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Friday, October 30, 2015


What did we learn about Benghazi during the recent Select Committee 11-hour grilling of Hillary Clinton?
Not much, because:
  • the questions were so often unrelated to Benghazi
  • the questioners, at least on the Republican side, were intent on attacking the witness, not in ferreting out the problems and solutions that might actually be related to the attack upon our embassy in Benghazi.
  • the questions from Republicans were personal, not investigative
  • this was not a serious hearing held by a reasonable and intelligent committee;  but admittedly a political event meant to tarnish the reputation and campaign of a democratic contender for the presidency (confirmed by remarks of at least three Republican Congressmen, including Richard Hanna of NY’s 22nd Congressional District)
 Apparently, no new information was acquired after 11 hours of testimony, at least according to the Chairman in answer to (or inability to answer) a reporter who asked him to name one new thing learned and he could not do so, after saying that Hillary said nothing new!  Since when is the witness supposed to be in charge of providing something new?  This was the responsibility of the Committee, not the witness.  The Committee did not do its job.

  • It was about Hillary’s emails, not Benghazi
  • It was about Sidney Blumenthal who wasn’t in Benghazi; wasn’t a government official; wasn’t a State Department member, but a friendly contact of Bill and Hillary who apparently has much to say about many issues
  • It was about Hillary’s staff, not about security staff in Benghazi
  • It was about the parsing of words, not about the power of actions on behalf of Benghazi staff and their families.
 What did we not learn about Benghazi?  We did not learn:
  • what is needed to improve security at foreign embassies and diplomatic locations
  • the amount of money being spent on guarding our embassies, or how much more is needed
  • how many private contractors are guarding our embassies and how effective they are
  • which congressmen have voted for and against cuts in embassy security
  • what decision-making process is in place for requesting more security
  • how that decision-making process is failing and how it is working well; how it can be improved
  • how the ARB report applies to Benghazi and how it can be used to reform the security of our diplomatic people and buildings
  • who killed our people in Benghazi; how do we bring them to justice?
  • why members of the armed forces stationed in risky countries are not automatically assigned to guard our diplomatic people and embassies
  • whether there is any plan to increase the security budget
 What was the purpose of the committee?  Apparently, like some other so-called investigations (e.g. IRS determinations of non-profit status), it was purely political and thus illegitimate.  Unfortunately, it was also expensive, and millions of taxpayer dollars have been wasted.

I have seen congressional hearings on TV, and have experienced the operations of some committees before which I had opportunity to testify.  I do not remember anything quite like this!  This was without question, a politicizing of an occurrence that involved a tragic outcome: the death of four members of the diplomatic and security team at the Benghazi facility.  The basic questions that needed to be asked never got much attention:
  1. How could this tragedy have been avoided or averted?
  2. Why weren’t troops or contractors available to help that night?
  3. Why were some of the ambassador’s requests for security upgrades not answered or denied?
  4. What constitutes adequate protection for our diplomatic staff and locations?
  5. Do we need a better rating system for determining the strength of embassy protection?
  6. Should we have a full evaluation of our current State Department on-going plans (and emergency Plans) for protecting our facilities?
  7. What happened moment by moment when the compound was attacked (the ARB Timeline could have been used to go through the events step-by-step in order to make recommendations as to what might be done in similar future circumstances)? 
  8. What might have been improved or done differently without judgments of character or  personality; what alternative actions might be useful in future circumstances?
 Strangely enough, the Congress already had access to eight separate reports on Benghazi, but it seems they were reluctant about using conclusions and recommendations contained therein to spark some kind of pragmatic and constructive legislative action.

The special Accountability Review Board (ARB) Report made several significant recommendations but at no time did the Select Committee ask the witness how she regarded them, nor did they question her reasons for putting some in effect but not others. Above all, the committee members did not ask her what she would have personally recommended be done in the future.  To be somewhat investigative ourselves, let us look at some of the findings of the ARB.

“As called for by the Act (Title III of the Omnibus Diplomatic and Antiterrorism Act of 1986), this report examines: whether the attacks were security related; whether security systems and procedures were adequate and implemented properly; the impact of intelligence and information availability; whether any other facts or circumstances in these cases may be relevant to appropriate security management of U.S. missions worldwide; and, finally, whether any U.S. government employee or contractor, as defined by the Act, breached her or his duty.”

1. The attacks were security related, involving arson, small arms and machine gun fire, and the use of RPGs, grenades, and mortars against U.S. personnel at two separate facilities – the SMC and the Annex – and en route between them.  Responsibility for the tragic loss of life, injuries, and damage to U.S. facilities and property rests solely and completely with the terrorists who perpetrated the attacks. The Board concluded that there was no protest prior to the attacks, which were unanticipated in their scale and intensity.

