- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 25, 2013

A year after the Benghazi terrorist attacks, the State Department still doesn’t have a good handle on managing security risks at foreign diplomatic missions, the department’s internal auditor concludes in a report released Wednesday.

A “special review” conducted by the State Department’s office of inspector general chastises the department for lacking a systematic approach to boosting security personnel beyond the assistance provided by host nations at 27 high-risk posts, and points to holes in the department’s ability to weigh the balance between security and the need to be involved in certain volatile corners of the world.

“The State Department has neither a conceptual framework nor a process for risk management,” the OIG concludes. “There is no one person or office specifically tasked to oversee the assessment of risk in critical, high-threat locals.”

However, the OIG also shot down claims made over the past year by prominent Republicans who have argued that the Obama administration-appointed panel that investigated the September 2012 attacks in Benghazi, Libya, was tainted by political tampering and failed to hold anyone sufficiently accountable for security failures surrounding the incident.

Four Americans, including U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens, were killed when armed Islamist terrorists stormed a shoddily protected diplomatic outpost in Benghazi.

Perhaps the loudest critic has been Rep. Darrell E. Issa, a California Republican and chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, who has claimed that last year’s Accountability Review Board investigation — a process mandated by federal law whenever an attack occurs on a U.S. diplomatic post overseas — fell far short of uncovering the truth of what was behind the security failures in Benghazi.

While the Obama administration had appointed longtime diplomat Thomas R. Pickering and retired Adm. Mike Mullen, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, to oversee the ARB investigation, Mr. Issa has claimed that the “ARB was not fully independent.”

“The panel did not exhaustively examine failures and it has led to an unacceptable lack of accountability,” Mr. Issa said in a statement earlier this month.

The OIG findings rebut the assertion, concluding instead that the “Accountability Review Board process operates as intended — independently and without bias — to identify vulnerabilities in the Department of State’s security programs.”

The State Department was quick to seize upon the finding.

“This independent report underscores that the partisan and political assault on the ARB must end,” department spokesman Alec Gerlach said in an email to The Washington Times. “The IG looked at all 12 ARBs conducted between 1998 and 2012 and determined that the ARB process occurs ‘independently and without bias.’”

“Chairman Issa might want to read the report before he again slanders the independence and integrity of Admiral Mullen and Ambassador Pickering,” Mr. Gerlach said. “The IG also found that our response to the Benghazi ARB ‘establishes a model for how the Department should handle future ARB recommendations,’ noting that the level of attention of [Secretary of State John F. Kerry and former Secretary Hillary Rodham Clinton] reflected their personal concern.”

Indeed, the OIG report gave the ARB process itself a stamp of approval, saying it is able to operate free of bias and political pressure. But it found mixed results with regard to the State Department’s implementation of the recommendations made by the ARB.

For instance, one of the ARB’s key findings had called for boosting U.S. assets at high-risk posts where the host countries are incapable or unwilling to protect U.S. missions.

“The department’s actions to date do not comply with this recommendation,” Wednesday’s OIG report says, concluding that while State Department standards reflect the quality of construction of posts, they don’t address “minimum security standards for occupancy or address requirements beyond construction standards.”

Still, the OIG report specifically credited Mrs. Clinton for taking a direct role in making sure the Benghazi ARB recommendations were implemented, and said Mr. Kerry is following through.

“The Benghazi ARB recommendations, when implemented, should significantly improve the department’s ability to provide better security for U.S. diplomatic missions and employees,” the report said.

• Stephen Dinan can be reached at sdinan@washingtontimes.com.

• Guy Taylor can be reached at gtaylor@washingtontimes.com.

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