Watchdog: Accountability

State Department inspector general: Review board missed many security-related incidents

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More than 256 security-related incidents over a 14-year period involved with a U.S. mission abroad were ignored by the Accountability Review Board, according to a report by the Inspector General for the U.S. Department of State and the Broadcasting Board of Governors.

The ARB was established to help ensure the safety of State Department employees assigned to diplomatic missions abroad by making recommendations after a security-related event.

The board's most prominent report was its recent evaluation of the attack on the U.S. diplomatic facility in Benghazi, Libya, in which four Americans, including U.S. Ambassador Chris Stephens were murdered.

But the State Department is not structured properly to make use of the ARB, and department officials do not consistently follow-up on implementation of the board's recommendations, according to the inspector general.

"The Department of State has neither a conceptual framework nor a process for risk management. There is no one person or office specifically tasked to oversee the assessment of risks in critical, high-threat locales and weigh those risks against the U.S. government’s policy priorities to determine if the strategic value of the program outweighs the associated risk," the inspector general said.

"Follow-through on long-term security program improvements involving physical security, training, and intelligence sharing lacks sustained oversight by Department of State principals," the IG also said.

Only 46 incidents from 1998 to 2012 went to the Permanent Coordinating Committee, the body that recommends to the secretary of state whether the ARB should meet. As a result, only 12 cases were reviewed by the ARB.

The ARB will convene, with respect to a security-related incident, if there is a serious injury, loss of life or significant destruction of property or a serious breach of security, according to the Foreign Affairs Manual. It also must occur at or be related to a U.S. government mission abroad.

Many of these cases went without review due to a lack of clear guidelines and inconsistencies in how incidents were reported.

One such case occurred in June 2002, after a suicide bomber detonated a large truck 50 feet from the consulate general in Pakistan, killing 12 people, injuring more than 50 (including a U.S. Marine), and destroying a portion of the facility’s perimeter wall.

It was not recommended that the ARB evaluate the incident, because the PCC ruled that there were no causes related to security, according to the report released on Wednesday.

Another example is the definition of “serious injury.”

“The PCC defines ‘serious’ as an injury from which an individual cannot recover, such as amputation or loss of sight or hearing,” the body that convenes and chairs the PCC, the Office of Management Policy, Rightsizing, and Innovation, told the inspector general.

However, a September 2004 PCC meeting defined a serious injury as “nearly fatal,” according to the report.

“An injury, such as massive blood loss, would meet the latter definition, but not the former,” the report said.

In 2008, a mob set fire to a U.S. embassy in Belgrade, Serbia, which resulted in significant damages and its ultimate closure. No PCC meeting followed the event.

The report determined that the current system does not provide enough information, which has led the State Department to miss “opportunities to draw lessons from events that could improve security programs.”

Go here for the full report.

Ethan Barton is a National Journalism Center intern assigned to the Washington Examiner watchdog investigative reporting team.
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