What Buck?

I’m working today, with no time for writing — so here are NightWatch‘s comments on the Benghazi report:

Special NightWatch Comment: The most important finding of the Accountability Review Board (ARB) on the Benghazi tragedy is that al Qaida is alive and well and living in Benghazi. The rest is pretty much well known, with a few exceptions.

As harsh as the words of the ARB Report seem about high level failures in the State Department, no one is held accountable. The Board found that mistakes were made. The report is essentially a white wash. Three people at State resigned today, but that is not the same as facing legal proceedings for civil or criminal negligence in wrongful death. The Board gave everyone a pass.

A few things that are confusing in the Benghazi report.

1.The Board found that the ambassador was responsible for mission security and he should have pushed harder for improvements. The implication is the ambassador ultimately was responsible his own death. Hmm….The ambassador made at least three pleas for improved security, including the last on the day of his demise. Other parts of the report make clear that no amount of pushing to improve security would have made a difference with senior State Department leadership.

2.The Board found that mistakes were made. The use of passive voice means the Board refused to find anyone, except the dead ambassador, to blame for the mistakes. The message is that things went wrong; people were murdered, but it was no one’s fault. This is the core of the whitewash. This viewpoint evades questions of causality, incompetence, negligence and blame.

3. Intelligence did not identify a specific threat at the time, the Board found. This finding betrays a shallow understanding of intelligence warning among the Board members. The 65-year history of US national security affairs since passage of the National Security Act of 1947 shows that waiting for last minute unambiguous warning before taking precautions is waiting to die. The report lists 20 security incidents and attacks against the consulate, but found that body of information insufficient for warning, even on the anniversary of 9/11. One clear issue not mentioned in the report, and an obvious blind spot of its authors, is insight about how intelligence warning empowers decision makers to keep them safe by averting harm or increasing readiness to receive damage. Neither happened in Benghazi.

4.The Board made no finding about the importance of Allied cooperation in maintaining diplomatic security in Benghazi, according to the unclassified report. This is strange because the British, Turks and especially the Italians — all NATO allies and intelligence partners — had significantly more resources in Benghazi than the US, they said. They could have been consulted or requested to help rescue the US mission on short notice. British, Turkish and Italian foreign affairs officials said in public they were not consulted and their aid was not requested. They also said they would have responded if asked.

5.The Board found that the US military did all it could in the time available. Secretary Panetta made the point that there was nothing the US armed forces could do which would have made a difference during the time of the attack. The implication of this finding is that there is little point in positioning counter terror and emergency response teams in Italy and elsewhere in the Mediterranean basin within two hours of Libya because they apparently can make no difference in a series of terrorist attacks that lasted for seven hours. This finding looks like a disservice to the US armed forces personnel and units who train for these missions. Plus, the finding of virtual impotence is an intelligence windfall for terrorists in northern Africa.

6.The Board found that the chains of command and responsibility for the protection of the Benghazi mission were not clear and that agencies were stove-piped. This is curious because the central themes of the post 9/11 intelligence and national security reforms are integration, collegiality and collaboration. Apparently those messages, so vital to combat forces, have not reached those responsible for diplomatic security, eleven years after 9/11, and even for diplomatic missions in high risk areas.

The Board found all the things that State did wrong, but the Benghazi attacks expose basic problems in national security crisis management that run far beyond those at State. The entire national security establishment performed no better in failing to save the life of Ambassador Stevens in Libya than it did in failing to save the life of Ambassador Dubbs in 1988 in Afghanistan.

Many things changed between 1988 and 2012, but the system performed no better when it counted most. That should have been the key finding of this report.

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