Examining KGS Nightwatch’s Position On Benghazi

I started receiving the KGS Nightwatch updates a few weeks ago and the Nightwatch 2012-12-19 Benghazi Special Comment caught my eye. This is a companion to State Department Witch Hunt, posted earlier today.

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.

This might be true in an objective world, but the Republican dominated House that is attempting to strangle the State Department, not out of wise policy choices, but out of a desire to harm Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential chances, is more and more looking like a disloyal opposition. They create the precondition for failures, the failure happens, then they blamestorm on those who were denied the resources needed to do the job? I’m not buying that.

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.

We need a rapid reaction force ready to deal with problems like this. We have a lot of naval assets in the Persian Gulf, but little in the Med? They had seven hours from the start of the trouble to the ambassador’s death. Sigonella Naval Air Station is about 500 miles from Benghazi, C-130s cruise at 336/mph. There are many issues in acting in this fashion, but if an embassy is going to be overrun? Seems like a fine time to send in Delta Force.

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.

Again, if we had a loyal opposition this could be addressed. The House Republicans no longer fit that description, and an inquiry would become a witch hunt, just like that Fast & Furious nonsense.

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.

Our intelligence sector is a swamp, rife with contractors who get paid when there are problems. So they find (or create) them, then get paid for remediation. My view here is very jaundiced, I don’t doubt the process needs improvement, but so does the process around that process, and correcting what’s going on there will be a Herculean task.

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.

This is damning, at least on the surface. If we had friends in the area we could have called for a dust off, why didn’t we?

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.

Yes, Benghazi shows how painfully weak we are. See my above comments on C-130 flight times, and add a batch of littoral combat ships to the mixture. God save me, but this is a use case where an MQ-1C Gray Eagle on a long term observation mission might be just the thing.

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.

Our procurement and intel sector is a mess – they seek to capture everything, but they fail to assign meaning. We’ve wasted enormous amounts of time sending FBI agents to check out pizza delivery drivers with Arab sounding names because they did something ‘odd’, like sending a family member back home a large wire transfer. Remittance from a family member working in the west is so pedestrian as it should hardly be noticed, but in our rush to never have another 9/11 we just piled on more layers of what wasn’t working in the first place.

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.

I do not know enough history in this area to comment on specifics. I am unsure if I have the time or knowledge needed to dig deeper. I will say that I expect things to get worse, for us to face more countries going the way Afghanistan, Somalia, and now Mali have done. We need better ways to see what is happening, and to respond quickly to problems.

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.

The problems our State Department will face are going to get more numerous and more complex, yet we had a 20% budget cut last year/

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