership” and Misses Attack Date By a Year+

Via Burn Bag:

What’s this? The worst day of Gina Abercrombie-Winstanley’s life isn’t the day five of her staff were killed in Saudi Arabia? How did she get the date so wrong in this NYTimes Op-Ed? The attack was December 6, 2004, not/not December 4, 2005.

Like every chief of mission around the world, then and now, I began and ended each day with the question: “What can I do to increase safety for my staff?” I had reason to worry because for several years, the security situation in Saudi Arabia had been perilous, with terrorists attacking and murdering Saudis, other Arabs and Westerners. Diplomatic missions were favorite targets and ours, the Consulate General in Jeddah, made up of approximately 50 Americans and 150 locally-hired employees, was particularly attractive. With the advice of my security team, we raised the height of our walls, topped them with glass shards and barbed wire and imposed travel restrictions on the staff. We armed our guards and, unlike most diplomatic compounds, allowed military patrols inside our walls.
One proposal, however, threatened to tear our community apart. My security chief wanted to require all non-American staff to pass through metal detectors to enter the compound. I understood the imperative for a careful screening. But for a community under siege, the feeling that “we were all in it together” was critical to getting us through each day. Disparate treatment was sure to corrode our cohesiveness and send a signal to the local staff that we distrusted them despite the fact that they, too, put their lives on the line every day by walking through our gates.
After it was installed, I made sure that I was the very first staff member to walk through the metal detector. I can’t say that we had a Kumbaya moment or that resentment of my decision ended immediately among my American staff.  I had to lead by example and trust that they respected my integrity even if they didn’t like my position.

Despite all our measures, on December 4, 2005, one of the worst days of my life, terrorists attacked the U.S. Consulate in Jeddah. After a long standoff, 10 of my staff members were injured, some terribly, and five were killed. These were colleagues with whom we worked alongside every day, and socialized with after work. And each and every one of them was a local staff member.

Read: http://nytlive.nytimes.com/womenintheworld/2017/05/15/diplomat-to-saudi-arabia-opens-up-about-what-got-her-through-one-of-the-worst-days-of-my-life/

Related posts:

Related item:

Review of Department of State Implementation of Jeddah Accountability Review Board of Recommendation to Consider Remote Safe Areas at Missions Worldwide (pdf)




@StateDept Restricts Travel of USG Personnel/Family Members in Saudi Arabia, Issues New Travel Warning

Posted: 3:29 am ET
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The State Department issued a new Travel Warning for Saudi Arabia on July 27. It cites continuing security threats in the country including a “high potential” for spill over violence from Yemen. The new warning also notes the travel restrictions for USG personnel and family members in the country. Excerpt:

The Department of State recommends that U.S. citizens carefully consider the risks of travel to Saudi Arabia due to continuing ISIL (Da’esh) directed or inspired attacks across the Kingdom. Furthermore, continuing violence in neighboring countries such as Yemen has a high potential to spill over into Saudi Arabia. This replaces the Travel Warning issued April 11, 2016.

Security threats continue. Terrorist groups, some affiliated with ISIL or Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), have targeted both Saudi and Western interests, including the U.S. Consulate General in Jeddah, mosques and significant religious sites (both Sunni and Shia), and places where members of the Shia-Muslim minority gather. Possible targets include mosques, pilgrimage locations, and Saudi government facilities, as well as housing compounds, hotels, restaurants, shopping areas, international schools, Western consulates and embassies, and other facilities where Westerners congregate.


Over the past year, there have been multiple attacks on targets in Saudi Arabia, some resulting in significant loss of life. On July 4, 2016 suicide bombers launched attacks near:

  • U.S. Consulate General Jeddah
  • the Prophet’s Mosque (also known as Al-Masjid an-Nabawi) in Medina
  • a mosque in Qatif

On February 8, 2016, ISIL claimed responsibility for an explosion targeting a Saudi citizen in the Al-Azizia district of Riyadh. Media reports indicate that Saudi authorities thwarted plans to attack the Al-Janadriah festival in Riyadh, which took place in February 2016. In January 2016 a Shia mosque in Al-Ahsa in Eastern Province was attacked, as was a Shia mosque in Najran in October 2015. On October 16, 2015, a mass shooting took place at a gathering in Saihat. On August 6, 2015, a mosque in the city of Abha was bombed.  Most of the victims in that attack were members of the Saudi security forces.

