The White House vetting process is to blame for all the senior-level vacancies around the State Department, but nominations for some of those positions should be coming soon, Secretary of State John Kerry said Wednesday.
At a Wednesday hearing, Kerry's first since taking up his new post, House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce (R-CA) pressed the secretary to explain why the State Department hasn't had a full-time inspector general (IG) for more than five years. Kerry said that the logjam wasn't on his end of the equation but rather at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, where his selections for multiple positions have not be able to get through the bureaucracy.
"We're trying to fill a number of positions right now, the IG among them. The greatest difficulty I'm finding -- now that I'm on the other side of the fence -- is, frankly, the vetting process," Kerry testified. "And I've got some folks that I selected way back in February, when I first came in, and we're now April, and I'm still waiting for the vetting to move."
Kerry didn't mention any of the other major open positions at the State Department, which include deputy secretary for management, special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, special envoy for Sudan, assistant secretary for Africa, assistant secretary for Europe, assistant secretary for Asia, assistant secretary for democracy, human rights and labor, assistant secretary for legislative affairs, assistant secretary for diplomatic security, and as of next week, assistant secretary for political military affairs.
Kerry indicated that nominations could be forthcoming soon from the president.
"I've talked to the White House. They're totally on board. They're trying to get it moved. So I hope that within a very short span of time, you're going to see these slots filled," Kerry said. "They need to be, and that's just the bottom line. It's important, and I commit to you we will."
Royce was skeptical and asked Kerry to talk to the president about the vacancies.
"I don't need to talk to the president. We're going to get this done. We know it, and we're trying to get the right people," Kerry said. "Matching person to task and also clearing all the other hurdles is, I'm finding, not as easy as one always thinks, but we'll get it done."
In the past week, criticism of the vacancies in Foggy Bottom, as well as Kerry's absence from the State Department during his multiple and extended trips abroad, has come from both the right and the left.
"Selecting, nominating, and confirming his own people should be a top priority for Secretary Kerry -- more important than some of the trips he is taking," former NSC and State Department official Elliott Abrams wrote on the Council on Foreign Relations' website. "The task of managing the department cannot be left to anyone else and is not a minor aspect of his role. It's time to adjust priorities and get a nominee announced for every one of these policy-level vacancies."
"The mordant joke I've heard from within the State Department during the past couple of months has been ‘John Kerry phone home,'" wrote FP CEO David Rothkopf. "What it means is that there's no place for one-man diplomacy in this increasingly complex world. Just as the president must empower his cabinet more in this second term to achieve legacy goals, so too must Kerry put in place senior leaders who can work the issues he has started to explore."
The Boston Marathon bombings are the first major test for President Barack Obama's new top advisor on homeland security and counterterrorism, Lisa Monaco, rumored to be in the running to be the next head of the FBI.
Monaco, who replaced John Brennan as the top White House counterterrorism official when Brennan was confirmed as CIA director last month, led the first briefing Obama received on the bombings that struck downtown Boston Monday afternoon. Monaco was one of two officials in the Oval Office, along with White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough, when Obama made his first calls about the bombing to Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and FBI Director Robert Mueller, and she briefed Obama again Monday night.
On Tuesday morning, Monaco led the president's briefing on the bombings (pictured above), which included the participation of Mueller, Napolitano, McDonough, Attorney General Eric Holder, National Security Advisor Tom Donilon, Deputy National Security Advisor Tony Blinken, White House Counsel Kathryn Ruemmler, Deputy Chief of Staff Alyssa Mastromonaco, Deputy National Security Advisor For Strategic Communications Ben Rhodes, and National Security Advisor to the Vice President Jake Sullivan.
The spotlight is new for Monaco, who has worked in close proximity to both Obama and Vice President Joseph Biden for several years and is a fast-rising star in the Obama administration. But it may just be the beginning. Several reports state she is a top contender to lead the FBI when Mueller steps down in September.
