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
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
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
"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?"
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.
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