U.S. government personnel and their families are restricted from travel in the following areas:

  • within 50 miles of the Yemeni border
  • the city of Jizan
  • the city of Najran
  • Qatif in the Eastern Province and its suburbs, including Awamiyah
  • Hofuf and its suburbs in the Al Hasa Governorate

Read in full here.



Suicide Bomber Detonates Self Near the U.S. Consulate General in Jeddah

Posted: 3:01 am ET
Updated: 9:37 am PT
Updated: 4:09 pm PT
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A suicide bomber apparently blew himself up near the U.S. Consulate General in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. The bomber killed himself, and injured two security guards but it does not look like there are other casualties at this time.  BBC reported that the security personnel became suspicious of a man in the car park of the Dr. Suleiman Faqeeh hospital around 02:15 (23:15 GMT Sunday), interior ministry spokesman Maj-Gen Mansour al-Turki said in a statement.  The hospital is opposite the US consulate. As the guards approached the man, “he blew himself up with a suicide belt inside the hospital parking,” the statement said.  @OSACState told us that explosion was approximately 20 meters from the Consulate wall.

The American Mission in Saudi Arabia consists of the embassy in Riyadh and the consulates in Dhahran and Jeddah. The Mission to Saudi Arabia started as a legation in Jeddah in 1942. Full diplomatic relations were established in 1949 and the U.S Mission, located in a traditional house in the old city center, became an Embassy. According to the consulate’s website, the Embassy moved in 1952 to the current Consulate General location, which “at the time was an isolated, beach-front property far to the north of the city limits.” The Embassy was moved to Riyadh in 1984 along with all other foreign missions in the country.  The former Embassy compound in Jeddah is now the Consulate General.

Post provides quite a sad example of just how slow the bureaucracy moves despite plenty of promises/recommendations following a terrorist attack.

On December 6, 2004 (video), a terrorist attack on Consulate Jeddah killed four locally employed staff members and injured nine others working outside the consulate building. An Accountability Review Board (ARB) had apparently determined that the consulate employees were killed or injured because the general services annex building did not have a safe area to which the employees could retreat. The Department concurred with the ARB recommendation to construct safe areas throughout compounds at posts worldwide.

In September 2013, State/OIG made two recommendations to the State Department during its Review of Department of State Implementation of Jeddah Accountability:

OIG recommended that the Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations (OBO) provide compound emergency sanctuaries for employees who work in the buildings that do not have an approved safe haven or safe area.

OIG recommended that OBO request an increase in funding for the Compound Security Upgrade Program to reflect this additional require- ment for compound emergency sanctuaries.

A compound emergency sanctuary is a protected building or room, within or adjacent to an on-compound, unprotected functional area, that is used as a temporary shelter during an attack or other crisis for personnel unable to reach or find accommodations in a safe haven, safe area, or 15-minute FEfBR- protected building. It provides 15-minute FEfBR protection for walls, windows, and doors, emergency power, ventilation, telephone, connectivity to the emergency notification system, and where feasible and reasonable, an emergency escape. (12 FAH-5 H-040, Glossary).

The two 2013 recommendations are listed as “Significant Resolved Office of Evaluations and Special Projects Recommendations Pending Final Department of State Action for More Than 12 Months” in State/OIG’s latest report to the Congress.  “Resolved” means an  agreement on the recommendation and proposed corrective action (remains open) but implementation has not been completed.