As Mueller's former counselor and chief of staff, Monaco is one of the key officials involved in the FBI's post-9/11 reforms and is intimately familiar with how the FBI is shifting its focus to counterterrorism.
"I worked with Director Mueller to help advance the FBI's transformation from a law enforcement organization focused on investigating crime after the fact to a national security organization focused on preventing the next attack," she testified at her own confirmation hearing to become assistant attorney general in 2011. "These changes reflect an intelligence-led approach to combating national security threats."
She also has extensive experience studying terrorist threat information and analysis, which could be particularly useful as the government attempts to get to the bottom of Monday's attacks.
"Every morning for the last several years, I have sat alongside talented analysts, agents and national security professionals and reviewed intelligence and assessed how the country is responding to the latest threat streams," she testified. "This experience has taught me that our nation faces complex and evolving threats. To combat them, we must be aggressive and agile in our approach, and we must do so consistent with the rule of law."
Monaco led the Justice Department's national security division from 2011 until last month. From 2009 to 2011 she service as principal associate deputy attorney general. She worked for Mueller at the FBI from 2007 until 2009, and before that, spent six years in the office of the U.S. attorney for the District of Colombia, where she stood out as the co-leader of the Justice Department's Enron Task Force.
But Monaco's ties to both Obama and Biden personally go back much further. According to her senate questionnaire in 2011, as first noticed by Jeff Stein's SpyTalk blog, Monaco attended University of Chicago Law School from 1994 to 1997, when Obama himself was a senior lecturer there.
Even before that, Monaco worked as a researcher at the Senate Judiciary Committee, which was chaired at the time by Biden. Monaco also worked in Delaware when she clerked for Court of Appeals Judge Jane Roth after law school. She interned during law school in the Clinton White House Counsel's office.
If Monaco is selected to succeed Mueller as FBI director, she can be expected to defend the expanded investigative and surveillance powers that have been granted to the federal government since the original 9/11 attacks. In answers to questions submitted by Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IO) in 2011, Monaco said she supported the continued authorization for law enforcement use of pen register and trap and trace technologies, which collect information on phone lines, national security letters, and delayed notice search warrants.
In her testimony before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence in 2011, she said she personally supported the extension of three key provisions of the Patriot Act that were set to expire: roving wiretaps to monitor foreign targets, the lone-wolf provision, which is used to monitor a foreigner who may not be connected to a terrorist group, and the business record provision that gives the government access to commercial data on targets.
"If these provisions were to expire, we would be, I think, quite diminished in our ability to keep up with both rapidly evolving threats like those who use sophisticated means to try and thwart our surveillance effort and it would diminish our ability to keep up with threat streams as they come in," she testified.
Monaco is also a strong supporter of the Obama administration's drive to stamp out leaks to the media, which has included a record number of prosecutions against government employees for interacting with reporters.
"These are very, very important prosecutions," she said. "This Committee has, I think appropriately, pressed the Department and the intelligence community to bring these matters, to focus on these matters, to ensure that unauthorized disclosures are prosecuted and pursued, either by criminal means or the use of administrative sanctions. Leaks do tremendous damage. "
Official White House Photo by Pete Souza
There was no intelligence information warning about the Boston Marathon bombings before they occurred and there were no other bombs found in Boston aside from the two that actually exploded, Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) said Tuesday.
Feinstein and her Republican counterpart Saxby Chambliss (R-GA) emerged from a two-hour closed hearing with Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and several other intelligence committee officials to tell reporters that officials say there was no advance information collected by the intelligence community suggesting that the twin bombings were being planned.
"To the best of my knowledge there was none," she said. Asked if the lack of advance intelligence about the deadly attack was a concern for her, Feinstein said, "not necessarily."
"What's been done for 12 years is to protect this nation when there have been hundreds of efforts and every one has been thwarted by the FBI. I have full confidence in them. It is possible not to have any intelligence [in advance]," she said. "I have no reason to believe they won't have a successful investigation that will end in an arrest. But I think it will take time and we need to be patient."
