Three State Department officials resign in wake of Benghazi report
by Matthew Lee
WASHINGTON -- Three State Department officials resigned under pressure Wednesday, less than a day after a damning report blamed management failures for a lack of security at the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya, where militants killed the U.S. ambassador and three other Americans on Sept. 11.
An administration official said Eric Boswell, the assistant secretary of state for diplomatic security, Charlene Lamb, the deputy assistant secretary responsible for embassy security, and an unnamed official with the Bureau of Near East Affairs, had stepped down. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn't authorized to discuss personnel matters publicly.
The report said poor leadership in both bureaus left the post underprotected.
"Systemic failures and leadership and management deficiencies at senior levels within two bureaus" resulted in a security level that was "inadequate for Benghazi and grossly inadequate to deal with the attack that took place," according to the report released late Tuesday by the independent Accountability Review Board.
The board was led by Thomas Pickering, a retired ambassador, and Mike Mullen, a retired admiral and former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. They testified in closed sessions before frustrated lawmakers on the House Foreign Affairs Committee and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
"My impression is the State Department clearly failed the Boy Scout motto of be prepared," said Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo.
"They failed to anticipate what was coming because of how bad the security risk already was there. ... They failed to connect the dots. They didn't have adequate security leading up to the attack and once the attack occurred, the security was woefully inadequate."
Rep. Adam Schiff, a member of the House intelligence committee, said security was "plainly inadequate, intelligence collection needs to be improved, and our reliance on local militias was sorely misplaced." Schiff, D-Calif., added that "these are not mistakes we can afford to make again."
The House committee chairman, Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Mich., said the report laid bare "the massive failure of the State Department at all levels, including senior leadership, to take action to protect our government employees abroad," and complained that no one was being held accountable.
Rogers also said he was dissatisfied with the lack of progress in finding the attackers.
Lamb testified in October before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee and defended the security measures.
"I made the best decisions I could with the information I had," Lamb said. "We had the correct number of assets in Benghazi at the time of 9/11."
She also told Rep. Dan Burton, R-Ind., that she rejected requests for more security in Benghazi, instead training "local Libyans and army men" to provide security, a policy in force at U.S. diplomatic facilities around the world.
The classified testimony by Pickering and Mullen set the stage for public hearings Thursday with Deputy Secretary of State William Burns, who is in charge of policy, and Deputy Secretary of State Thomas Nides, who is in charge of management.
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton was to have appeared at Thursday's hearings, but canceled after fainting and sustaining a concussion last week while recovering from a stomach virus. Clinton is under doctors' orders to rest.
The board determined that no individual officials ignored or violated their duties and recommended no disciplinary action. But it also said poor performance by senior managers should be grounds for disciplinary recommendations in the future.
Senate Republicans and Democrats said they hoped Clinton would testify on the Hill even though she is planning to step down from her Cabinet post.
In a letter that accompanied the transmission of the report to Capitol Hill, Clinton thanked the board for its "clear-eyed, serious look at serious systemic challenges" and said she accepted all of its 29 recommendations to improve security at high-threat embassies and consulates.
She said the department had begun to put in place some of the recommendations. They include increasing by several hundred the number of Marine guards stationed at diplomatic missions throughout the world; relying less on local security forces for protection at embassies, consulates and other offices; and increasing hiring and deployment of highly trained Diplomatic Security agents at at-risk posts.
Clinton agreed with the panel's finding that Congress must fully fund the State Department's security initiatives. The panel found that budget constraints in the past had led some management officials to emphasize savings over security, including rejecting numerous requests from the Benghazi mission and the embassy in Tripoli for enhanced protection.
House and Senate negotiators on the pending defense bill agreed on Tuesday to fund another 1,000 Marines at embassy security worldwide.
The report singled out the Bureau of Diplomatic Security and the Bureau of Near East Affairs for criticism, saying there appeared to be a lack of cooperation and confusion over protection at the mission in Benghazi, a city in Eastern Libya that was relatively lawless after the revolution that toppled Libyan strongman Moammar Gadhafi.
But it appeared to break little new ground about the timeline of the Benghazi attack during which Libyan Ambassador Chris Stevens, information specialist Sean Smith and former Navy SEALs Glen Doherty and Tyrone Woods -- who were contractors working for the CIA -- were killed. Stevens' slaying was the first of a U.S. ambassador since 1988.
The board determined that there had been no immediate, specific tactical warning of a potential attack on the 11th anniversary of Sept. 11, 2001. But the report said there had been several worrisome incidents before to the attack that should have set off warning bells.
It did confirm, though, that contrary to initial accounts, there was no protest outside the facility.