The  Jeddah terrorist attack occurred in 2004, the State/OIG recommendations were issued in 2013 and in the 2016 OIG report to Congress (PDF), we’re still seeing this as unfinished business? If there’s an excellent reason for this, we’d like to hear about it. Other previous posts:


Here are some news clips from this latest attack:

Updated 4;09 pm PT



US Embassy Saudi Arabia Cancels All Consular Services for March 18 (Day 4)

Posted: 1:41  am EDT
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Related posts:


US Embassy Saudi Arabia Extends Cancellation of Consular Services Until March 17

Posted: 7:32 pm PDT
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On March 14, we posted this: U.S. Diplomatic Posts in Saudi Arabia Cancel All Consular Services For March 15/16 Due to Security Concerns

Today, the U.S. Embassy in Saudi Arabia announced the continued cancellation of consular services until Tuesday, March 17.

Due to heightened security concerns at U.S. diplomatic facilities in Saudi Arabia, consular services will continue to be cancelled at the U.S. Embassy in Riyadh and Consulates General in Jeddah and Dhahran on Tuesday, March 17.  A new security message will be sent out as soon as consular services return to normal.  Telephone lines to the Consular sections will not be open during this time.  In an emergency, please use the  emergency contact numbers provided below.


U.S. Diplomatic Posts in Saudi Arabia Cancel All Consular Services For March 15/16 Due to Security Concerns

Posted: 4:28 pm PDT
Updated: 4:34 pm PDT with posts phone numbers
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The U.S. Embassy in Saudi Arabia announced today the cancellation of all consular services in Riyadh, and the consulates in Dhahran and Jeddah due to security concerns. Below is part of the announcement:

Due to heightened security concerns at U.S. diplomatic facilities in Saudi Arabia, the U.S. Embassy and Consulates have cancelled all consular services in Riyadh, Jeddah and Dhahran for Sunday, March 15 and Monday, March 16, 2015. Telephone lines to the Consular sections will not be open during these two days. In an emergency, please use the emergency contact numbers provided below.

All U.S. citizens are encouraged to be aware of their surroundings, and take extra precautions when travelling throughout the country. The Department of State urges U.S. citizens to carefully consider the risks of traveling to Saudi Arabia and limit non-essential travel within the country.
Always carry a cell phone and make sure you have emergency numbers pre-programmed into your phone such as the U.S. Embassy in Riyadh (011-488-3800), U.S. Consulate General in Jeddah (012-667-0080), and U.S. Consulate General in Dhahran (013-330-3200). The emergency number for the Saudi Police, Fire, and Rescue is 999. Please keep in mind that most emergency dispatchers and personnel do not speak English.


Original Map Source – CIA


On March 7, Embassy Riyadh notified U.S. citizens in Saudi Arabia that it had been made aware of information stating that” individuals associated with a terrorist organization are targeting employees of Chevron in Saudi Arabia for a possible attack. There is no further information on the timing, target, location, or method of any planned attacks.”

Yesterday, another security message released said that “individuals associated with a terrorist organization could be targeting Western oil workers, possibly to include those U.S. citizens working for oil companies in the Eastern Province, for an attack(s) and/or kidnapping(s). There is no further information on the timing, target, location, or method of any planned attacks.”

In February, the State Department updated its Travel Warning for Saudi Arabia urging U.S. citizens to carefully consider the risks of traveling to Saudi Arabia.  The warning noted the recent attacks on U.S. citizens and other Western expatriates, an attack on Shi’ite Muslims outside a community center in the Eastern Province on November 3, 2014, and continuing reports of threats against U.S. citizens and other Westerners in the Kingdom.

All three Saudi Arabian posts are 15% danger pay posts as of March 8, 2015.


Security Messages


The Sad Saga of US Consulate Jeddah’s New Consulate Compound via USASpending.gov

We previously blogged about USCG Jeddah  (see 2005 Jeddah ARB Recommended “Remote Safe Areas” for Embassies – Upgrades Coming … Or Maybe Not and New US Consulate in Jeddah – Under Construction Since 2007?)

There was a December 6, 2004 terrorist attack on USCG Jeddah where gunmen killed four locally employed staff members and injured nine others working outside the consulate building. At least six months before that, a $319,197 contract was awarded for the Jeddah facility upgrade.