2. Systemic failures and leadership and management deficiencies at senior levels within two bureaus of the State Department (the “Department”) resulted in a Special Mission security posture that was inadequate for Benghazi and grossly inadequate to deal with the attack that took place.  Security in Benghazi was not recognized and implemented as a “shared responsibility” by the bureaus in Washington charged with supporting the post… That said, Embassy Tripoli did not demonstrate strong and sustained advocacy with Washington for increased security for Special Mission Benghazi.
Overall, the number of Bureau of Diplomatic Security (DS) security staff in Benghazi on the day of the attack and in the months and weeks leading up to it was inadequate, despite repeated requests from Special Mission Benghazi and Embassy Tripoli for additional staffing.   At the same time, dependence on the armed but poorly skilled Libyan February 17 Martyrs’ Brigade (February 17) militia members and unarmed, locally contracted Blue Mountain Libya (BML) guards for security support was misplaced.
Among various Department bureaus and personnel in the field, there appeared to be very real confusion over who, ultimately, was responsible and empowered to make decisions based on both policy and security considerations.

3. Notwithstanding the proper implementation of security systems and procedures and remarkable heroism shown by American personnel, those systems and the Libyan response fell short…  The Board found the responses by both the BML guards and ‘February 17’ to be inadequate.  The Board found the Libyan government’s response to be profoundly lacking on the night of the attacks, reflecting both weak capacity and near absence of central government influence and control in Benghazi. .

The Board determined that U.S. personnel on the ground in Benghazi performed with courage and readiness to risk their lives to protect their colleagues, in a near impossible situation. The Board members believe every possible effort was made to rescue and recover Ambassador Stevens and Sean Smith. The interagency response was timely and appropriate, but there simply was not enough time for armed U.S. military assets to have made a difference.

4. The Board found that intelligence provided no immediate, specific tactical warning of the September 11 attacks. Known gaps existed in the intelligence community’s understanding of extremist militias in Libya and the potential threat they posed to U.S. interests, although some threats were known to exist.

5. The Board found that certain senior State Department officials within two bureaus demonstrated a lack of proactive leadership and management ability in their responses to security concerns posed by Special Mission Benghazi, given the deteriorating threat environment and the lack of reliable host government protection.  However, the Board did not find reasonable cause to determine that any individual U.S. government employee breached his or her duty.

The ARB made a substantial number of recommendations within the context of six categories.  (I have chosen to include details because they have not been adequately addressed elsewhere.)

1. The Department must strengthen security for personnel and platforms beyond traditional reliance on host government security support in high risk, high threat posts. The Department should urgently review the proper balance between acceptable risk and expected outcomes in high risk, high threat areas.  Assessments must be made on a case-by case basis and repeated as circumstances change.
2. The Board recommends that the Department re-examine DS (Bureau of Diplomatic Security) organization and management, with a particular emphasis on span of control for security policy planning for all overseas U.S. diplomatic facilities. In this context, the recent creation of a new Diplomatic Security Deputy Assistant Secretary for High Threat Posts could be a positive first step if integrated into a sound strategy for DS reorganization.
3. As the President’s personal representative, the Chief of Mission bears “direct and full responsibility for the security of [his or her] mission and all the personnel for whom [he or she is] responsible,” and thus for risk management in the country to which he or she is accredited. In Washington, each regional Assistant Secretary has a corresponding responsibility to support the Chief of Mission in executing this duty. Regional bureaus should have augmented support within the bureau on security matters, to include a senior DS officer to report to the regional Assistant Secretary.
4. The Department should establish a panel of outside independent experts (military, security, humanitarian) with experience in high risk, high threat areas to support DS, identify best practices (from other agencies and other countries), and regularly evaluate U.S. security platforms in high risk, high threat posts.  (The Board defines “high risk, high threat” posts as those in countries with high to critical levels of political violence and terrorism, governments of weak capacity, and security platforms that fall well below established standards.)
5. The Department should develop minimum security standards for occupancy of temporary facilities in high risk, high threat environments, and seek greater flexibility for the use of Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations (OBO) sources of funding so that they can be rapidly made available for security upgrades at such facilities.
6. Before opening or re-opening critical threat or high risk, high threat posts, the Department should establish a multi-bureau support cell, residing in the regional bureau. The support cell should work to expedite the approval and funding for establishing and operating the post, implementing physical security measures, staffing of security and management personnel, and providing equipment, continuing as conditions at the post require.
7. All State Department and other government agencies’ facilities should be co-located when they are in the same metropolitan area, unless a waiver has been approved.
8. The Secretary should require an action plan from DS, OBO and other relevant offices on the use of fire as a weapon against diplomatic facilities, including immediate steps to deal with urgent issues. The report should also include reviews of fire safety and crisis management training for all employees and dependents, safe-haven standards and fire safety equipment, and recommendations to facilitate survival in smoke and fire situations.
9. Tripwires are too often treated only as indicators of threat rather than an essential trigger mechanism for serious risk management decisions and actions. The Department should revise its guidance to posts and require key offices to perform in-depth status checks of post tripwires.
10. The State Department must work with Congress to restore the Capital Security Cost Sharing Program at its full capacity, adjusted for inflation to approximately $2.2 billion in fiscal year 2015, including an up to ten-year program addressing that need, prioritized for construction of new facilities in high risk, high threat areas.
It should also work with Congress to expand utilization of Overseas Contingency Operations funding to respond to emerging security threats and vulnerabilities and operational requirements in high risk, high threat posts.
11. The Board supports the State Department’s initiative to request additional Marines and expand the Marine Security Guard (MSG) Program – as well as corresponding requirements for staffing and funding. The Board also recommends that the State Department and DoD identify additional flexible MSG structures and request further resources for the Department and DoD to provide more capabilities and capacities at higher risk posts.