Former Attorney General John Ashcroft told The Cable in a Tuesday interview that the lack of advance warning did not necessarily indicate an intelligence failure.
"It may be that it's a circumstance that it's simply unknowable. Individuals who act on their own and with a certain secrecy are going to be difficult to anticipate," he said. "I don't think we're able to generalize from that and say it's a particular failure or a success."
Feinstein said there were only two bombs in total -- the ones that exploded -- despite reports Monday that there were other devices found and perhaps detonated by law enforcement just after the attack. She said she has no information that there is an ongoing increased threat in Boston, Washington, D.C., or anywhere else.
Feinstein said the government hasn't told lawmakers anything about a pressure cooker and she attributed that information to media reports that were not based on hard evidence.
"We know nothing about a pressure cooker being used. That's speculation; we haven't heard definitively that," she said. "Anybody who looks at some of the publications around sees the pressure cooker as a possibility, but that's all I know."
Chambliss concurred with Feinstein that the investigation is not far along enough to make any judgments on the origin of the device or the perpetrator.
"What's unusual is that nobody has taken credit for this in the terrorist world, but don't assume anything from that," he said. "We really don't know who the terrorist was or where the terrorist was from."
The Saudi national injured during the bomb attacks at the Boston Marathon Monday has been cleared and is no longer even a person of interest, intelligence officials told lawmakers Tuesday.
Director of National Intelligence James Clapper briefed members of the Senate Intelligence Committee behind closed doors in a pre-scheduled hearing that was supposed to focus on the budget, but Clapper began with an update of the bombings. Ranking Republican Saxby Chambliss (R-GA) emerged from the briefing and said he was told the 22-year old Saudi student who was injured during the bombings and remains in the care of a local hospital was no longer a focus of investigators.
"He was never categorized as a suspect; he was a person of interest. My understanding is that he totally cooperated and that he is no longer a person of interest," Chambliss said.
Asked if there were any other persons of interest at this time, Chambliss said, "Not that I know of."
Details about the bombings are still scarce and the investigation hasn't yielded any firm conclusions about the perpetrator or the origin of the explosive devices yet, according to Chambliss.
"It's a very fluid investigation, the FBI is in the lead, and I personally know the special agent in charge. He is one of the best, and they are doing a very good job of moving the investigation forward," he said. "We don't know at this point whether it was a home grown terrorist, whether it was an isolated incident or part of an overall scheme, whether it was a domestic terrorist or a foreign terrorist."
Chambliss did say that security around the country would have to change for large public events, including greater involvement by the federal government.
"This was a soft target. It was not a target that was able to be totally protected," he said. "This particular incident is going to cause the administration and Congress to evaluate our overall security programs around the country, particularly for major events. We can't leave it just to the communities that host these events to provide the security."
UPDATE: Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) said Tuesday afternoon that there had been no advance intelligence information before the attacks. Read about that here.
The Saudi national injured in the Boston Marathon bombings Monday is "not a suspect," Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) told The Cable Tuesday.
"As far as I know, he is not a suspect," Feinstein said Tuesday afternoon. She declined to specify how she knew but said she had been briefed Monday night by Sean Joyce, the No. 2 official at the FBI. Feinstein said her information about the Saudi national was not dispositive because the investigation was still ongoing.
"This is the problem with answering these questions, because we don't really know. We only really know one thing: this qualifies as far as I'm concerned as a terrorist attack," she said.
Feinstein said she didn't know yet if the attack was from a foreign or domestic source.
"It's hard to tell," she said. "I think the device will determine a lot of that."
Investigators have already searched the home of the 22-year old Saudi student, who was injured during the bombings and remains in the care of a local hospital. Officials at the Saudi Embassy in Washington, D.C. have also not been informed that the student is either a suspect or a person of interest.
Feinstein will chair a closed hearing of the Senate Intelligence Committee Tuesday afternoon featuring Director of National Intelligence James Clapper that was supposed to be focused on the budget. The Boston attacks are sure to be discussed. There is also a closed intelligence briefing late Tuesday afternoon for committee members that will focus more squarely on the attacks.