Screen Shot 2013-04-20

On May 12, 2006, there was another attack on USCG Jeddah.  A number of shots were fired at the consulate compound but no casualties were reported.  Sixteen months after this attack and almost three years after the deadly 2004 attack, a $122,292,510 contract was awarded to Grunley Walsh for the design/build project in Jeddah.

Screen Shot 2013-04-20

Ten months later, a $390,000 contract was also awarded to Grunley Walsh for the design/build project in Jeddah. The reason for the modification was for “funding only action” whatever that means.

Screen Shot 2013-04-20
On February 11, 2009, the $122,205,676 contract with the Grunley Walsh Limited Liability Company was again modified. The reason indicated for modification was “change order.” USASpending data indicates that the current contract value at the time of modification was $19,000 with $122,205,676 obligated.

Grunley-Walsh was renamed Aurora-LLC after it was sold.  At least, by April 29, 2010, Grunley-Walsh had become Aurora-LLC because according to McClatchy News, Aurora-LLC lawyers at that time were then dealing with the State Department’s Bureau of Overseas Building Operations on its subcontractor issue with First Kuwaiti.

On May 10, 2010, Aurora was terminated from the Jeddah contract according to McClatchy News citing a State Department official, “after 90 percent of the contract period had expired, with only 54 percent of the work done.”

On November 18, 2010, Aurora LLC was mentioned in a letter from the Project on Government Oversight (POGO) to the White House questioning the independence of the State Department’s Inspector General.

As an aside — the website grunley-walsh.com is currently an online parking lot. Aurora-LLC is now a “page not found” although you can still find the cache version of the website here.  Findthecompany.com has an online snapshot of Aurora-LLC here showing $240 million in revenue in 2011.

The planned USCG Jeddah (image from state.gov/obo)

The planned USCG Jeddah (image from state.gov/obo)

We are unable to locate information on what happened to this project after the contract was reportedly terminated on May 10, 2010. We presumed incorrectly that there was another contractor after the contract was terminated in 2010; there does not appear to be one.  But two years and four months after that May 10, 2010 termination, there is a new contract and a new contractor.

On September 27, 2012, a $100,543,000 contract was awarded to American International Contractors, Inc.  While the USASpending page only states that this is for the construction of a New Consulate Compound in Saudi Arabia, the publicly available document on FDCD 2012 Fiscal Year OBO Capital Project Awards does indicate that SAQMMA-12-C-0221 for $100,543,000 is for the Jeddah NCC with an expected completion date of 24 months.

Screen Shot 2013-04-20

So excluding the facility upgrade in 2004, it looks like the Jeddah NCC which has been on the planning/construction/hold/construction/delivery phase since 2007 now amounts to $233,225,510. We’re terrible at math, but it looks like this project is now years delayed and almost double the original contract.

In addition, this project has now spanned the tenures of three secretaries of state – Rice, Clinton, and Kerry. Neither the State Department’s Inspector General Office nor the oversight people in Congress appears terribly bothered by the delay or the expanded cost of this project.

If anyone has the stories beyond the paper trail, we’d like to hear about it.

Meanwhile, a trip down memory lane —

In 2005, then Secretary Condoleeza Rice said this:

[W]e will also make sure that the tremendous charge that we have to lead the diplomatic effort, to support those diplomatic efforts, to train people well, to make sure that people are safe and secure in the embassies, to make sure that our nationals abroad have access to us so that they can be secure in dangerous times, that those will be very high priorities. I know they are very high priorities for me. They are high priorities for the President, as well. We will do everything we can to make sure that we’ve got the resources that we need.

Then there’s Secretary Hillary Clinton who said this:

[P]lease know that nothing is more important to us than your safety, and making sure you have secure places to live and work is our top priority.

Current Secretary of State John Kerry said this not too long ago:

I guarantee you that, beginning this morning when I report for duty upstairs, everything I do will be focused on the security and safety of our people. 


Somebody please put Jeddah on his agenda.  Of course, we can’t expect the secretary of state to be hammering nails at wherever place, but all that talk  and years on this … it’s sad to see that  USCG Jeddah is still missing a new secure building and no one seems to be upset about it.

