A staff report prepared for Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) and released today finds numerous failings in the ARB report on Benghazi released last year. The new report overturns some of the conclusions of the official ARB report. It finds that Under Secretary of State Patrick Kennedy, who was not criticized in the ARB report, should have been held accountable.
The new report is based on public statements but also on transcripts of numerous interviews undertaken since the release of the ARB report. It concurs with some portions of the earlier ARB report and disputes others. For instance, the new report finds that Charlene Lamb was at fault for decisions she made with regard to security in Libya. However the new report also provides a partial basis for exonerating Lamb since evidence suggests that every personnel decisions related to Libya was directly approved (or disapproved) by Under Secretary Kennedy.
A key exchange appears on page 63 of the report when Committee staff interview Deputy Assistant Secretary for Maghreb Affairs Maxwell about the involvement of Under Secretary Kennedy in events taking place in Libya prior to the 9/11 attack [Emphasis in original]:
Q.The DCM, Mr. Hicks, testified that Ambassador Kennedy was very engaged on a minute level about the incidents that were occurring in Benghazi in the months leading up to the attacks.
Q. Does that surprise you?
A. It does not. We–one of the things that I found interesting was that the Under Secretary approved every person that went in or came out of Tripoli…
* * *
A. The DAS Assistant Secretary reports to the Under Secretary for Management. The way the Under Secretary for Management runs things, there is no decision that DS makes that doesn’t have his input and his imprimatur, his approval. There is no decision that DS doesn’t make that doesn’t have his disapproval. DS–the Under Secretary for Management speaks for DS for all practical purposes, and there is no decision that DS makes that the Under Secretary for Management is not involved in.
Q.So, the important decisions about the security posture in Libya leading up to the attacks, if Mr. Boswell was held accountable for those decisions, is it fair to say that the Under Secretary for Management would have had a role in those decisions?
Assistant Secretary for Diplomatic Security Eric Boswell, one of the four individuals named in the ARB report, also told Oversight staff that Kennedy was the “ultimate decisionmaker” when it came to the removal of the SST team from Libya. This was the team of soldiers which Ambassador Stevens and others hoped to keep in Libya but which was removed weeks before the attack. Boswell also told Oversight staffers that “any decision about travel in and out, staffing levels was made by” Kennedy. This included both the assignment of diplomatic staff and security personnel.
Executive Director of the Near Eastern Affairs Bureau Lee Lohman told Oversight that he attended a meeting at which Kennedy personally examined schematics for the villa in Benghazi. Lohman said Kennedy was “heavily” involved in choosing the facility.
The report also points out that Kennedy was the single individual who, based on a staff recommendation, approved keeping the Benghazi post open as a temporary facility for an additional year. It was because the compound was temporary and not a permanent site that its security was staffed on a temporary basis by DS agents on leave from other positions. The temporary staffing system was intended to fill single openings or gaps in staffing on a short term basis, not provide and entire staff indefinitely. As a result, DS never had a full security compliment in place in Benghazi.
The new report also criticizes Kennedy’s role in presenting a false image of accountability to the public. Under Secretary Kennedy informed Assistant Secretary for Diplomatic Security Eric Boswell that he had been singled out in the ARB report. Boswell offered his resignation and Kennedy accepted it. However Kennedy simultaneously encouraged Boswell to hang on to another position he held. A few days later, Kennedy told Boswell he was being placed on administrative leave. However, quoting Boswell from the Oversight interview, Kennedy told Boswell “he didn’t think it would last long.”
The Oversight report strongly suggests that the ARB report should have assigned blame to Under Secretary Kennedy for his involvement in numerous decisions which created the lax security situation in Benghazi.
Under Secretary Kennedy is scheduled to testify at a hearing of the House Foreign Affairs Committee on Wednesday. Rep. Issa has scheduled a separate hearing with Adm. Mike Mullen and Amb. Thomas Pickering, the authors of the contested ARB report, for Thursday.