Asked for an update on the investigation, Feinstein said that nothing much has changed since Monday evening.
"It's sort of a forensic slog right now of doing everything that need to be done to secure what is a huge crime scene, take down hundreds of security cameras, go through the film minute by minute, hour after hour, and try to follow forensic evidence. A big task is even collecting the forensic evidence," she said. "You've got a crime scene that could be anywhere along 25 miles. Where did the individual come from, how did he get there, where did he go?"
Nevertheless, Feinstein expressed confidence that the attackers will be brought to justice.
"I have great faith that an arrest is going to be made. I don't think tis going to be the day after tomorrow, but that's OK, it's going to happen," she said. "You cannot do this in the United States."
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry met with Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal at the State Department Tuesday morning. State Department Spokesman Patrick Ventrell said the Saudi national did not come up. A photo op with the two leaders was cancelled.
"I wouldn't read too much into it one way or another other than scheduling," said Ventrell. "But they had a good and productive meeting, and the foreign minister did express his condolences killed and injured in the Boston Marathon bombings to Secretary Kerry this morning."
Secretary of State John Kerry has a long history with the Boston Marathon and has been on the scene several times in the past few years, but this year he was returning from his 10-day trip to the Middle East and Asia.
On Monday afternoon, Kerry was informed of the two explosions that caused at least 2 deaths and dozens of injuries near the marathon's finish line by a senior aide as his plane approached O'Hare International Airport in Chicago, a senior State Department official told The Cable. Kerry stopped in Chicago to visit the family of Anne Smedinghoff, the 25-year old Foreign Service Officer killed April 6 in a bombing in Afghanistan.
"While in Chicago the secretary contacted his youngest daughter, Vanessa, a doctor in Boston who has run the marathon in previous years, to confirm that family and friends were safe," the official said. "The secretary has a long history with the marathon, and in fact this morning noted it was one of the few years he wasn't on hand to fire the wheelchair race's starting gun."
Kerry and his staff have reached out to state and federal officials to receive briefings as the information on the attacks develops, the official added. Kerry is scheduled to return to Washington tonight and meet with Foreign Minister of Saudi Arabia, Saud al-Faisal, at the State Department Tuesday morning.
Kerry, a former senator from Massachusetts, fired the starter's pistol in the 2002 Boston Marathon.
"I love the marathon," Kerry said that day. "I admire everyone. To run, it takes a lot of spirit and a lot of guts."
Kerry has also said that he ran the Boston Marathon in the past. "I did. I ran a marathon back in '80, something like that. Did the Boston Marathon," he told ESPN.
A White House official told reporters Monday that President Barack Obama was has received briefings from FBI Director Robert Mueller and DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano. A photo of the president calling Mueller showed that White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough and Lisa Monaco, assistant to the president for homeland security and counterterrorism, were in the Oval Office during the calls.
The Secret Service has extended the security perimeter in front of the White House as a precautionary measure, but the State Department has not yet announced any security adjustments at U.S. diplomatic facilities either inside the United States or abroad.
The Obama administration released a list of Russian human rights violators Friday, further complicating the U.S.-Russia relationship just as Obama's top foreign-policy advisor is about to visit Moscow.
The State Department heavily resisted the Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act of 2012 when it was going through Congress last year, but lost the argument, and was forced to compile and then release the list of Russian officials now subject to visa bans and asset freezes by an April 13 deadline. The list includes 18 names, including16 officials directly related to the case of Magnitsky, the anti-corruption lawyer who died in prison after allegedly being tortured, but doesn't include most of the 240 names submitted to the State Department or any top Russian officials close to President Vladimir Putin.
National Security Advisor Tom Donilon will be in Moscow April 14 and 15. According to reports, he is there primarily to entice Moscow to enter discussions over missile-defense cooperation, following the Obama administration's decision to cancel development of a new missile, known as the SM-IIB, that Russia has said could threaten its own ICBM capabilities.
