Politics & Policy

The Elusive Patrick Kennedy

Republicans keep asking why the buck stopped so low at the State Department.

The State Department’s under secretary for management, Patrick F. Kennedy (no relation to the former congressman from Rhode Island), would not be the first official in Foggy Bottom one would accuse of being an Obama-administration stooge.

He’s not a political appointee or a longtime Obama backer; he has worked in diplomatic and government positions his entire adult life. For six months in 2003 he was chief of staff of the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq, and for four months he served as chief of staff of the Transition Unit in Iraq. In spring 2005 he headed the transition team that set up the newly created office of the director of national intelligence, and he worked in the DNI’s office until 2007. In 2008 he irked some Democrats when he defended the U.S. embassy in Berlin for instructing Foreign Service personnel stationed there not to attend then-Senator Barack Obama’s public rally.

#ad#But congressional Republicans increasingly see Kennedy as a key figure in what they characterize as the State Department’s culture of unaccountability, secrecy, and rear-covering. He was the sole witness yesterday morning at a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing on the State Department’s accountability for Benghazi.

“Under Secretary Kennedy did little to assuage my concerns about how the State Department handled this entire situation, from the first moments of the attack to the hearing this morning,” said Representative Adam Kinzinger (R., Ill.) after the hearing. “Frankly, the four Americans that lost their lives in Benghazi and their families deserve better, and we will continue fighting for accountability.”

“At the end of the day, no one is held accountable. That’s contradictory to the thesis that you’re advancing here,” committee chairman Ed Royce (R., Calif.) told Kennedy in the hearing’s opening exchange.

Kennedy replied, “Four employees of the State Department were relieved of their senior positions, as assistant secretaries or deputy assistant secretaries of state, and are no longer holding those senior positions. . . . To me, that is serious accountability.”

From the moment lawmakers began questioning the subpar security around the Benghazi compound on September 11, 2012, Kennedy stood out as a key figure in the security decisions. But it was in the May 8 hearing of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, chaired by Darrell Issa (R., Calif.), that key witnesses repeatedly cast doubt on the conclusions of the State Department’s Accountability Review Board (ARB) and asked how Kennedy could be spared any punishment or consequence.

Eric Nordstrom, the former regional security officer at the U.S. embassy in Tripoli, testified:

Well, I guess the question that I have about the ARB — and again, it’s not what the ARB has. It’s what it doesn’t have and that it stops short of the very people that need to be asked those questions — and that’s the Under Secretary of Management [Patrick F. Kennedy] and above. Those are perfect questions that he needs to answer.

Later in that May 8 hearing, Gregory Hicks, former deputy chief of mission and chargé d’affaires in Libya, concurred:

Given the decision-making that Under Secretary Pat Kennedy was making with respect to Embassy Tripoli and Consulate Benghazi operations, he has to bear some responsibility. . . . The fact that Under Secretary Kennedy required a daily report of the personnel in country and who personally approved every official American who went to Tripoli or Benghazi, either on assignment or TDY, would suggest some responsibility about security levels within the country lies on his desk.

In testimony Wednesday, Kennedy said, “I don’t believe I got a daily report, I don’t remember getting a daily report of people in country.” He said he had “set a cap” on the number of personnel allowed in Benghazi at one time.

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A year of investigation into the Benghazi attacks has clarified one big reason why the security at the compound was so insufficient: The compound was originally established as a temporary installation and was never upgraded to the level of security required for U.S. diplomats in “normal” circumstances, never mind in a country with continuing fighting among violent factions, including Islamists.

The U.S. had reopened its embassy in Tripoli in September 2011 after Moammar Qaddafi’s regime collapsed. The State Department also established a “Benghazi special mission compound,” which was never declared an official U.S. diplomatic facility. According to memos and e-mails uncovered by the Oversight Committee, as late as December 2011 many State Department employees both in Washington and in Benghazi remained uncertain as to whether the mission would close when the lease expired the coming February.

#ad#In December 2011, Assistant Secretary for Near Eastern Affairs Jeffrey Feltman asked Kennedy to “approve a continued U.S. presence in Benghazi through the end of calendar year 2012.” Kennedy agreed, extending the Benghazi special-mission compound’s assignment for one year, but the department also extended the existing policy of not officially notifying the host government. (At least one of the purposes of Ambassador Chris Stevens’s final visit to Benghazi was to continue the preparations to establish a permanent U.S. diplomatic presence in the city.)

The State Department had difficulty meeting even the fairly light security requirements outlined in the existing plan. The memo signed by Kennedy called for five special agents to protect the three diplomats working there full-time. But the ARB stated that the Benghazi special mission had its full complement of five diplomatic-security agents for only 23 days between January 1 and September 9, 2012.

The State Department’s Libya desk officer, Brian Papanu, told Issa’s committee that Benghazi’s status as “a sort of a non-official post” definitely created challenges in meeting its security needs.

