Remember when the ironically-named Accountability Review Board assigned blame for the Benghazi debacle on low-level employees at the State Department? When challenged by Congress as to why the ARB never interviewed Undersecretary of State Patrick Kennedy, ARB co-chair Thomas Pickering replied that they had already concluded that blame for the unprotected diplomatic facility rested below his level. Whistleblower Eric Nordstrom told Congress, however, that the decisions that left the consulate defenseless against the terrorist attack on the anniversary of 9/11 came from Kennedy’s level — at least.
A new report from Fox vindicates Nordstrom, although it might not be quite that new:
The decision to keep U.S. personnel in Benghazi with substandard security was made at the highest levels of the State Department by officials who have so far escaped blame over the Sept. 11 attack, according to a review of recent congressional testimony and internal State Department memos by Fox News.
Nine months before the assault that killed Ambassador Chris Stevens and three others, State Department Under Secretary Patrick Kennedy signed off on an internal memo that green-lighted the Benghazi operation.
The December 2011 memo from Jeffrey Feltman — then-Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs (NEA) — pledged “to rapidly implement a series of corrective security measures.” However, no substantial improvements were made, according to congressional testimony to the House oversight committee from Regional Security Officer Eric Nordstrom.
Nordstrom said the Benghazi operation never met the rigid standards set out by the Overseas Security Policy Board, or OSPB, which according to the State Department website “is an interagency body created to assist the secretary” in carrying out security obligations under a 1986 law.
“We did not meet any of those standards with the exception of perhaps the height of the wall,” Nordstrom testified.
Nordstrom sent a series of e-mails after this decision up the chain of command at State expressing concern over the failure of the facility to meet OSPB requirements for security. As he later testified, Kennedy and other “senior decision makers” at State decided that they wouldn’t spend the resources to bring Benghazi into compliance, even after an escalating series of terrorist attacks in the city pushed other Western nations to close their own outposts. Hillary Clinton wanted a permanent “constituent post” in Benghazi as a mark of progress after the coup d’etat conducted against Moammar Qaddafi in 2011, which meant that the consulate needed to remain open.
The question is whether Kennedy signed off on this himself, or did so under the direction of his superiors. The State Department told Fox that this memo was essentially old news:
Asked whether Kennedy signed off on State Department policy unilaterally, or whether he consulted senior leadership, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki downplayed the importance of the memo, stating Fox News’ policy question was dealt with during a hearing before the House oversight committee last fall.
“Let me just say on this particular memo, it’s been available to the House of Representatives since October. It was discussed in October in a hearing on the House side and in many, many, many briefings. It was even posted — this sensitive document was posted on the website as well,” Psaki said.
Asked whether Kennedy had the authorization to sign off on a continued presence, Psaki said Kennedy had spoken at length to the Accountability Review Board, adding “I don’t know that we have a new update today.”
Well, if that was the case, then why didn’t Pickering and his ARB start asking those questions of Kennedy? The core question for the ARB was determining the responsibility for the failures that allowed the outpost in Benghazi to be successfully sacked by terrorists, resulting in the deaths of four Americans. The action memo wasn’t just something passed around State and initialed by Kennedy as a pro forma act — it’s addressed directly to him requesting authorization to keep the facility open “through the end of calendar year 2012.”
Furthermore, the memo itself states that the “reduced footprint” of the facility meant that only two Diplomatic Security positions were filled — in a city where terrorist networks operated out in the open. Later in the memo, Feltman assured Kennedy that after he approved the continuing presence at the compound, DS would “rapidly implement a series of corrective security measures” regarding the building — but says nothing about meeting OSPB requirements in either facilities or staffing. Nevertheless, Kennedy approved the request, and according to Nordstrom, ignored or remained ignorant of continuing concerns over safety and security even though those were within Kennedy’s responsibility as Undersecretary of State for Management.
Wouldn’t an attempt to apply accountability require that the Undersecretary of State answer questions about this approval, and his subsequent failure to address security issues? Apparently the ARB didn’t think so, but Congress might — and should — have a different opinion.