State Department watchdog finds no bias in Benghazi audit
By Julian Pecquet - 09/25/13 11:24 AM ET
The State Department's watchdog says it has found no evidence of any bias in the independent audit of the Benghazi attack, contradicting Republican allegations that it was set up to protect Hillary Clinton.
House oversight chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) has been leading the charge that the Benghazi panel was stacked with Clinton allies. He held a hearing with the co-chairmen of the panels last week during which Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.) said many people consider their report a “whitewash.”
The Inspector General's Office, however, drew sharply different conclusions in a report released Wednesday.
“The Accountability Review Board process operates as intended—independently and without bias—to identify vulnerabilities in the Department of State’s security programs,” the OIG said.
The OIG reviewed all 12 Accountability Review Boards convened between 1998 and 2012 and interviewed the four secretaries of State who served during that period - Madeleine Albright, Colin Powell, Condoleezza Rice and Clinton. It found that none of the panels interviewed the acting secretary – a key Republican criticism of the Benghazi audit.
“It is important to note that the OIG team found no reason to question the selection of previous ARB members,” the OIG report said. “None of the 12 ARBs interviewed the Secretary to ascertain her/his role in the events leading up to the incident under review.
“ARB members interviewed by the OIG team stated that after reviewing documentation, they did not find reason to interview the Secretary; rather, the ARBs focused their inquiries at the operational levels of the Department responsible for implementing and overseeing security policies and programs. ARB members were unanimous in saying that they felt empowered to interview anyone, including the Secretary, as the facts or events warranted.”
The OIG report went on to praise Clinton – and her successor, John Kerry – for taking a hands-on approach to making sure the recommendations of the Benghazi audit are carried out. Four Americans – including Ambassador Christopher Stevens – were killed in the terrorist attack on the U.S. mission last Sept. 11.
“The Department’s handling of the Benghazi ARB recommendations represents a significant departure from the previous norm in that Secretary Clinton took charge directly of oversight for the implementation process. She designated the Deputy Secretary for Management and Resources as the coordinator for implementation with strict guidelines for a reporting schedule,” the OIG report said.
“This high-level oversight of the Benghazi ARB implementation process has been sustained through the transition from Secretary Clinton to Secretary Kerry. This level of attention from both secretaries and their senior staffs is a reflection of their personal concern in this matter and the unique scope of the Benghazi ARB recommendations.”
The report found that all the past secretaries of State struggled with the balance between keeping their diplomats safe and making sure they can carry out their mission in unstable and sometimes dangerous places.
“All four former secretaries described the inherent tug of war between risks and rewards as the Department conducts its business in dangerous places around the world,” the report said.
“Typically, the strong preference among those responsible for advancing U.S. policy objectives is to keep posts open whenever possible, even in dangerous places, while those officials responsible for security give priority to the risks and the possibilities for harm.”