Congressional reaction to the Magnitsky list has been mixed, with some key sponsors of the legislation critical of the administration for creating a small list and others holding out hope that the list will be expanded in the near future.
"I am deeply disappointed by the Obama Administration's announcement today that only 18 individuals have been added to the human rights sanctions list required by the Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act," Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), an original sponsor, said in a statement. "At a time when citizens and civil society groups are being denied justice across Russia, the United States has a responsibility to show our Russian friends and partners that there can still be accountability and consequences when basic human rights are violated. That's why robust implementation of the Magnitsky Act is so critical and why today's announcement is so damaging."
McCain said that Congress will begin work on additional legislation to compel the Obama administration to implement the law more forcefully and said that even a separate, classified list created by the State Department of officials who are subject only to visa bans is also inadequate.
Rep. Jim McGovern (D-MA), another key sponsor of the law, said in his own statement Thursday that he was assured the list was only a first draft.
"While the list is timid and features more significant omissions than names, I was assured by Administration officials today that the investigation is ongoing, and further additions will be made to the list as new evidence comes to light," he said. "The fact that a name is not on the list does not mean that person is innocent."
William Browder, the CEO of Hermitage Capital who employed Magnitsky, told The Cable in an interview that the fact that the list exists, even in an incomplete form, represents a victory for those who want to stand up to Russian human rights practices.
"This is an historic moment in the fight against impunity and human rights atrocities by having the U.S. government come up with the new policy of banning visas and freezing assets of violators in countries that are not considered enemies of the U.S. It means that you can still conduct diplomacy and condemn atrocities at the same time," he said. "The list is a good start but there are a lot more evidence available of other people that should be processed and those people should be added in the future. There are also a number of other gross human rights abuses in Russia unrelated to Magnitsky that need to be captured as this list gets formulated in the future."
A senior State Department official briefing reporters Friday defended the size of the Magnitsky list and said that asset freezes needed to meet a high standard determined by the Treasury Department, requiring a smaller list initially.
"Putting a name on this list is a serious undertaking. You better know what you are doing and why and you better have a demonstrable reason for doing so," the official said. "We have implemented this law in a fair spirit and diligently."
Critics accused the administration of minimizing the list in order to soften the expected retaliatory moves from Moscow, which have already included a Russian ban on American adoptions of Russian babies, the refusal of visas for U.S. congressmen, and a crackdown on international NGOs.
"Political considerations were not a factor," the State Department official said.
Nevertheless, the timing could not be worse for a White House intent on coaxing the Russians into negotiations over linking their anti-missile batteries to the ever-expanding U.S.-NATO missile defense shield in Eastern Europe. The missile-defense talks are only one item on Donilon's agenda. He is also seeking Russian cooperation on further reductions of nuclear weapons and Russian help in solving the crisis in Syria.
Even before the Magnitsky list was released, the Russians said publicly they were still opposed to U.S. missile-defense plans in Eastern Europe, despite the Obama administration's cancellation of the SM-IIB missile.
"All aspects of strategic uncertainty related to the creation of a U.S. and NATO missile defense system remain. Therefore, our objections also remain," Deputy Foreign Minister Segei Ryabkov said in March.
Experts now see Russian retaliation and intransigence increasing and the prospects of Donilon bringing home some agreement from Moscow on missile defense dwindling.
"Mr. Donilon will get an earful on a whole lot of things that stem from the Magnitsky issue. It will be another reason why Mr. Putin will continue to do the things he's doing," said Thomas Moore, senior fellow and deputy director of the CSIS proliferation prevention program. "The Russian position has not changed; they are opposed to any missile defenses existing or planned. I think this visit is a waste of Donilon's time in a lot of ways but I guess there's always a need to try."
The National Security Staff declined requests for comment on Donilon's trip.
Be sure to read FP's Elias Groll's run down of the 18 Russian officials on the Magnitsky list.