In the immediate aftermath of the attack, administration officials linked the attack to the spreading protests that had begun in Cairo earlier that day over an American-made, anti-Islamic film. Those comments came after evidence already pointed to a distinct militant attack.
U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice appeared on numerous TV talk shows the Sunday after the attack and used the administration talking points linking it to the film. An ensuing brouhaha in the heat of the presidential campaign eventually led her to withdraw her name from consideration to replace Clinton as secretary of state in President Barack Obama's second term.
Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., emerging from the Senate briefing on the report, kept up the congressional criticism of Rice.
"Now we all know she had knowledge. She knew what the truth was. It was a cover-up," he said.
While criticizing State Department management in Washington along with the local militia force and contract guards that the mission depended on for protection, the report said U.S. personnel on the ground in Benghazi "performed with courage and readiness to risk their lives to protect their colleagues in a near-impossible situation."
It said the response by Diplomatic Security agents on the scene and CIA operatives at a nearby compound that later came under attack itself had been "timely and appropriate" and absolved the military from any blame. "There was simply not enough time for armed U.S. military assets to have made a difference," it said.
The report also discounted speculation that officials in Washington had refused appeals for additional help after the attack had begun.
The report said the evacuation of the dead and wounded 12 hours after the initial attack was due to "exceptional U.S. government coordination and military response" that helped save the lives of two seriously wounded Americans.
Obama vows to send gun proposals to Congress by January
by Julie Pace
WASHINGTON -- Spurred by a horrific elementary school shooting, President Barack Obama vowed to send Congress new policy proposals for reducing gun violence by January.
"This time, the words need to lead to action," Obama said Wednesday. He tasked Vice President Joe Biden with leading an administration-wide effort to create the new recommendations and pledged to push for their implementation without delay.
The president, who exerted little political capital on gun control despite a series of mass shootings in his first term, bristled at suggestions that he had been silent on the issue during his first four years in office. But he acknowledged that Friday's deadly shooting had been "a wake-up call for all of us."
Twenty children and six adults were killed when a man carrying a military-style rifle stormed Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn., Friday morning.
The president also called on Congress Wednesday to reinstate an assault weapons ban that expired in 2004 and to pass legislation that would close the gun show "loophole," which allows people to purchase firearms from private dealers without a background check. Obama also said he wanted Congress to pursue the possibility of limiting high-capacity ammunition clips.
"The fact that this problem is complex can no longer be an excuse for doing nothing," Obama said. "The fact that we can't prevent every act of violence doesn't mean we can't steadily reduce the violence." The president's announcement Wednesday underscores the urgency the White House sees in formulating a response to the Newtown shooting. The massacre has prompted several congressional gun rights supporters to consider new legislation to control firearms, and there is some concern that their willingness to engage could fade as the shock and sorrow over the Newtown shooting eases.
Obama said it was "encouraging" to see people of different backgrounds and political affiliations coming to an understanding that the country has an obligation to prevent such violence.
Appealing to gun owners, Obama said he believes in the Second Amendment and the country's strong tradition of gun ownership. And he said "the vast majority of gun owners in America are responsible."
"I am also betting that the majority, the vast majority, of responsible law-abiding gun owners would be some of the first to say that we should be able to keep an irresponsible, law-breaking few from buying a weapon of war," Obama said.
Obama also tasked the Biden-led team with considering ways to improve mental health resources and address ways to create a culture that doesn't promote violence. The departments of Justice, Education, Health and Human Services, and Homeland Security, along with outside groups and lawmakers, will all be part of the process.
Biden's prominent role in the process could be an asset for the White House in getting gun legislation through Congress. The vice president spent decades in the Senate and has been called on by Obama before to use his long-standing relationships with lawmakers to build support for White House measures.
The president challenged the National Rifle Association, the country's most powerful gun lobby and key backer of many Republican politicians, to join the broader effort to reduce gun violence as well.
"Hopefully they'll do some self-reflection," Obama said of the NRA.
The NRA made its first comments since the shooting on Tuesday, promising to offer "meaningful contributions to help make sure this never happens again."
Obama said that while taking the necessary steps to reduce gun violence would take commitment and compromise, he said it could be achieved if Washington summons "even one tiny iota of the courage of those teachers, that principal in Newtown summoned on Friday."
Ohio AG: Schools should have choice to arm staff
DeWine says many safety plans inadequate
by Jessie Balmert
A “significant number” of safety plans Ohio schools submitted to his office won't meet best-practice guidelines, Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine said Wednesday.
