U.S Diplomatic Corps Deserve Better
We owe it to the brave Americans killed and injured during the attack on our diplomatic mission in Benghazi not to leave any stone unturned in determining what occurred before and during the assault. But Congress’ responsibility does not and must not end there.
Congress must exercise similar due diligence in assessing what corrective measures have been undertaken to address problems that have been identified. It must step in with legislative action if the Administration does not implement the necessary reforms to help prevent the future loss of Americans serving overseas.
We know the Department of State failed to connect the dots between the information they received from across the government. The most critical data point came from personnel on the ground in Libya who repeatedly warned about the increased risks to the Benghazi facility.
Officials at Foggy Bottom also missed the critical tripwires. They did not appear to consider the attacks, kidnappings, assassination attempts against other interests and personnel in Benghazi as game changers for the U.S. This is not 20/20 hindsight. There was plenty of information available to the policymakers in DC to reach a reasonable conclusion that the Benghazi facility was not secure, and it appears the soon to be released Sullivan report will further confirm this.
We know that U.S. security presence was reduced while Libyan elements were trusted to fill the gap. This decision was made amidst concerns about extremist ties of some Libyan groups. The Accountability Review Board (ARB) therefore concluded that there were significant “systemic failures” that led to the death of our personnel in Benghazi.
The Deputy Secretaries of State appeared before the House and Senate foreign affairs committees in December 2012 and referenced actions underway to implement the ARB’s recommendations. Five months later, on May 20th, the State Department issued a summary of such implementation. It went generally unnoticed then, and received little attention this week during separate House committee hearings with the Under Secretary of State for Management and the Co-Chairmen of the ARB. This is regrettable as there are a number of actions outlined by the Department in the summary document that merit further examination, if a strategy is to be crafted to help prevent another terrorist attack on our diplomatic facilities.
For example, the findings of the panel of independent experts concerning U.S. security platforms in high risk, high threat posts are critical in developing requirements for our diplomatic posts, regardless of whether these are permanent or temporary facilities. This must reflect conditions in the field and lessons learned from Benghazi. In the interim, the waiver that currently exists with respect to location, perimeter, and fortification of our overseas posts should be suspended.
The recently established High Threat Board is to review our presence at High Threat, High Risk posts every six months. What if intelligence indicates a change in threat levels between reviews? How will the Security Environment Threat List inform the assessments? How often will the List be updated by Diplomatic Security? Related to this,
“The Department reviewed and revised requirements for posts on how to respond to changing security benchmarks… and established a Washington-based “Tripwires Committee” to review tripwires upon breach, to help ensure that posts and regional bureaus in Washington respond more quickly should security deteriorate at post.”
What are the new benchmarks, procedures, mechanics? Have personnel from High Threat/High Risk posts been involved in the work of the Tripwires Committee? Have any Benghazi survivors? Will posts be able to adapt the generic guidelines to address their specific environment? Will they have independence in responding to security breaches? How will decisions on extension of Site Security Teams be reached?
Will the Embassy Security Act of 1999 need updating to ensure Emergency Action Plans address threats revealed by the Benghazi attack? Should determinations on FEST team deployments be shifted to the field personnel and away from the bureaucracy in Washington?
According to the May 20th summary document, the Department also “established a panel of Supervisory Special Agents to participate in a Program Review of the High Threat Tactical Course; as a result, DS revised high-threat training and COM protective detail training and raised standards for passing the High Threat Tactical Course.” This appears to be focused solely on security personnel. What capacity building and training is taking place for our diplomats serving at High Threat/High Risk posts?
A separate six-person team was also created to “thoroughly review DS’s organization and management structure.” The Congress should be informed of the panel’s draft findings and actions undertaken. However, the failures identified by the ARB were system-wide.
Former U.S. Ambassador to Kenya Prudence Bushnell, a survivor of the 1998 al-Qaeda attacks against our embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam, spoke to this at the National Press Club in March of this year. She underscored the need for an extensive review of “the mission of the State Department, the culture of its management and its leadership with the aim toward action.”
Ambassador Bushnell said that management in D.C. was and is “resource-driven”, rather than “mission-driven.” She further highlighted the need to revise interoperability between national security agencies; to update the State Department’s aging systems; and address the differing functions in the field versus at headquarters—something she had referenced in an article published just days after the Benghazi attack. She said at that time that Foreign Service Officers are “rushed into the field short on training” and “we don’t invest in the mobile communications and security technology that would protect diplomats when they leave the embassy, as they must.”
The Department has yet to address this disconnect but neither has Congress used its oversight or legislative power to drive such an effort.
There are proposals to reform the ARB process—a noble endeavor, but one which presupposes another attack on a U.S. facility. Authorizing the addition of Marines to certain posts, fully funding embassy security/construction accounts, and reaffirming current law prioritizing fortification of High Threat/ High Risk posts are also positive steps but fall gravely short of addressing the much larger problems revealed on September 11, 2012.
To honor those who died in the service of our nation in Benghazi and to help prevent history from repeating itself, it is time for comprehensive solutions, not just investigations or cosmetic fixes.