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State IG finds weaknesses in office created due to Benghazi attack

The Department of State’s Office of Inspector General released an important new report today entitled “Inspection of the Bureau of Diplomatic Security, High Threat Programs Directorate.” The High Threat Programs Directorate was established in the December 2012 as a response to key weaknesses that were uncovered in the Bureau of Diplomatic Security’s (DS’s) processes for allocating protective resources to the US temporary mission facility in Benghazi prior to the September 11, 2012 terrorist attack in Benghazi. The announcement about the new directorate was made a couple of weeks prior to the release of the Accountability Review Board’s report on the attack, and was presumably made in anticipation of this ARB finding:

The Board recommends that the Department re-examine DS organization and management, with a particular emphasis on span of control for security policy planning for all overseas U.S. diplomatic facilities. In this context, the recent creation of a new Diplomatic Security Deputy Assistant Secretary for High Threat Posts could be a positive first step if integrated into a sound strategy for DS reorganization.

Now nearly two years later, the State IG has produced a thorough report on the High Threat Programs Directorate (DS/HTP, in State Department parlance). The report includes a number of positive findings, including strong leadership by the former Deputy Assistant Secretary; effective communication between DS/HTP leadership and the Regional Security Officers at the high threat posts covered by the Directorate; and high morale among the Directorate’s staff. But the report also includes a number of troubling findings.

First, the report finds that the Directorate “suffers from significant staffing gaps and position shortages.” The report provides numerous examples to support this finding. From page 15: “Four of the [operations planning] unit’s nine current positions are filled, three by U.S. military officers on 1-year training assignments.” From page 16: “The [Security Protective Specialist] program has 117 authorized positions…only 82 SPS employees are currently deployed.” From page 18: “At the time of the inspection, the directorate carried five vacancies [out of 61 authorized positions]. It has a constantly fluctuating number of gapped positions.”

Second, the report provides a numerous of examples of how DS/HTD has not yet been formally integrated and institutionalized into the State Department’s organizational structure. It notes that DS/HTD “does not have the authority to cause peer bureaus to implement its recommendations”; that State has not yet made a Department-wide announcement “informing Departmental personnel of the High Threat Programs directorate’s roles and responsibilities”; and that State’s processes to provide administrative support have been “long and complicated”, and “not reflective of the high priority of the directorate’s mission.”

Third, the report finds that DS/HTD has not done enough to establish standard policies and procedures, and other internal management mechanisms. It excuses these findings to a certain extent by highlighting the Directorate’s high operational tempo over the past two years, but expresses concern that with a turnover in leadership (which occurred this past summer), this lack of SOP’s could lead to ad hoc and informal communications channels and decision-making processes – one of the relevant issues with respect to security decisions about the Benghazi temporary mission facility in the months prior to the attack.

Overall, the report paints a picture of an office whose leadership is doing the best that it can, trying to move quickly to address the significant, ongoing threats to US embassies and consulates in key countries, but working within a large and often slow-moving bureaucracy. It is critical that this office gets the support that it needs, in terms of personnel, authority, and intra-Departmental coordination. The House Select Committee on Benghazi should also carefully examine these findings as it carries out its inquiry, given the importance of doing everything possible to prevent future attacks on US diplomatic facilities overseas.

You can read the full report at this link (PDF).