— DS

Correction: USASpending.gov not/not USASpending.com

New US Consulate in Jeddah – Under Construction Since 2007?

We recently blogged about the US Consulate General in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia (see 2005 Jeddah ARB Recommended “Remote Safe Areas” for Embassies – Upgrades Coming … Or Maybe Not).  Then, as often the case, a reader writes; this time with a question  —  hey, do you know that we have constructed the shell of a new consulate in Jeddah on a big compound that just sits empty?

Nope, didn’t know that. We’ve been looking around and saw this:

The planned USCG Jeddah (image from state.gov/obo)

The planned USCG Jeddah (image from state.gov/obo)

The OBO website has few details about the Jeddah New Consulate Compound (NCC):

Estimated Construction Completion:  February 29, 2012
General Construction Contractor:  TBD
Architectural Firm: [blank]

Back in 2007, Arab News actually covered this new site. The NCC according to the news, citing a statement from USCG Jeddah, was supposed to  start construction in late 2007, and be completed in 2009:

JEDDAH, 13 August 2007 — The US Consulate in Jeddah is to be relocated within two to three years at a new site on the corner of King Road (Al-Malik Road) and Sari Street. Work is currently under way to prepare the new location, which will also serve as the consul general’s residence.

According to a press release posted on the consulate’s website, the newly appointed US Ambassador to Saudi Arabia Ford M. Fraker visited the new site on May 20 accompanied by Consul General Tatiana C. Gfoeller. The press release, however, did not identify the location.

“The visit follows a recent agreement approved by the Government of Saudi Arabia to purchase land for the new Consulate General compound. Construction for the new facilities will begin later in 2007 and is expected to be completed in 2009,” the statement said.

Then on June 10, 2010, in an article titled, Did the State Dept go to bat for First Kuwaiti? McClatchy News added a piece to the Jeddah puzzle:

“The official noted that Aurora was terminated from the Jeddah contract on May 10 this year, after 90 percent of the contract period had expired, with only 54 percent of the work done. (Aurora, according to other letters we obtained, is demanding $10.5 million in breach damages from the government, as well as $5.7 million for work it performed).”

If First Kuwaiti sounds familiar, that’s because in August 2011, the Project on Government Oversight (POGO) also reported about this in Contractor Behind Bungled Embassy Construction Sends State Dept. List of Claims Totaling $375 Million.  

The State Department official who spoke to McClatchy News in June 2010 confirmed that the  Jeddah contract was terminated in May 2010 with only 54% of the work done.

The Bureau of Overseas Buildings Bureau of Overseas Building  Operations’ Design and Construction Program for FEDCon 2013 – The Market Outlook on Federal Construction dated January 9, 2013 listed the Jeddah NCC (see slide 24) as one of the recently awarded projects.  The contractor listed for the project is the American International Contractors (AIC). According to its website, in 2012 AICI-SP was awarded contracts for construction of Department of State facilities in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia and Taipei, Taiwan. It looks like the Jeddah NCC contract was for $100,543,000.00 awarded on 28 Sep 2012 for  a 24 month duration.

If the Jeddah NCC originally started construction in 2007 with a 2009 completion date, and the original contractor was terminated in 2010, the termination happened when it was already behind schedule. We presumed though cannot confirmed  that a new contractor was selected after that with an expected delivery date of February 29, 2012. If that worked out, there would not have been a reason to re-award this contact in 2012.  But there it is.

If anyone has a clearer and more straight-forward timeline for this project, please feel free to leave a comment or drop a line via contactify.  This new consulate is supposed to replace the old consulate which was attacked by terrorists on Dec. 6, 2004 and again on May 12, 2006.  We’d like to understand how this NCC can be 3-5 years behind schedule.  And if the 2012 contract is for $100,543,000.00, how much would be the total cost of Jeddah NCC when you add all the previous contracts for this facility alone? Is this phase whatever of one contract?