The guidelines, established by DeWine's School Safety Task Force and released Tuesday, include precautions for fires, bomb threats, medical emergencies and school shootings. Ohio law does not specify what schools must submit, DeWine said during a news conference announcing new training for teachers.
The ambiguity left some schools submitting outdated floor plans or safety plans for limited situations, he said.
“They are all over the place,” said DeWine, adding that state school and attorney general's office officials would work with schools to get plans up to snuff.
Incorporating an armed principal or police officer into school safety plans should be decided on a school-by-school basis, but it's a discussion worth having, DeWine said.
“If I was on a school board … I would seriously consider having someone in that school, maybe an ex-police officer, someone who has significant training, who had access to a gun in that school, but you'd have to be careful about it. I'm not saying every school should be armed,” DeWine said.
Under Ohio law, school boards may give written authorization to anyone to bring firearms onto school premises.
Fairfield County superintendents, when asked about DeWine's comments, said they support the notion of increased security, but they would rather see it in the form of more police school resource officers.
“At Liberty Union-Thurston, we have not discussed such a proposal,” Liberty Union Superintendent Paul Mathews said. “However, if cost was not a factor which needed to be entered into the mix, the success of the school resource officer program in our schools would certainly make that a very appealing option.”
The district has one officer, Baltimore police officer Jason Harget, but Mathews said similar officers in each of the district's buildings would be welcome.
Fairfield Union Superintendent Jan Broughton and Bloom-Carroll Superintendent Lynn Landis agreed. Stoughton said schools already have security options and her district has a resource officer from the sheriff's office — but more would be appreciated.
“I certainly hope Mr. DeWine and other legislators across the state will explore financial options that will help us fulfill the possibility of having resource officers at each and every building across the state,” Broughton said.
Dale Dickson, superintendent of Walnut Township and Berne Union schools, didn't address DeWine's comments directly, but pointed out that “evil exists everywhere” and that schools and school buses remain among the safest places for children.
“And because evil exists we need to be concerned with how we can adjust our practices to best protect against evil in our society,” Dickson said.
“As for our schools, overreacting to this tragedy can be just as bad as not reacting at all,” Dickson said. “The challenge is to maintain the strong sense of community that we have in our district and to provide the safest environment possible. Our policies and practices are being carefully reviewed and there will be changes that will impact access to the buildings while school is in session.”
DeWine's office also is partnering with the Acting Superintendent of Public Instruction Michael Sawyers and other stakeholders to offer new training for teachers, including how to identify a potential shooter.
The first class will be Jan. 17 at the Educational Service Center of Central Ohio. The training would include information about mental health, which often is overlooked, Sawyers said.
Information is key for teachers, who must respond to emergencies before police officers can arrive, Sawyers said.
“The real first responders in these situations are teachers,” DeWine said.
DeWine also outlined the state's accomplishments since the school shooting in Chardon High School in February. Those included hosting a July School Safety Summit, reinforcing the submission of school safety plans, creating the School Safety Task Force and offering 14 mobile units with simulators on emergencies.
Proposed gun range near 2 Ohio schools causes uproar
by Jennifer Edwards Baker
LOVELAND, Ohio -- Residents of this eastern Hamilton County, Ohio, community are in an uproar over plans to open an indoor gun range just 100 yards away from more than 1,000 students in two Loveland, Ohio, elementary schools, an issue especially controversial in light of last week's massacre at a Connecticut school.
The proposed range is across the block from Loveland Primary School, which educates about 500 students in grades 1 and 2, and the attached Loveland Elementary School with about 700 third and fourth graders.
"My concern is we keep our children and our community safe," said Valerie Kincaid, 44, who has two children in the school district. "I actually grew up with gun safety and guns in the house. I am not a person who thinks law abiding citizens shouldn't have access to guns for hunting or public protection as long as they follow the laws and are not a danger to others or themselves. I even went to gun ranges with my dad, but I never saw one located so close to a school.
Kincaid and others spoke out against the proposal at Loveland City Council's meeting Tuesday. City leaders explained the gun range was legally permitted at the proposed site, a vacant storefront.
"There have to be other appropriate spots around Loveland or the general region here," Kincaid said. "I guess it raises the question just because you legally can do something, maybe you should ask the deeper question: Is it the right thing to do at that location?"
City officials say they understand how emotional the issue is.
"It's just unfortunate," said Assistant City Manager Gary Vidmar, "but we understand the sentiments and we are willing to listen to folks."
While there is nothing in the zoning code that would stop the range from being built that close to a school, the developer involved, Steve Ling, has not submitted any formal proposals, Vidmar noted.
"The business owner may consider another location and may consider other options but that is by his choice at this point," Vidmar said.
