The Cable

Mid-level officials take the fall for Benghazi

One State Department mid-level official has resigned over the security failures related to the Sept. 11 attack on the U.S. mission in Benghazi and three others have been placed on "administrative leave." But lawmakers and experts are asking why the disciplinary action stops there.

Assistant Secretary of State for Diplomatic Security Eric Boswell resigned. Deputy Assistant Secretary for Embassy Security Charlene Lamb, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Near Eastern Affairs Raymond Maxwell, and a third as yet unidentified diplomatic security official were placed on "administrative leave" pending further action.

"The ARB identified the performance of four officials, three in the Bureau of the Diplomatic Security and one in the Bureau of Near East Asia Affairs," State Department Spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said in a statement late Wednesday evening. "The Secretary has accepted Eric Boswell's decision to resign as Assistant Secretary for Diplomatic Security, effective immediately. The other three individuals have been relieved of their current duties. All four individuals have been placed on administrative leave pending further action." 

Lamb, Maxwell, and the still unnamed DS official have not "resigned." As federal employees, they are entitled to an administrative process to determine what, if any disciplinary action might be taken against them. It's possible they could simply be reassigned to new roles inside the State Department after the Benghazi issue blows over.

Nuland's statement indicates that State is pointing to the report of the Accountability Review Board (ARB) that was released Wednesday as the source of the names of officials to be disciplined. The ARB was led by Tom Pickering and Adm. Mike Mullen. In a press briefing Wednesday, Pickering explained the logic the ARB used to come up with its disciplinary recommendations.

"We fixed it at the assistant secretary level, which is in our view the appropriate place to look, where the decision-making in fact takes place, where, if you like, the rubber hits the road," he said.

That explanation left lawmakers, employees inside the State Department, and outside experts scratching their heads, because Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Beth Jones will apparently escape any disciplinary action, letting her subordinate Maxwell take the fall.

"The report says that there were ‘systemic failures and leadership and management deficiencies at senior levels within two bureaus of the State Department,' namely the Diplomatic Security (DS) and Near East (NEA) bureaus," wrote former NSC Middle East official Elliott Abrams. "Why is the head of the DS bureau forced out, and the head of NEA allowed to remain?"

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) challenged Deputy Secretaries of State Bill Burns and Tom Nides in a Thursday Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on why the disciplinary actions were limited to officials at the assistant secretary and deputy assistant secretary level.

"And why I find that quite puzzling is because Benghazi and Libya in general is not some remote outpost, is not Luxembourg. I mean, this is a country that we were involved in militarily not so long ago in a high-profile intervention," he said.

Rubio wanted to know whether Stevens had raised his concerns about security to Burns or Secretary of State Hillary Clinton during their trips to Libya earlier in 2012. Burns said that security had been discussed, but not in specifics.

"And you know, as Secretary Clinton has said, all of us as senior leaders in the department are accountable and responsible for what happened. And I certainly fault myself," said Burns. "You know, I accompanied the remains of my four colleagues back after the attack in Benghazi... And on that long flight home, I certainly had a lot of time to think about sharper questions that I could have asked, sharper focus that I could have provided."

When pressed by Rubio over whether the March and July cable requesting more security had reached the upper echelons of the State Department, Burns said they had.

"Well, they certainly would have been reviewed up through assistant secretary level, and it may be that some of my colleagues on the 7th floor saw them as well." Burns said. "There were certainly memos that came up to the 7th floor that talked about the deteriorating security situation in eastern Libya, yes, sir."

Maxwell, according to several State Department sources, had been slated to retire in September but was asked to stay on as DAS for the Maghreb after the attack. Maxwell might have been in a position to directly receive the requests for more security in Benghazi, giving him a direct connection to the security failures, those sources speculated. Those details are confined to the classified version of the ARB report. But State Department officials insist that he would not have been able make any decisions about such matters with consulting with Jones, who would have had the final say.

"Either they have some kind of documentary evidence that puts Maxwell in a bad light specifically, or this could be the Foreign Service elite protecting itself. Maxwell is not a member of the elite, but Jones is," one senior foreign policy hand who has worked in the State Department said.

Jones, who had already retired, was brought back to State by Deputy Secretary Bill Burns after Assistant Secretary Jeff Feltman moved to the U.N. Jones is close to Burns, fueling speculation that her stature allowed her avoid punishment.

