Monday, September 12, 2016

Benghazi and HRC's Culpability, the SECCA Time Around

Consumer Notice: This post is certified 100% free of Matters of Official Concern that are not referenced from publicly available sources of information.

Gregory Hicks, the former DCM in Tripoli, now retired, has written an opinion piece for Fox News with the very election-year-sounding title of "What the Benghazi Attack Taught Me About Hillary Clinton."

Far be it from me to defend HRC, however, Mr. Hicks repeats a mistaken impression concerning security waivers that was debunked by the Benghazi Accountability Review Board report (here) but which has been flogged repeatedly by his legal counsel, the frequent Fox News contributor Victoria Toensing (bio here). It ought to be corrected, although of course it won't be so long as it has political utility.

Here are excerpts from Hicks' opinion piece:
Last month, I retired from the State Department after 25 years of public service as a Foreign Service officer. As the Deputy Chief of Mission for Libya, I was the last person in Tripoli to speak with Ambassador Chris Stevens before he was murdered in the Sept. 11, 2012 attack on our Benghazi post. On this, the fourth anniversary of the Benghazi tragedy, I would like to offer a different explanation for Benghazi’s relevance to the presidential election than is usually found in the press.

Just as the Constitution makes national security the President’s highest priority, U.S. law mandates the secretary of state to develop and implement policies and programs "to provide for the security … of all United States personnel on official duty abroad.”

-- Snip --

The Benghazi Committee’s report graphically illustrates the magnitude of her failure. It states that during August 2012, the State Department reduced the number of U.S. security personnel assigned to the Embassy in Tripoli from 34 (1.5 security officers per diplomat) to 6 (1 security officer per 4.5 diplomats), despite a rapidly deteriorating security situation in both Tripoli and Benghazi. Thus, according to the Report, “there were no surplus security agents” to travel to Benghazi with Amb. Stevens “without leaving the Embassy in Tripoli at severe risk.”

Had Ambassador Stevens’ July 2012 request for 13 additional American security personnel (either military or State Department) been approved rather than rejected by Clinton appointee Under Secretary of State for Management Pat Kennedy, they would have traveled to Benghazi with the ambassador, and the Sept. 11 attack might have been thwarted.

To digress a bit, that is not really what the former RSO in Tripoli, Eric Nordstrom, said in his testimony to the House Oversight Committee. You can read his prepared statement here courtesy of
Let me say a word about the evening of September 11th. The ferocity and intensity of the attack was nothing that we had seen in Libya, or that I had seen in my time in the Diplomatic Security Service. Having an extra foot of wall, or an extra-half dozen guards or agents would not have enabled us to respond to that kind of assault.

The minority side lead on the Oversight Committee came back to that statement during his question period. You can read it in the hearing transcript:
Mr. Cummings: I just want to go back to something that you wrote in your statement, Mr. Nordstrom, in reference to the question that the chairman just asked you. And I quote you. I am reading from page 2. You said, ``Having an extra foot of wall or extra half dozen guards or agents would not have enabled us to respond to that kind of assault.''

Did you write that?

Mr. Nordstrom. Yes, I did. And I still believe that.

Mr. Cummings. Thank you.

But back to that misleading impression of HRC's supposed illegality. It concerns whether SecState Clinton did or did not approve a waiver of public law. Hicks wrote:
U.S. law also requires the secretary of state to ensure that all U.S. government personnel assigned to a diplomatic post abroad be located at one site. If not, the secretary — and only the secretary — with the concurrence of the agency head whose personnel will be located at a different location, must issue a waiver. The law, which states specifically that the waiver decision cannot be delegated, was passed after the 1998 bombing of two U.S. embassies in Africa, when deficient security was blamed for that debacle under Bill Clinton's presidency.

The law in question is the Secure Embassy Construction and Counterterrorism Act (SECCA). As anyone can read for himself in the publicly available online 12 Foreign Affairs Manual 310 (right here), paragraph 313 b says:
For purposes of the application of SECCA, a U.S. diplomatic facility is any chancery, consulate, or other office notified to the host government as diplomatic or consular premises in accordance with the Vienna Conventions on Diplomatic and Consular Relations, or otherwise subject to a publicly available bilateral agreement with the host government (contained in the records of the United States Department of State) that recognizes the official status of U.S. Government personnel present at the facility.

So there it is. SECCA applies only to declared diplomatic premises, which neither of the two facilities in Benghazi were, according to the findings of the Benghazi Accountability Board, specifically in its second key finding (" ... the decision to treat Benghazi as a temporary, residential facility, not officially notified to the host government, even though it was also a full time office facility ... resulted in the Special Mission compound being excepted from office facility standards and accountability under the Secure Embassy Construction and Counterterrorism Act ...").