12. The Board strongly endorses the Department’s request for increased DS personnel for high- and critical-threat posts and for additional Mobile Security Deployment teams, as well as an increase in DS domestic staffing in support of such action.
13. The Department should assign key policy, program, and security personnel at high risk, high threat posts for a minimum of one year. The ARB suggests a comprehensive review of human resources authorities with an eye to using those authorities to promote sending more experienced officers, including “When Actually Employed” (WAE) personnel, to these high risk, high threat locations, particularly in security and management positions for longer periods of time.
14. The Department needs to review the staffing footprints at high risk, high threat posts, with particular attention to ensuring adequate Locally Employed Staff (LES) and management support. High risk, high threat posts must be funded and the human resources process prioritized to hire LES interpreters and translators.
15. With increased and more complex diplomatic activities in the Middle East, the Department should enhance its on-going efforts to significantly upgrade its language capacity, especially Arabic, among American employees, including DS, and receive greater resources to do so.

16. A panel of Senior Special Agents and Supervisory Special Agents should revisit DS high-threat training with respect to active internal defense and fire survival as well as Chief of Mission protective detail training.
17. The Diplomatic Security Training Center and Foreign Service Institute should collaborate in designing joint courses that integrate high threat training and risk management decision processes for senior and mid-level DS agents and Foreign Service Officers and better prepare them for leadership positions in high risk, high threat posts. They should consult throughout the U.S. government for best practices and lessons learned. Foreign Affairs Counter Threat training should be mandatory for high risk, high threat posts, whether an individual is assigned permanently or in longer-term temporary duty status.

18. The Department should ensure provision of adequate fire safety and security equipment for safe havens and safe areas in non-Inman/SECCA facilities, as well as high threat Inman facilities. (“Inman buildings” are diplomatic facilities that meet the mandatory minimum physical security standards established after the 1985 Inman Report.  SECCA refers to the Secure Embassy Construction and Counterterrorism Act of 1999 that mandated standards for newly acquired diplomatic facilities)
19. There have been technological advancements in non-lethal deterrents, and the State Department should ensure it rapidly and routinely identifies and procures additional options for non-lethal deterrents in high risk, high threat posts and trains personnel on their use.
20. DS should upgrade surveillance cameras at high risk, high threat posts for greater resolution, nighttime visibility, and monitoring capability beyond post.

21. Post-2001, intelligence collection has expanded exponentially, but the Benghazi attacks are a stark reminder that we cannot over-rely on the certainty or even likelihood of warning intelligence. Careful attention should be given to factors showing a deteriorating threat situation in general as a basis for improving security posture. Key trends must be quickly identified and used to sharpen risk calculations.
22. The DS Office of Intelligence and Threat Analysis should report directly to the DS Assistant Secretary and directly supply threat analysis to all DS components, regional Assistant Secretaries and Chiefs of Mission in order to get key security-related threat information into the right hands more rapidly.

23. The Board recognizes that poor performance does not ordinarily constitute a breach of duty that would serve as a basis for disciplinary action but is instead addressed through the performance management system. However, the Board is of the view that findings of unsatisfactory leadership performance by senior officials in relation to the security incident under review should be a potential basis for discipline recommendations by future ARBs, and would recommend a revision of Department regulations or amendment to the relevant statute to this end.
24. The Board was humbled by the courage and integrity shown by those on the ground in Benghazi and Tripoli.  In particular the DS agents and Annex team who defended their colleagues; the Tripoli response team which mobilized without hesitation; those in Benghazi and Tripoli who cared for the wounded; and the many U.S. government employees who served in Benghazi under difficult conditions in the months leading up to the September 11-12 attacks which epitomized the highest ideals of government service.

“The ARB has examined the terrorist attacks in Benghazi with an eye towards how we can better advance American interests and protect our personnel in an increasingly complex and dangerous world. This Board presents its findings and recommendations with the unanimous conclusion that while the United States cannot retreat in the face of such challenges, we must work more rigorously and adeptly to address them, and that American diplomats and security professionals, like their military colleagues, serve the nation in an inherently risky profession.”

I have gone on at length here because I am certain that few ordinary citizens have actually read this information, and are therefore unaware of the depth and detail that has already been garnered by a distinguished panel of experts.  The Congressional Select Committee, in stark contrast, chose to deal with nothing but political posturing, innuendo, and potentially slanderous implications.  A serious investigation might well have built upon this ARB Report, particularly concerning the detailed Timeline presented in that Report, and as to the 24 recommendations it produced.

 We are left to wonder whether the radical Right Republicans on this congressional “Select Committee” have any business conducting the People’s business.  Compared to the ARB Report, their “investigation” was an expensive farcical sham, to say the least!