The murder of four American officials in Benghazi on September 11, 2012 has a bright side. The State Department security office responsible for this debacle is poised to receive a billion-dollar increase in its budget. The premise is that poor intelligence and careless decision-making can be remedied with more money. The reality is that rewarding failure by lavishing the culprits with more resources only leads to more failures and demands for still more funding.
Last week the U.S. Department of State’s Accountability Review Board issued its report on the September 11-12, 2012 assault on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya. While it found significant deficiencies and made 29 recommendations, it held no one individually responsible. As a result, no one was fired from the State Department. Reports indicate that Eric Boswell, the Assistant Secretary of State overseeing the Bureau of Diplomatic Security, was allowed to quietly resign, and several other officials may be reassigned. It appears that the Board’s title was simply wishful thinking.
Philip S. Goldberg remains in his position as the Assistant Secretary of State - Bureau of Intelligence and Research. This, despite the massive intelligence failure in Libya. Failure is nothing new to Secretary Goldberg who failed to predict the “Arab Spring,” the resurgence of the Taliban and the growing power and influence of al-Qaeda.
Other clueless officials remain at the State Department, including Scott P. Bultrowicz, the director of the State Department’s Diplomatic Security Service, and Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Charlene Lamb, who was in charge of embassy security.
What is even more striking is that the RSO or Regional Security Office and his or her deputies in Libya have not been fired. According to the time line, diplomatic security officials “lost track” of Ambassador Stevens during the attack! They lost the Ambassador? How can that happen? They only found the Ambassador’s body when they received a telephone call that the body was in a local hospital. This is one of the most egregious security failures in State Department history. The security officials saved themselves at the expense of the Ambassador.
Into this security disaster has now come Senator John Kerry, President Obama’s nominee to succeed Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State. Last Thursday Senator Kerry, at a Foreign Relations Committee hearing, vaguely stated that Congress was partially responsible for the Benghazi deaths because it allegedly failed to provide enough money to the State Department. Senator Kerry was unable to provide any specifics regarding his allegations. He is currently leading an effort to add more than $1 billion to the Bureau of Diplomatic Security’s budget. At the hearing Senator Kerry seemed quite comfortable with the criminal bungling of the security service. It should concern all U.S. diplomats and their families that when faced with the options of imposing accountability or seizing an opportunity for more funding, the money always overshadows any collateral damage.
Congresswoman Illeana Ros-Lehtinen was correct in her statement this past week that the State Department has more than enough funding. She stated that the Department has historically wasted billions of dollars each year on pet programs, including global warming, while ignoring core concerns.
The fact is that the Bureau of Diplomatic Security already has a bloated multi-billion dollar budget and it has used that money to create a massive internal security force. It employs thousands of agents and security contractors (whom some refer to as private mercenaries). Its tentacles now extend into virtually every State Department function with some arguing that security has eclipsed diplomacy as the Department’s primary function. The Bureau controls virtually all diplomatic activity in many U.S. Embassies and it has the authority to arbitrarily suspend any diplomat’s security clearance for any reason. In some cases it uses that power abusively. A U.S. diplomat stationed overseas who has his or her clearance suspended must immediately return to the United States, where they languish in bureaucratic limbo sometimes for years. With no checks and balances, security authority has been repeatedly misused in order to protect the Administration from embarrassment and to enforce a policy of political loyalty and silence. The consequence is a largely silenced Foreign Service.
The response of Bureau officials to the threat of overseas terrorism has been amateurish and counterproductive. Their solution is to isolate U.S. diplomats in fortress-embassies, housing them in special security compounds. This bubble-existence separates U.S. officials from the citizens of the host country, which begs the question of why they are in these countries at all.
In September 2009, outgoing U.S. Ambassador to Poland Victor Ashe publicly called on U.S. officials to reexamine policies put into place after September 11, 2001. He criticized the “fortress-like” feel of the new American embassies, charging that they are excessively expensive and send an unfriendly message to non-Americans. Ambassador Ashe was replaced as Ambassador to Poland by a political campaign official for Hillary Clinton named Lee Feinstein, who quickly lapsed into “loyal” silence. This author detailed a long string of failures by the Bureau of Diplomatic Security in his story, “U.S. Diplomats Fear Bureau of Diplomatic Security,” which can be accessed through Google.
The Benghazi tragedy should have been seized upon as an opportunity to clean house at the Bureau and within INR. It should have prompted senior Department officials to begin a dialog on security by soliciting opinions from the ground up. Issues to be debated throughout the State Department include: the fortress-embassy concept and whether it does more harm than good; the arming of U.S. diplomats stationed in high-threat countries; a scaled-down U.S. diplomatic presence in some countries; deploying unmarried diplomats to high-risk posts; better body armor for U.S. diplomats (the current armor is woefully deficient and unnecessarily obvious); and an increased use of U.S. Marines to replace private security contractors.
Senator Kerry is beginning his run for Secretary of State on a low point. His troops in the field and their families know that they are on their own. His priority has always been his career and delusions about his legacy. Senator Kerry fails to understand that the sheriffs in the Old West whom people remember are those who fought for the little guy and cleaned up the town. That is a legacy worth cherishing. It is also a better record to take into the afterlife.