Mr. Hicks is repeating Victoria Toensing’s misguided deduction from testimony at a Benghazi Select Committee hearing, which I posted about before (here). Maybe she knows better, maybe she doesn't. Either way, this is a politically convenient line in an election year, so it won't go away soon, if ever.

Friday, September 2, 2016

Friday Night Document Dump (Hillary's FBI Interview)

Annnd it's a big one, Hillary Clinton's FBI interview records tipped out of the FBI records vault today.

Clinton could not give an example of how classification of a document was determined ... Clinton stated that she did not pay attention to the ‘level’ of classified information.” 

And did she and her staff really lose as many as 13 personal electronic devices, including a laptop and thumb drive that were used to back up her emails and were lost in the mail?? The U.S. Postal Service type of mail. Who mails a laptop?

It will take a big chuck out of the three-day weekend to read through these.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Dalai Lama Tactical Tip Tuesday

"Follow the three Rs: 1, Respect for self. 2, Respect for others. 3, Responsibility for all your actions." - 18 Rules of Living, from His Holiness the Dalai Lama

And this will be the Dalai Lama's last word of advice for practitioners of defensive gun use. You are always responsible for yourself, for others, and - most especially - for all your actions.

Carry that weapon accordingly.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Dalai Lama Tactical Tip Tuesday

Another result of spiritual development, most useful in day-to-day life, is that it gives a calmness and presence of mind. Our lives are in constant flux, bringing many difficulties. When faced with a calm and clear mind, problems can be successfully resolved. - Tenzin Gyatso, The Fourteenth Dalai Lama (A Human Approach to World Peace)

Why not? Why not carry a classic Model 1911, or a modern variant such as the superb CZ-75, with a round in the chamber and the hammer cocked & locked? You know you want to. And yet, nearly everyone who carries a handgun will resort to the simple and problem-free double-action pistol or revolver, or the only slightly more touchy striker-fired pistol.

It's because a single-action pistol cocked n' locked is, well, just a little dangerous, and having one on you requires constant care and attention. Carrying a Glock is comparatively carefree, but carrying a fully loaded 1911 requires mental discipline.

Training the spirit is, as His Holiness knows, the surest way to be calm and clear-headed in our daily lives. Develop those resources, and you'll soon be carrying that 1911 in the manner John Moses Browning intended.  

Thursday, August 18, 2016

The Nigerian Land Deal That Didn't Happen

Site of Eko Atlantic on reclaimed land in Lagos

Consumer Notice: This post is certified 100% free of Matters of Official Concern that are not referenced from publicly available sources of information.

Fox News had a story the other day that purported to catch my good friends in OBO doing underhanded real estate deals at the behest of The Clinton Foundation. Briefly, it was alleged that OBO is acquiring property for a future new construction project in Lagos, Nigeria, as payback to a big-bucks contributor to the Clintons.

State Department sought land deal with Nigerian firm tied to Clinton Foundation:

EXCLUSIVE: Shortly after Hillary Clinton left the Obama administration, the State Department quietly took steps to purchase real estate in Nigeria from a firm whose parent company is owned by a major donor to the Clinton Foundation, records obtained by Fox News show.

On March 20, 2013, William P. Franklin, an “international realty specialist” at the State Department, emailed Mary E. Davis, an American diplomat stationed in Africa, instructing her to “put on Post letterhead” an “expression of interest” by the department in purchasing property at Eko Atlantic, a massive real estate development off the coast of Lagos. Franklin further instructed that the signed letter was to be “delivered to Ronald Chagoury.”

The draft letter, also obtained by Fox News, was undated and addressed to Chagoury care of his firm South Energyx Nigeria Limited, a subsidiary of the larger Chagoury Group that is spearheading the Eko Atlantic real estate venture. The State Department letter sought, among other things, to confirm that the department could proceed with “acquisition of the real property … [at] the asking price of $1,250 per square meter.”

Overtures to real estate developers from State Department officials scouting locations for embassies, consulates and other diplomatic facilities would ordinarily not arouse interest. But in this case, the budding transaction – never completed, the department now says – raised eyebrows because Ronald Chagoury is the brother and business partner, in the Chagoury Group, of Gilbert Chagoury, a Lebanese-born businessman whom federal records show has donated between $1 and $5 million to the Clinton Foundation.

-- Snip --

The State Department’s outreach to the Chagoury family, looking to buy property from the brothers, came less than a month after former President Clinton himself toured the Eko Atlantic project – for the second time. The first occasion was the ground breaking, in 2009, in which the former president participated. By all accounts, Eko Atlantic represents a staggeringly ambitious undertaking: the dredging of millions of tons of sand from the sea floor off Victoria Island and the creation of an estimated 3.5 square miles of new land, on which the Chagourys aim to establish what they call a “21st century city … for residential, commercial, financial and tourist development.”