We don’t know anything more than what we’ve written here, which is not a lot, but — if this facility has been under construction since 2007 and in 2013 you can walk around in there and not a creature is stirring, something is the matter. And not knowing the answers to the what and whys are nagging us, um, literally to death!!

Now on the off chance that you’re reading this from Jeddah and doing your visa and ACS interviews from inside this new NCC, please send us a note and tell us when you moved in.

— DS





2005 Jeddah ARB Recommended “Remote Safe Areas” for Embassies – Upgrades Coming … Or Maybe Not

The results of the Accountability Review Board convened after the terrorist attack of the U.S. Consulate General in Jeddah was never released to the public. So the only recommendation that we know of, which to-date has not been remedied is that one about the construction of safe areas within the embassy compounds.  And the only reason we know about this? The OIG posted its 5-page review online.

A remote safe area, cited by a March 2013 5-page OIG review is “a designated area within a building that serves as an emergency sanctuary and provides at least 15- minute forced-entry and ballistic-resistant (FE/BR) protection, emergency power, ventilation, communications, and emergency egress (12 FAH-5 H-040, Glossary).”

Correct me if I’m wrong, but I think the intent for this is to have a temporary sanctuary for people who are not able to get into the safe haven which offers a longer FE/BR protection.

The brief OIG document published online details the background:

During the December 6, 2004 terrorist attack at the U.S. consulate in Jeddah, gunmen killed four locally employed staff members and injured nine others working outside the consulate building. An ARB determined that these employees were killed or injured because the general services annex building did not have a safe area to which the employees could retreat. The Department concurred with the ARB recommendation to construct safe areas throughout compounds at posts worldwide. It planned to address first the most vulnerable posts with critical and high terrorist threat levels and proposed that the OSPB address compound safe areas as a formal security standard for all posts.

Here is a clip of that attack:

Why is this coming up now?

Apparently the OIG did four inspection cycles in 2012 where inspectors visited 17 missions.  65 percent of the missions visited  (11 out of 17) did not have remote safe areas.  What more, “none of the RSOs could identify a safe area that was constructed as a result of the Jeddah ARB.”  The inspectors also found that four missions rated high or critical for terrorist threat or political violence “lack of a compound emergency sanctuary.”

During four inspection cycles in 2012, security inspectors visited 17 missions and made several significant observations. The inspectors identified 11 missions that did not have remote safe areas and made formal or informal recommendations to construct compound emergency sanctuaries on the compounds. Of the remaining six posts, three had sufficient safe areas and three were small enough that employees could quickly access the chancery safe areas during an emergency. Security inspectors noted the lack of a compound emergency sanctuary at each of four missions rated high or critical for terrorist threat or political violence. In addition, none of the regional security officers in the 17 posts could identify a safe area that was constructed as a result of the Jeddah ARB.

The OIG document only indicates review of 17 missions out of over 283 compounds worldwide.  A high percentage of the 17 missions reviewed, about 65% did not have the recommended safe areas.  So if we expand that to cover all post worldwide, that’s potentially 185 compounds around the world with no safe areas.  The OIG says:

Inspectors also found that new embassy compounds constructed after the Jeddah attack did not include remote safe areas. OIG subsequently learned that the Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations (OBO) will implement the standards for all new embassy compound projects planned after FY 2012.

$200 million needed to upgrade 283 compounds, but then it gets tricky ….

The FY 2013 Department budget request to Congress included $688 million for security upgrades, including $87.7 million for CSUP. According to the budget request, the program funds comprehensive security upgrades, major FE/BR door and window replacements, chemical/biological retrofit projects, emergency egress projects, and security upgrades for soft targets. The budget request does not specifically mention compound emergency sanctuaries as one of the projects; however, the action memorandum signed in 2011 identified CSUP as the source of funding for the estimated $200 million necessary to upgrade 283 compounds. The memorandum also notes that funding for compound emergency sanctuary upgrades would be provided in competition with other worldwide priorities.

Funding for CSUP has declined over the past 5 years from a high of $108 million in FY 2008 to the current level of $95 million under the continuing resolution. Adding another $200 million security program to the CSUP without a corresponding increase in funding will likely result in many embassies not receiving a compound emergency sanctuary upgrade for many years.

