By Patricia H. Kushlis
Whether Hillary’s reaction to the Accountability Review Board’s Benghazi Report upon reading it was to faint, hit her head, and suffer a rare blood clot following a concussion or whether the two sad events simply coincided and collided like asteroids in the night sky is a question we may never have answered.
The 39 page unclassified portion of the ARB report that was released to the public on December 20, 2012 was most notable for what it didn’t reveal as for what it did. Maybe some of my unanswered questions are contained in the classified sections – but that I won’t know for years. Unless, of course, the contents dribble out piecemeal between now and then. That’s possible. State usually leaks far less than the Pentagon or the Hill so first train your ear trumpets in those directions before leaning too hard towards Foggy Bottom.
The report corroborates that multiple mistakes were made – not just that tragic night – but in the months before. They go deep into the heart of the system’s weaknesses. Leadership – or actually lack thereof – is a problem the report alludes to with capital Ls although names of officials above the Assistant Secretary, or bureaucratic Firewall, as Diplopundit put it, are missing. This might be adequate for a networked organization but the State Department is institutionalized hierarchy personified and the report tells us that news of the attack was being called in as it happened to State’s 24/7 Diplomatic Security Center and relayed to the NSC and elsewhere. At least that piece of the building apparently works as it should.A follow up – even more scathing - 29 page report by the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs that appeared on December 30, 2012 tells us that the attack was reported real time to State and the information transmitted quickly to the Department of Defense. The bipartisan Senate report also highlighted ten major failings needing correction – within State, within Defense, throughout the Intelligence Community and across bureaucratic lines. Not all of these failures are contained in the ARB findings.
Here are a few of the most striking - listed in no particular order:
- the Pentagon’s failure to provide its relatively new Africa Command with the requisite resources to conduct embassy rescue operations in its theater of operation despite the fact that the Command had specific responsibility for doing so;
- the administration’s muddled messaging during the first days after the tragedy despite the fact it was patently clear to the intelligence community from the beginning that a terrorist attack had occurred;
- Under Secretary for Management Patrick Kennedy’s testimony in which he told the Senate Hearing that the security situation in Benghazi had been a “flashing red light” well before September 11. This despite the fact that State had refused to provide the security needed. Yet, if it was unable to protect do so, State could have closed the Temporary Facility. What is perhaps most troubling about Kennedy’s testimony is that he must have had a major say in the decisions – Eric Boswell, head of the Bureau of Diplomatic Security and Charlene Lamb, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Diplomatic Security worked for him – and as I pointed out earlier, the State Department personifies the traditional hierarchical bureaucracy. The buck would not have stopped with either Boswell or Lamb who Peter Van Buren argues was Cheryl Mills' (Hillary's chief of staff) choice not that of the Foreign Service. What is not said in either the ARB or the Senate report is where the funding and personnel decisions for the Benghazi facility - whatever its name - were made, how and who made them.
Back to 2008
Before Hillary Clinton set foot in the department, she knew that it suffered from severe financial and administrative stress. She smartly established a Deputy Secretary for Management and Resources bringing in Jack Lew - Obama's current Chief of Staff and now nominee to become the next Treasury Secretary - to fill the new position. Lew lasted at State about a year, spent his time addressing budgetary deficiencies and much to his credit, got Congress to approve major funding increases for the beleagured department before he moved on and over to the White House.
Hillary didn’t, however, tackle other flashing yellow light administrative shortcomings – leaving management of the department and the embassies to Patrick F. Kennedy who had been brought back to State by mentor and then Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte in 2007. But before that Kennedy had been Chief of Staff at the US Transition Unit in Baghdad in 2004 where he worked for Negroponte and had held the same position in the CPA (2003) - a period of chaos in Iraq when millions upon millions of dollars disappeared.
Why Hillary kept Kennedy in the position after her arrival in 2009 is a mystery. Anyone who was responsible for coordinating the reorganization of the foreign affairs agencies under Madeleine Albright - a real hash job whose Sandy-like after-effects reverberate today - or forbidding American Embassy officers from attending Obama's speech in Berlin July 24, 2008 on the grounds it was partisan politics despite the fact that Americans have the freedom to assemble under the US Constitution shrieks foremost, in my view, of a serious lack of judgment.
Deja Vu All Over Again
Then there's that thorny not-so-little issue of State's mismanagement of diplomatic security in Africa August 7, 1998 when Al Qaeda blew up the US Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania killing over 220 people including 12 Americans and injuring over 4,000.