-- Snip --

A month after Bill Clinton visits a Gilbert and Ronald Chagoury-run land project in Nigeria, the U.S. State Department wants to buy the same land,” said David N. Bossie, president of Citizens United, the conservative advocacy group whose litigation against the State Department pried loose the Franklin email and accompanying letter. “Who could be so lucky? A major donor to the Clinton Foundation, that’s who.”

A few things jump out as wrong with this expose. First, no property has been acquired, or even selected. Fox's smoking gun email said that OBO seeks to confirm the asking price, from which all we can conclude is that the Eko Atlantic site is under consideration for purchase.

Second, the property in question is only one of several possibilities that were identified by an outsourced professional real estate search and subsequently narrowed down to a short list by OBO’s site selection process.

Third, the search for property to build on in Lagos has been underway for over five years, as we learned when this matter was addressed during a State Department press briefing, and funds for property acquisition were requested in the FY2013 budget for Embassy Security, Construction, and Maintenance. See page 14 of this budget justification:
The FY 2013 funding will also support the acquisition of sites where NEC [New Embassy Complex] projects are planned in future years. Sites are being sought in Baku, Azerbaijan; Bangui, Central African Republic; Lagos, Nigeria; St. Petersburg, Russia; and Shanghai, China.

So, in fact, the Department did not decide to buy a Chagoury-run property, much less decide to build a new Consulate-General in Lagos, one month after Bill Clinton visited the site.

Now, I will concede that Press Relations Director Elizabeth Trudeau could have been given better media guidance when she discussed this matter at a press conference, but what she said was completely correct.

MS TRUDEAU: So a few points, okay, that I’d like to make of this. As of today, as of right now, we have not contracted or acquired property for a new consulate in Lagos. The site search for a new consulate in Lagos began in 2011, as prioritized by the Capital Security Construction Program. Many of the potential sites under consideration by the department, to include the Eko Atlantic development, were identified by an independent international real estate firm, as is typical in site searches around the world. The Eko Atlantic site was identified, as I said, by an independent international real estate firm in 2012.

The problem was the word "prioritized," which apparently lead the press to assume that OBO has been trying to buy the Eko Atlantic site ever since 2011, when what Ms. Trudeau actually said was that U.S. Consulate-General Lagos became a priority for a new construction project at that time.

Ms. Trudeau would have been better served if OBO had provided her with an explanation of what the Capital Security Construction Program is, exactly. Specifically, that it is a list of 80 posts all of which are prioritized for replacement with new buildings according to their degree of security vulnerability, and therefore Lagos has to wait its turn behind other, higher, priorities before it gets funding.

There is no mystery about the list of top 80 posts. Here is an impeccable short description of the Capital Security Construction Program by Under Secretary for Management Patrick Kennedy - the man himself - in testimony to Congress:
Each year, [Diplomatic Security] ranks all posts worldwide according to their security vulnerability and OBO uses this list to develop its top 80 Posts for the Department’s Capital Security Construction Program. These posts span all regions of the world. Replacement of these most vulnerable facilities is an ongoing effort.

And here is a recent OIG Report saying the same thing:
DS publishes a Vulnerability List, which ranks facilities according to their vulnerability across a wide variety of security threats on an annual basis, as mandated by SECCA. This list is then used to establish the Top 80 list of posts in which [New Embassy Compounds] are needed to reduce security vulnerabilities. The Top 80 list shows which posts are scheduled to receive a NEC. (Footnote, page 32)

SECCA is the Secure Embassy Construction and Counterterrorism Act of 1999, which mandated that the Department annually rank-order the top 80 candidates for new embassy construction funding. You can read the relevant text here. It's public law. Like I said, there is nothing mysterious or sensitive about it, and explaining it to the press might have helped Ms. Trudeau get her message across.

Ms. Trudeau's other big talking point likewise seemed to go over the heads of the press. OBO has an extensive and highly structured site selection and due diligence process that does, indeed, take a few years to complete.
"Our site search process, speaking specifically about this but also generally on how we operate, is managed by career real estate professionals in the Bureau of Overseas Building Operations with input from independent real estate firms and other department stakeholders, to include Diplomatic Security and overseas post. Career professionals evaluate and score potential properties under consideration before any property is put under contract. This robust process was followed in Lagos, as it is around the world.

Again, her media guidance could have noted that OBO's very extensive site selection process is spelled out in 15 FAM 470, which is a public source of information the Department makes available online. Hey, Matt Lee, read it for yourself instead of scoffing about how replacing our decrepit building in Lagos "can’t be that much of a priority if it’s taken five years." Is that Foreign Affairs Manual not written in English?