And that’s where we’re at on a 7-8 year old Jeddah ARB recommendation. How many more accepted recommendations from that ARB alone are languishing in dark binders labeled “implementations?”  How many more from other unreleased ARBs?

Doesn’t it make you wonder if an ARB is just a pretty harmless paper hammer.

— DS


Related post:

A ‘Rocking Affair’ and Finally Watching the Terror Attack on U.S. Consulate Jeddah


Related item:

Review of Department of State Implementation of Jeddah Accountability Review Board of Recommendation to Consider Remote Safe Areas at Missions Worldwide (pdf)




Where are the Accountability Review Boards for Embassy Breaches in Tunisia and Yemen?

The Accountability Review Board regulations for convening the Board has a good description of a security-related incident:

“A case of serious injury, loss of life, or significant destruction of property at or related to a U.S. Government mission abroad, or a case of a serious breach of security involving intelligence activities or a foreign government directed at a U.S. mission abroad (other than a facility or installation subject to the control of a U.S. area military commander).”

In early October, Secretary Clinton officially convened the ARB to examine the circumstances surrounding the deaths of personnel assigned in support of the U.S. Government mission to Libya in Benghazi on September 11, 2012. Unless the Board requests additional time, the ARB report should be available to the secretary on or about December 4.

We recognize that the Benghazi attack has practically sucked out all the oxygen in the room.  The four deaths in Benghazi included that of an ambassador, a high profile attack against a top American official which has not happened in over three decades.   The attack also happened amidst a political campaign, so inevitably reactions are all over the place as well as numerous competing agendas. But — it is worth noting that in addition to Benghazi, there were multiple US embassies attacked on that week of September 11.  We understand from people inside the building that with the exception of Benghazi (which had a vague diplomatic status), the attack on US Embassy Tunis was the worst since Islamist militants attacked the US consulate in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia in 2004. In that incident, attackers used explosives and machine guns, and while there were no American casualty, five locally employed staff and one local guard were killed.

Most of the protests on September 11, 2012 were angry and loud, but even the largest ones like those in Pakistan did not get into the embassy compound.  In countries where governments stood by their obligation under the Vienna Conventions, policemen and riot control forces successfully defended US personnel and premises.  This was not just a burden to the host government forces. In fact, in some cases it had dire consequences as policemen were killed or wounded during the mob attack.

We will not list the names of all our missions attacked that week, but we’ll make special mention of the mob attack at the US Embassy in Cairo because that’s where it started on Tuesday, September 11, 2012.  Protesters scaled the embassy wall and tore down the American flag to replace it with a black Islamic flag. The President of Egypt had no official reaction to the attack until Thursday, two days later.

On September 13, protesters stormed the grounds of the U.S. embassy in Sana’a where they smashed windows, burned about 60 cars and the US flag. Police reportedly fired into the air in an attempt to hold back the crowds, but failed to prevent them from gaining access to the compound and setting fire to vehicles.

for ARB_yemen

On September 14, protesters reportedly breached the outside wall of the US Embassy compound in Khartoum and clashed with guards. There were press accounts that protestors were transported to US Embassy Khartoum in host government green buses.

In Tunis, on September 14, protesters entered the compound of the U.S. embassy after climbing the embassy walls, looted USG properties, torched several facilities including the pool and over 100 vehicles. The protesters also attacked the American Cooperative School of Tunis and set it on fire. Below is part of a series of photos posted in as-ansar.com a domain reportedly associated with one of the most popular Salafi-jihadi forums online.

as-ansar image from US Embassy Tunis

These certainly were not just protesters mad over a no-rate video. Their handiwork were on display. At the US Embassy in Tunis, they left notes all over the embassy buildings. One says “You killed Bin Laden and we are all Bin Laden.” Another one says, “We are all Osama.