"Being on the Seventh Floor appears to grant immunity. I'm sure that's what is being said around the water coolers at State, and from what I can see they are not wrong. Pickering led what was called an ‘Accountability Review Board.' A better name might have been ‘Accountability for Mid Level Officials Review Board,'" Abrams wrote.

KAREN BLEIER/AFP/Getty Images

The Cable

Friends of Hagel gear up for a fight

Former Nebraska Sen. Chuck Hagel hasn't been nominated for anything, but the onslaught of attacks against him have prompted his friends and supporters to begin a campaign to respond and defend the potential next defense secretary.

President Barack Obama is not expected to announce new nominations for national security cabinet positions until at least Dec. 21 and perhaps later than that. But amid reports that Hagel is Obama's leading choice for the Pentagon, a group of activists, Senate staffers, and partisan journalists have already begun a campaign to paint him as an anti-Semitic, anti-Israel, anti-sanctions, defense cutter.

The Weekly Standard quoted an anonymous Senate aide calling Hagel an anti-Semite last week. Buzzfeed reported about Jewish leaders criticizing Hagel at a White House Hannukah party. The Washington Post ran an editorial today entitled, "Chuck Hagel is not the right choice for defense secretary." The Post's Right Turn blog has been collecting and documenting opposition to Hagel in the Jewish community, including from the Anti-Defamation League.

On Thursday, the Emergency Committee for Israel, which counts among its board members Weekly Standard editor Bill Kristol, will begin running this television ad criticizing Hagel's opposition to unilateral sanctions against Iran. "For secretary of defense, Chuck Hagel is not a responsible option," the ad claims.

The effort to intimidate the White House into not nominating Hagel seems similar to the successful effort that ended only one week ago to convince the White House it would be too time-consuming and troublesome to seek Senate confirmation of U.N. ambassador Susan Rice for secretary of state. But while the actual Senate opposition to Hagel is not as strong as it was for Rice, his ability to fight the negative publicity campaign is also minimal next to the resources Rice had at her disposal.

Hagel has no large staff, no official administration position, and no communications infrastructure that is actively working to push back against bad press. The Cable spoke with several of Hagel's friends and former staffers, and they are starting to organize an effort to defend the former Nebraska senator, who they believe is being treated unfairly.

"Those misrepresenting Senator Hagel's positions on this are in the gutter," said Andrew Parasiliti, who was Hagel's foreign policy advisor from 2001-2005 and is now editor of Al-Monitor. "That he is anti-Israel is complete nonsense, not at all supported by his record. He knows the issues and the players there as well as anyone in Washington.  Those tossing around these accusations can't hold a candle to his record of service and expertise on national security."

Hagel supporters have also begun to circulate a memo called "Facts on Chuck Hagel," which is meant to rebut, among other things, the charge Hagel is not supportive enough of Israel because he has declined to sign several letters supported by some pro-Israel groups and because he once referred to the pro-Israel lobby as the "Jewish lobby."

"I don't think it's fair," Richard Armitage, former deputy secretary of state in the George W. Bush administration, told The Cable in an interview. "I've known him quite closely for the last 15 years and I've never heard him utter any anti-Semitic statement. If he used the term 'Jewish lobby, that's a poor choice of words and I'm sure he'll speak for himself on that."

Armitage also pushed back against the reports quoting anonymous sources criticizing Hagel's management style.

"I happen to know the guy. He's not owned by anybody, he happens to think for himself, and this apparently causes some fear in some cases. He's got an unerring bullshit sensor, he's got real stones, and he doesn't mind telling you what his opinion is, which will stand him in very good stead in the Pentagon if the president nominates him," Armitage said.

Other criticisms of Hagel include that he has made comments supporting smaller Pentagon budgets. But Armitage said that Pentagon budget cuts are coming with or without Hagel and that Hagel is perfectly prepared to oversee that process.

"Chuck Hagel might be just the guy to come in to steward the Pentagon through what's going to be a tough budget environment," he said. "He is a straight thinker, he thinks for himself, and if that makes him subject to criticism from either party, so be it."

If Hagel is nominated, a series of Republican foreign-policy heavyweights from previous administrations are preparing to come to his defense.

"Senator Hagel is one of the most well-respected and thoughtful voices on both foreign and domestic policy," retired Gen. Brent Scowcroft, a former Republican national security advisor, told The Cable. "At an uncertain time in America-with a significant debt burden, a polarized Congress, and a host of challenges facing the international community, I am confident Senator Hagel will provide a vibrant, no-nonsense voice of logic and leadership to the United States."

Junko Kimura/Getty Images