We now know there was a significant presence of Central Intelligence Agency personnel in Benghazi; CNN’s Jake Tapper reported that “dozens” of CIA personnel were on the ground in Benghazi the night of the attack. We also know that the U.S. presence in Benghazi focused heavily on securing surface-to-air missiles. Because neither the ARB nor the congressional investigations have mentioned much about the CIA’s role in Benghazi, we don’t know whether the State Department’s security decisions were shaped by the CIA’s presence, or based upon a belief that the CIA would provide sufficient security in a crisis.

Republicans have focused on why the ARB mentioned Kennedy’s role in the decisions about the Benghazi facility but did not recommend any disciplinary action.

Issa’s committee issued a damning report, offering an explanation of why the ARB blamed Kennedy’s subordinates and not him: “Under Secretary for Management Patrick Kennedy supervised the selection of the Benghazi ARB staff. This placed the staff in a position in which their duties required them to evaluate the performance of supervisors, colleagues, and friends.”

“I had absolutely nothing to do with the assignment of staff to the board,” Kennedy told the House Foreign Affairs Committee yesterday.

However, former ambassador Thomas Pickering, the chairman of the ARB, said the State Department provided the staff for the ARB, “all serving Foreign Service or civil-service officers.” He added, “I spoke with Under Secretary Kennedy about the timing [of the committee’s report], and he asked me for some ideas about how and what way the ARB should be conducted.”

Kennedy told the Foreign Affairs Committee yesterday that he conversed with Pickering about who else should serve on the ARB.

Republicans continue to have doubts about the independence and impartiality of the ARB. Hillary Clinton, then secretary of state, selected four of the ARB members, and Director of National Intelligence James Clapper nominated the fifth, Hugh Turner, a former senior intelligence-community official. President Bill Clinton had appointed Pickering ambassador to Russia in 1993, and then Clinton appointed him under secretary of state for political affairs, the third-highest-ranking position at the State Department. During this time, Kennedy was the assistant secretary of state for administration.

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It’s also worth noting that ARB member Richard J. Shinnick served from January 2008 until April 2009 as the acting director of the Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations. During that time, he reported to the State Department’s under secretary for management — Patrick Kennedy.

“I believe this was an independent investigation,” Kennedy told the Foreign Affairs Committee yesterday. “It is hard for me to accept the fact that the board could be stacked as a State Department–favorable board when they rendered the very, very critical opinions that they did.”

#ad#Pickering also said that he spoke to Cheryl Mills, Secretary Clinton’s chief of staff, whom he “filled in by telephone on the progress of the ARB about two weeks in, and maybe then two weeks before we completed the [report].” The vice chairman of the ARB, Admiral Mike Mullen, told Issa’s committee he had called Mills to give her a “heads up” that the testimony of Charlene Lamb, the deputy assistant secretary for international programs, “could be a very difficult appearance for the State Department,” in his words.

There are also questions about the accuracy or thoroughness of Kennedy’s testimony to the ARB, which interviewed Kennedy for two sessions, each longer than an hour.

Pickering told Issa’s committee that the first he heard that Kennedy required “a daily report of who was in country . . . and . . . that he made the decision as to who came to Tripoli and Benghazi or who didn’t” was in Hicks’s testimony on May 8, long after the ARB had released its final report.

Mullen later told Issa’s committee, “I didn’t see his involvement from a security standpoint, per se, in any significant way. . . . We did not see any direct line of what I would call accountable responsibility for Under Secretary Kennedy.”

Pickering said he “concluded that [Kennedy] had performed his functions in a satisfactory way.”

Benghazi isn’t the only scandal that has brought Kennedy’s name into the headlines. In June, CBS News’s John Miller reported that an internal State Department inspector general’s memo stated that several recent investigations were influenced, manipulated, or simply called off. The most notorious case involved an ambassador who “routinely ditched . . . his protective security detail”; and inspectors suspect this was in order to “solicit sexual favors from prostitutes.” Sources told CBS News that after the allegations surfaced, the ambassador was called to Washington, D.C., to meet with Kennedy, but was permitted to return to his post.

In response to the report, Kennedy issued a statement: “I have always acted to honor the brave men and women I serve, while also holding accountable anyone guilty of wrongdoing. In my current position, it is my responsibility to make sure the Department and all of our employees — no matter their rank — are held to the highest standard, and I have never once interfered, nor would I condone interfering, in any investigation.”

Yesterday’s House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing continued the frustrating status quo on Benghazi, with Kennedy insisting that the ARB report was thorough and exhaustive, and expressing surprise that anyone could suggest it was insufficiently tough on the State Department’s senior management, because it was “quite critical” of the department as a whole. Republicans alternated between asking tough questions that received vague answers and offering YouTube-ready fuming for the camera; Democrats largely insisted Republicans were wasting time on a witch hunt.

The fact remains that in the aftermath of Benghazi, not a single State Department employee has ever missed a paycheck. Those most responsible for the attacks — the perpetrators — remain at large.

— Jim Geraghty writes the Campaign Spot on NRO.

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