Fox concluded its story with John Bolton, a former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations and Fox News contributor, finding this real estate transaction "very unusual."
The impression left is that there’s favoritism involved,” Bolton said. “And it’s just very unusual in State Department real estate and housing transactions overseas to have this kind of focus on someone with such clear financial connections to even the departed secretary of state. Normally, there’s much more competitive activity involved, [of] which we haven’t seen any evidence from the State Department.”

Well Ambassador Bolton, did Fox News ask for such evidence? Maybe it ought to. I think OBO could provide it.

Just as an aside, let me note that our government’s domestic real estate transactions can also give an impression of political favoritism sometimes. Consider the sweet deal that the U.S. Postal Service concluded with a real estate firm headed by the husband of Senator Diane Feinstein.

CB Richard Ellis (CBRE), of which Sen. Feinstein’s husband is the Chairman and largest individual owner, brokers the sale of thousands of unwanted Post office properties and, by the terms of its contract, gets to represent and profit from both sides of those transactions, the seller and the buyer. Last year the Postal Service's OIG found:
Management continues to allow CBRE to collect commissions from lessors for lease negotiations in addition to payments from the Postal Service based on performance targets for lease renewals. Management also allows dual agency transactions, enabling CBRE to represent and negotiate for both the Postal Service and buyers or lessors. These actions are inherently risky and create conflicts of interest whereby CBRE may not negotiate property sales and lease transactions in the Postal Service’s best interest or may capture opposing party fees from the Postal Service.

Oh, sure, Feinstein’s husband is not the sole owner of CBRE, and the Postal Service contract is a drop in bucket for them, and it was a competitive bid, and so on. You can find exculpatory material here. Nevertheless, if that deal had happened in any foreign country, I’d automatically assume it was corrupt. When it happens here, maybe a softer term for it is crony capitalism.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Dalai Lama Tactical Tip Tuesday

I want to make it clear, however, that although I am deeply opposed to war, I am not advocating appeasement. It is often necessary to take a strong stand to counter unjust aggression ... War is violence and violence is unpredictable. Therefore, it is better to avoid it if possible, and never to presume that we know beforehand whether the outcome of a particular war will be beneficial or not. - The Reality of War, Tenzin Gyatso, The Fourteenth Dalai Lama

This one might not be 100 percent original with His Holiness the Dalai Lama, but it is nevertheless absolutely in accord with his philosophy.

His Holiness knows that, like war, interpersonal violence is a reality. To slightly misquote Leon Trotsky, you may not be interested in violence, but violence is interested in you. Should it come to you, and if you are not a pacifist, your choices will quickly be reduced to appeasement or defensive violence. Even calling the police, should you have the opportunity to do so, is to employ defensive violence by proxy.

Taking a strong stand and employing violence in defense of yourself or others may be the better choice. There is no moral contradiction in that.


Monday, August 15, 2016

DS Female Attrition: "How Would You Know If You're Not Even Looking?"

Diplopundit discusses the recent - recent as of a couple weeks ago, as I recall - Sounding Board post by an employee who had attended the Safety Overseas Seminar and encountered what she believed to be incomplete instruction and demeaning behavior. See A Joke That Wasn’t, and a State Department Dialogue That Is Long Overdue.

Much of the Sounding Board post and its subsequent comments were directed towards Diplomatic Security, which has yet to respond in any way, so far as I can tell.

Diplopundit concludes with a question about female recruitment and retention in DS:
We asked the State Department about the gender composition of DSS agents in Diplomatic Security: 90.18% male and 9.82% female. We also asked about the attrition rate by gender at the bureau. Below is what we’re officially told:

DS reports that they do not have information related to special agent attrition rate by gender. They do not keep those statistics, but note that the overall Special Agent attrition rate for 2015 was 3.66%.

The State Department’s DGHR should be able to run these numbers. That’s a very low attrition rate but — don’t you want to know who and why these employees are leaving? If a bureau is overwhelmingly male, and if the entire attrition rate is, for instance, composed of all female employees, aren’t you going to wonder why?

But how would you know if you’re not even looking?

The InHerSight reviews [here] are pretty broad but are troubling nonetheless. The first step in fixing a problem is recognizing that there is a problem. Is there?

Who’s going to volunteer to look into this if we can’t even get S/OCR to respond to a public inquiry?

So less than ten percent of DS Special Agents are female? That seems to match my casual observation. (The percentage appears to be even lower among Security Engineering Officers, I think.) Consider the kinda-sorta comparable percentage of women in the U.S. military, which is 14.6 for the active military and 19.5 percent for the reserves.

Either few women are entering agent classes, or else they're leaving in very high numbers. Whichever it is, I agree that DS and DGHR ought to be interested in why.