Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Benghazi ARB Report Released; Finds Fault, Calls For More Resources

The Department released the unclassified version of the Benghazi Accountability Review Board report tonight. You can read it here.

Many of the report's recommendations come down to calling on Congress to provide more funding for security personnel and secure facilities. See this key paragraph from the report's introduction:
For many years the State Department has been engaged in a struggle to obtain the resources necessary to carry out its work, with varying degrees of success. This has brought about a deep sense of the importance of husbanding resources to meet the highest priorities, laudable in the extreme in any government department. But it has also had the effect of conditioning a few State Department managers to favor restricting the use of resources as a general orientation. There is no easy way to cut through this Gordian knot, all the more so as budgetary austerity looms large ahead. At the same time, it is imperative for the State Department to be mission-driven, rather than resource-constrained – particularly when being present in increasingly risky areas of the world is integral to U.S. national security. The recommendations in this report attempt to grapple with these issues and err on the side of increased attention to prioritization and to fuller support for people and facilities engaged in working in high risk, high threat areas. The solution requires a more serious and sustained commitment from Congress to support State Department needs, which, in total, constitute a small percentage both of the full national budget and that spent for national security. One overall conclusion in this report is that Congress must do its part to meet this challenge and provide necessary resources to the State Department to address security risks and meet mission imperatives.
The report's harshest criticism of the Department comes in two of its findings, this one:
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.
... and this one:
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.
There is a lot to absorb. More to come tomorrow.

Monday, December 17, 2012

ARB Benghazi At Last - Like Christmas Coming Early

After 60-some days the Benghazi Accountability Review Board has now completed its work, and we may expect its report, in both classified and unclassified versions, to be released to Congress as soon as Wednesday.

Now comes the hardest part, waiting until the ARB's recommendations become a matter of official concern that can be referenced from publicly available sources. After all the anticipation, it will feel like unwrapping a present when I finally see an official background briefing or a news story with named sources.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Good Questions About Tunis, Khartoum, and Sana'a

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

I'll say this for the Benghazi Accountability Review Board - it is doing a great job of maintaining the secrecy of its proceedings. I don't think the least hint about its deliberations has leaked out into the public sphere. We'll just have to wait for the report, assuming it is publicly released.

In the meantime, please read Diplopundit's post of earlier today because it contains a good many excellent and extremely pertinent questions about what lessons we have learned from the other serious attacks of last September. I partially quote from a few of them below, because they go directly to the premises that underlie some of our overseas physical security practices (which, for the record, are described pretty well in GAO reports like this one).

• 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?

In the event we cannot expect a timely response from host country authorities, I can imagine extreme circumstances under which it would be preferable to evacuate the mission, even during an attack, rather than to go into the safehaven.

• 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?

That GAO report I linked to above describes "five key Overseas Security Policy Board standards to protect overseas diplomatic office facilities against terrorism and other dangers" but none of them address fire and smoke used as a weapon. Maybe the OSPB should think about that.

• 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?

Is it better to put all your eggs in one basket, or to spread the risk by distributing them in several baskets? The only answer I've ever heard that makes sense to me is this: in places where the host government provides reasonable security, distribute your eggs in several baskets; in places where it doesn't, put your eggs in one basket and use all your resources to protect that basket.

• 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?

The embassy in Tunis did indeed have what amounted to built-in ladders (evidently vertical window stacks running from ground to roof with hand- and foot-holds wide enough to climb).

According to a definitive source of publicly available information, New Embassy Tunis completed construction on November 1, 2002, which means that it predates by one year the Office of Overseas Buildings Operations era of standard embassy designs. So, at least that architectural ladder wasn't reproduced elsewhere. On the other hand, that means the ladder was there for ten years with no action taken to remove it. Hum.  

The Stairway to Heaven was a good song, if a bit slow to get started, but it is really bad defensive architecture.

• 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?

Assuming (1) we cannot expect a host country intervention for many hours, if ever, and (2) that we may have to evacuate the compound while under attack, and (3) that fire may be used as a weapon ... that adds up to a need to use deadly force in unprecedented ways.

That's a lot of good questions.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Close GITMO? We've Heard That Song Before

Last Wednesday, Senator Dianne Feinstein tried to resuscitate a dead political issue by releasing a Government Accountability Office study on the feasibility of closing the Guantanamo Bay detention facility and transferring its inmates to prisons in the United States. She had commissioned the GAO study in 2008.

Why release the report now, three years after the expiration of the Obama administration's self-imposed deadline to close GITMO? Because, as she told the New York Times:

“This report demonstrates that if the political will exists, we could finally close Guantánamo without imperiling our national security.”

Really? Where does she think this political will might exist? Not in these United States, where both the House and the Senate passed bills to prohibit closure back in 2009, when that was still a live possibility. Passed them by overwhelming margins. Gallop polls back then found that 65 percent of Americans opposed moving GITMO prisoners to the U.S., and by even higher margins opposed moving the prisoners to their own states.  

One day after Senator Feinstein's trial balloon, another Senator introduced the latest amendment to prohibit closing GITMO:

The Senate late Thursday night approved a Republican amendment [to an annual defense authorization bill on the Senate floor this week] that would prohibit the transfer of terrorist detainees from Guantánamo Bay to U.S. prisons.

Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) introduced Amendment 3245, which would prevent the Department of Defense from using funds to move suspected terrorists from Gitmo facilities to prisons within the United States.

Kelly Ayotte is a Republican but the Senate is controlled by Democrats, and the amendment passed 54 to 41. Count that vote and see how much political will there is to close GITMO.

The defense authorization bill already contains a ban on transferring any more GITMO detainees to foreign countries. There's that political will thing, again.

Senator Feinstein might as well pull that trial balloon back down and put it away.