Fortunately, no one died in Tunis, but as in USCG Jeddah, the US Embassy Tunis compound was breached, several structures were torched including the motor pool and over 100 vehicles. There is obviously significant destruction of property.  There was an extensive collection photos of the damage to the embassy compound following the attack but those photos are no longer publicly available.

Congress allows the Secretary of State 60 days from the date of a security incident to convene an ARB.  Except for the one on Benghazi, the State Department has yet to announce if an Accountability Review Board will be convened for any of the embassy breaches.

screen capture_tunis after

This blog believes that the ARB for the worst breaches like those in US Embassy Tunis and US Embassy Sana’a are needed if only to answer some questions:

  • What does it mean when a mob comes over embassy walls and the situation does not get under control by host country authorities for 4 or more hours. Does it mean the host country does not have enough resources to protect the diplomatic premises or does it know and allow what is about to happen possible? When host country response is slow or non-existent, is it a case of political posturing – agreeing to let extreme elements of that country into the American compound thinking this is a harmless game only to have it spin out of control?
  • This will happen again. What should be the USG’s policy for countries that do not strongly adhere to their international obligation to protect diplomats and our diplomatic premises? Sure we want to support these new democracies but we are not doing ourselves any favors by not having a well understood policy on the consequences for this abrogation of host country obligation.
  • If a mob can scale 9-foot walls that easily, and help from host country authorities are slow or not forthcoming, what are the recommended options for the embassy staff short of getting into a safehaven and waiting to be roasted like ducks? What lessons were learned from these mob attacks? Were these lessons collected and disseminated back to all posts?
  • If the safehaven rooms are to function as the embassy’s “safe haven” for employees under attack, shouldn’t these rooms require not only fireproofing but also be fully smoke sealed?  Alternatively, are smoke masks available?  Inhalation injury from smoke may account for as many as 60-80% of fire-related deaths.  Fireproof rooms would not be of much used if the protectees subsequently die of smoke inhalation.
  • In the Iran hostage crisis, an embassy official went out to try and talk to the mob only to be captured. The mob threatened to execute him and that was how they got to open the secured doors.  What guidance is available to US employees and local staff on what to save/not save in terms of outside the hardwall embassy properties when there is a mob attack? How is that risk balanced with the potential to be taken hostage?
  • In the Iran hostage crisis, an earlier attack was a prelude to the hostage taking later in the year. The attackers were able to scoped out the location of unsecured windows and used it to get into the building during the later attack. The attackers also presumed quite correctly, that no one would fire on women, so the mob had women march on front.  What current vulnerabilities within the compounds could have been learned by the attackers and potentially useful in the next attacks?
  • What are the standard operating procedures for shutting off the fuel and gas lines, chlorine, other utilities for the embassy compounds? Are there any? Are the locations easily identified and accessible?
  • Is it more advantageous to continue the path of co-location of facilities and other agencies inside one hardened facility (and provide a single target) or does the policy of co-location provide more vulnerabilities than acceptable?
  • The protesters used hand tools like sledgehammers, bolt croppers , cutters, other tools to attack the buildings inside the compounds. Were these tools brought in by attackers or were these embassy tools? If these were embassy tools, how and where were they secured prior to the attacks?
  • How did the protesters easily got on top of the chancery buildings? Were these buildings constructed with built- in ladders? If so, is it time to revisit this and if the built-in ladders are there for “aesthetics” maybe it is time to screw that? As a precaution, what has been done to the current buildings constructed with built in ladders?tunis_up the built in ladder
  • Where should the motor pool be located?  Inside a compound or elsewhere? The motor pool has cars, cars have fuel, fuel can go kaboom and set the next building, which might just be the Chancery, on fire.
  • How well did the local guard force respond to the attacks? Are there lessons to be learned?
  • Has the State Department updated its use of force policy since the embassy attacks? If so, what red lines require the corresponding response of active use of force? If not, why not?  Should Senator McCain’s amendment 3051 becomes law and the Department of Defense changes its rules of engagement for Marines stationed at embassies and consulates “so they could engage in combat when attacked,” how would this affect embassy operation and outreach? Who gets to make that call to engage in combat, the RSO or the ambassador?

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