The Cable

State Department to review its own Benghazi review

The State Department Inspector General's office has drawn up plans to conduct several reviews of the State Department's handling of embassy security and the Sept. 11 attack on the U.S. mission in Benghazi, including a review of the State Department's own internal review.

The State Department's acting Inspector General Harold Geisel wrote an Oct. 26 letter, obtained by The Cable, to Senate Homeland Security Committee heads Joe Lieberman (I-CT) and Susan Collins (R-ME), outlining several reviews his office has already started and some they are about to start to determine if embassy security around the world is sufficient, being implemented properly, and if that was a factor in the attack that killed Amb. Chris Stevens and three other Americans.

One of their tasks will be to keep tabs on the proceedings of the State Department's own review of the Benghazi attack, which is being conducted by an Accountability Review Board (ARB) led by former Under Secretary of State Thomas Pickering and including former Joint Chiefs Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen.

"Inspectors will monitor the implementation of any recommendations from the Benghazi Accountability Review Board (ARB) report and will review them as future inspections are conducted," Geisel wrote.

Lieberman and Collins were among the first to call for a widespread investigation into diplomatic security at American outposts worldwide when they wrote to Geisel on Sept. 14 to request that the inspector general conduct an independent examination of security, with a focus on smaller posts and non-permanent facilities established by the department in post-conflict nations like Libya.

The senators want the inspector general's office to investigate whether there was adequate security at the Benghazi consulate, whether there was an established and clear process for determining security requirements at overseas posts, and whether that process was followed in Benghazi. They also want the IG to investigate the operational security procedures around Stevens and determine who might have known that he would be in the consulate at that time and why he didn't have more protection.

In his response, Geisel said that the IG's office has begun two new audit projects -- one to evaluate how the State Department analyzes, disseminates, and uses threat intelligence to defend vulnerable posts in dangerous places, and one to evaluate the process for choosing and vetting local guards hired by contractors to protect American facilities and personnel abroad.

Last month, the IG began an audit to determine whether diplomatic posts in key countries in Africa are following the security procedures. The IG's review of the ARB report will be conducted by the Office of Inspections, which is also looking at how State's Intelligence and Research Bureau (INR) is handling credible threat information and whether that information is getting to the posts in an efficient manner.

Without mentioning Benghazi specifically, Geisel mentioned that the IG office has been recommending ways to increase security and crisis-response capability at diplomatic posts for some time.

"Recommendations related to responding to attacks and other emergencies included the need to properly equip alternate command centers to use them in crisis management exercises," he wrote. "We recommended conducting weekly emergency and evacuation radio checks and mandated emergency drills. We also emphasized the need for maintaining updated emergency action plans, installing secondary means of egress from safe havens; and providing surveillance detection teams with the ability to remotely activate imminent danger notification systems in response to an actual or potential attack."

Meanwhile, the senators have begun their own investigation and have asked for various documents and briefings from the State Department, the Defense Department, and the Office of the Director for National Intelligence.

The Cable

Clinton explains State Department efforts to build new Syrian opposition council

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton acknowledged Wednesday that the U.S. government has been working to establish a new council to represent the Syrian opposition, to be unveiled in Qatar at a major conference next week.

The Cable reported Tuesday that the State Department has been heavily involved in setting the stage for the Nov. 7 rollout of a new opposition leadership council, which will subsume the Syrian National Council (SNC), a group of external opposition leaders that the administration has decided is too consumed by infighting and ineffectiveness to represent the Syrian opposition.

U.S. Ambassador to Syria Robert Ford will travel to Qatar for the conference and has been working to craft the new council in a way that better represents a wider array of both internal and external opposition groups. U.S. officials and opposition leaders are calling the initiative the "Riad Seif plan," named after the former Syrian parliamentarian and dissident who has been active in preparing the new initiative.

"We call it a proto-parliament. One could also think of it as a continental congress," a senior administration official told The Cable.

Clinton met with internal opposition leaders last month to work on the initiative, The Cable reported. On Wednesday, asked directly about the effort during a stop in Croatia, Clinton said that the time had come to stop relying on the SNC.

"We've made it clear that the SNC can no longer be viewed as the visible leader of the opposition," Clinton said. "They can be part of a larger opposition, but that opposition must include people from inside Syria and others who have a legitimate voice that needs to be heard. So our efforts are very focused on that right now."

The U.S. government has recommended names and organizations it believes should be included in the new leadership structure, Clinton said, emphasizing the participation of representatives of Syrian opposition groups on the ground.

"We facilitated the smuggling out of a few representatives of the Syrian internal opposition in order for them to explain to the countries gathered why they must be at the table. This cannot be an opposition represented by people who have many good attributes but have, in many instances, not been inside Syria for 20, 30, or 40 years. There has to be a representation of those who are on the front lines, fighting and dying today to obtain their freedom," she said.

"And there needs to be an opposition leadership structure that is dedicated to representing and protecting all Syrians. It is not a secret that many inside Syria are worried about what comes next. They have no love lost for the Assad regime, but they worry, rightly so, about the future. And so there needs to be an opposition that can speak to every segment and every geographic part of Syria ... So the Arab League-sponsored meetings, starting in Doha next week, will be an important next step."

Clinton also said that the opposition must go on record resisting extremist influence in the Syrian revolution and noted increasing reports that extremists are gaining influence on the ground.

After Clinton spoke, at the State Department press briefing, Deputy Spokesman Mark Toner pushed back against reporters' assertions that the State Department was trying to choose Syrian opposition leaders for the Syrians rather than let them pick their own leaders.

"We're not giving them a list... We have recommended names and organizations that we have been working with," Toner said. "We fully recognize that this is a Syrian-led process, that these are Syrians themselves who are among the opposition in Syria that are going to make these choices, and it's the Syrian people themselves who have to decide on what the opposition looks like."