Alex Wong/Getty Images
Secretary of State John Kerry isn't calling for direct talks with North Korea today, but that's what he advocated when he was chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Standing beside South Korean Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se in Seoul Friday, Kerry emphasized the resoluteness of the United States and its East Asian allies in refusing to accept North Korea's status as a nuclear-weapons state and urged the North Korean leadership to step back from its increasingly provocative and bellicose rhetoric. Kerry also said that if North Korea were to change its attitude, the United States and its allies would welcome a diplomatic path to peace.
"The rhetoric that we're hearing from North Korea is simply unacceptable by any standard, and I am here to make it clear today, on behalf of President Obama and the citizens of the United States and our bilateral security agreement, that the United States will, if needed, defend our allies and defend ourselves," Kerry said Friday. "We want to emphasize that the real goal should not be reinforcing the fact that we will defend our allies, which we will, but it should be emphasizing for everybody the possibilities of peace, the possibilities of reunification, the possibilities of a very different future for the people of the Republic of Korea and ultimately for the DPRK."
In 2011, during a previous round of North Korean brinksmanship, Kerry was sitting in a different chair as head of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, charged with overseeing the Obama administration's North Korea policy. In that role, he called for an end to the status-quo policy of "strategic patience," which amounts to waiting for Pyongyang to change its behavior, and advocated direct U.S.-North Korea bilateral talks
"Let me be clear: We must get beyond the political talking point that engaging North Korea is somehow ‘rewarding bad behavior.' It is not. We will set the time and place and we will negotiate in good faith. Talks will be based on our national security interests and those of our allies," Kerry said at the opening of a March 1, 2011, hearing that featured testimony by then Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Kurt Campbell and then Special Representative for North Korea Stephen Bosworth. "We don't know what renewed diplomatic engagement can accomplish. We do know this: Our silence invites a dangerous situation to get worse."."
There are no good options when dealing with North Korea, but that doesn't mean the U.S. government should use that as an excuse to do nothing or very little, Kerry argued. In fact, he said, not talking to North Korea contributed to its "dangerous and destabilizing conduct." He said the United States needed to "seize the initiative" and propose direct talks immediately.
"The risks of maintaining the status quo are grave. North Korea would likely build more nuclear weapons and missiles. It may well export nuclear technology or even fissile material. And the next violation of the armistice could escalate into wider hostilities that threaten U.S. allies and interests," he said. "Given these very real risks, the best option is to consult closely with South Korea and launch bilateral talks with North Korea when we decide the time is appropriate. Fruitful talks between the U.S. and North Korea can lay the groundwork for resumption of the Six Party Talks. Right now, we simply cannot afford to cede the initiative to North Korea and China because neither country's interests fully coincide with ours."
At the time, North Korea had recently sunk a South Korea vessel, killing 46 South Korean sailors, and shelled a South Korean island near disputed waters. Kerry said the current policy wasn't working.
"Last year was the most dangerous on the Korean Peninsula since the end of the Korean War in 1953. We must do everything within our power to avoid further deterioration and put the peninsula back on a path to peace and stability," he said. "So far, international initiatives have not stabilized the situation, much less brought about a change of course in the North."
The Obama administration did engage North Korea in a series of meetings in 2011 and 2012, eventually working out a deal that would have sent North Korea hundreds of thousands of pounds of food in conjunction with North Korean promises related to its missile and nuclear programs. That deal fell apart when North Korean leader Kim Jong Il died the day before the deal was to be announced.
Little is known about the motivations of the new North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, and there have been some meetings between U.S. and North Korean diplomats, mostly in New York, but those meetings are largely perfunctory and are used to communicate existing positions. The State Department is reticent even to acknowledge the existence of its rare instances of engagement with Pyongyang
"We need to find a way to break North Korea's cycle of provocation and nuclear expansion. We need to find the right American policy, in concert with South Korea and Japan, to persuade the North to abandon its reckless behavior," Kerry said.
Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images
John Hudson reports on national security and foreign policy from the Pentagon to Foggy Bottom, the White House to Embassy Row, for The Cable.