Ling did not respond to a request for comment.
Heather Higdon, a spokeswoman for Loveland schools, said the district will not comment on the issue or even explain, at least at this point, how students would be kept safe should the range open.
In 2005, Loveland residents voted overwhelmingly in favor of allowing indoor shooting ranges within the city limits, Vidmar said.
Letter to the Editor
Nothing like a local cop on the beat
I was sad to hear that Demarest, a relatively upscale community in Bergen County, was voting via its town council to replace local police with County Police. In graduate schools at Fordham University and the City University, I had a major and a minor in criminal justice and related topics, often taking courses with FBI, New York City Organized Crime Police, and other police under special funding now long gone. I spent some small time at John Jay, the New York Police Academy, and became very acquainted with the concept of community policing.
In my tenure at those schools, a New York police commissioner named Braxton held that the local community policing, and seeing different typologies of crime developing, signified that crime was increasing in intensity, and resources must be placed in that community sector. Sociologists and criminologists later called Braxton's concept the "Broken Windows" thesis of crime, as the windows broken in a community sector of NYC were the first notice of crime increasing, which if not contained would lead to more significant rate of criminality. It was Braxton's idea, but a New York mayor took full credit.
Only local police can have that ability and the freedom to know the culture of their community. Local cops come from the community and know just about everybody. Demarest is not a large community, but local police can know without labeling the delinquents and those with more serious criminal intent by visiting local juvenile hangouts, and being a friendly force in the community.
If I were a council person in a town like Demarest or a freeholder, I would hold my vote for local cops to be in those police cars, and even on the streets and hangouts.
From the FBI
Help Catch Bank Robbers --
New Website Targets Suspects Nationwide
Bank robbers last year walked away from federally insured banks, credit unions, savings and loan associations, and armored trucks with more than $38 million in cash, according to the last full year of FBI bank crime statistics. In one in five cases, the money was recovered. In the unsolved cases, surveillance images of suspects were often posted online—on FBI wanted posters and elsewhere—to enlist the public's help.
To further that effort, the FBI has launched a new Wanted Bank Robbers website at bankrobbers.fbi.gov, the first national system of its kind.
The new site features a gallery of unknown suspects and a map function that plots robbery locations. Users can search by name, location, or other factors. Search results deliver a Wanted by the FBI poster that contains more images, a suspect's full description, and a brief narrative of the crime.
“This website is an operational tool that will help law enforcement identify and prosecute bank robbers more quickly, with the public's help,” says Jason DiJoseph, who runs the FBI's bank robbery program at FBI Headquarters. “The idea is to make it easier for the public to recognize and turn in potential suspects and to draw connections between robberies in different cities and states.”
The FBI has had a primary role in bank robbery investigations since the 1930s, when John Dillinger and his gang were robbing banks and capturing the public's imagination. In 1934, it became a federal crime to rob any national bank or state member bank of the Federal Reserve System. The law soon expanded to include bank burglary, larceny, and similar crimes, with jurisdiction delegated to the FBI. Today, the Bureau works with local law enforcement in bank robbery investigations, but the focus is mostly on violent or serial cases.
“Bank robbery sounds like an old-fashioned crime, but it is a dangerous and often violent criminal act that still results in the loss of lives and takes a significant toll on local communities,” says DiJoseph.
Users of the new website can filter searches of serial and non-serial bank robbers. Following are some examples of serial cases:
- The AK-47 Bandit is sought in California, Idaho, and Washington for multiple bank robberies. The suspect often wears tactical gear and is armed with an AK-47-style assault rifle. Details
- A white male, aged 30-40, is wanted in Washington in connection with five armed bank robberies in the Seattle area since September. Details
- Two black males, believed to be in their 20s, are wanted in Virginia in connection with four armed bank robberies in March and April. Details
The bank crime statistics bear out the Bureau's emphasis on violent cases. While demand notes are bank robbers' most frequently used tools (2,958 times in 2011), they are followed by firearms (1,242 times) and the mere threat of weapons (2,331 times) or explosive devices (154 times). Even in cases where weapons have not been used, DiJoseph said, the risk of violence increases each time a serial bank robber strikes.
Of the 5,086 bank robberies, burglaries, and larcenies last year, 201 included acts of violence; 70 involved the discharge of firearms. Thirteen people were killed during bank robberies last year, though it was usually the perpetrator (10 incidents).
The new Wanted Bank Robbers website will include the most pressing bank robbery cases from the FBI's 56 field offices. In the coming weeks and months, new features and more suspects will be added, creating a fuller picture of the nation's most-wanted bank robbers.