It appears that a five-year old child can do a better job than the State Department’s Bureau of Diplomatic Security (DS) when it comes to selecting secure locations for new U.S. consulates. Take the example of Mazar-e Sharif in northern Afghanistan. The State Department wanted to open a consulate in this city and for the past two years it has been publicizing this event to the Afghan people as a major diplomatic goal. DS selected a former hotel in Mazar-e Sharif for the site. The problems, which DS officials apparently failed to recognize, include that the hotel shares a common wall with a local market and that the hotel is surrounded by taller structures that Taliban forces could use to shoot down at the Consulate. The Associated Press reported two weeks ago that after spending $80 million on renovations, the State Department determined that the site was disastrously unsafe and it has decided to abandon plans to open the Consulate. It was also learned that DS officials failed to competently oversee the renovation efforts at this hotel, which were so sloppily performed that the building was considered unsafe to occupy.
The State Department’s decision may come as a shock to Afghanistan-watchers. Remember that according to U.S. Embassy press releases, there is constant progress, the war is being won, the Taliban are in retreat and the war is scheduled to be over in 2014. The reality in Afghanistan is that the Taliban are surging and the Afghan countryside is less and less safe, as are the major cities. The only area where the U.S. is progressing is in its news conferences. They have progressed to the same level of credibility as the Taliban.
Earlier this month the Taliban announced the commencement of its Spring Offensive, code-named al-Farooq, which is one of the historical names of the 7th Century Caliph Umar. The Caliph was a military genius but also was renowned for his fairness and dedication to justice. He led a simple and humble personal life, yet he massively expanded the reach and influence of Islam. While U.S. officials have publicly dismissed the new Taliban offensive, privately they fear the growing expansion and reach of the Taliban. As a result, U.S. Embassy officials are retreating back to Kabul and the U.S. is ceding more and more territory to the Taliban. Three years and a hundred billion in U.S. taxpayer dollars appear to have achieved little in the Afghan countryside. As the American military surge evaporates, the Taliban are returning to all those areas that they were temporarily pushed from.
This is simply the latest in a never-ending string of scandals caused or contributed to by the Bureau of Diplomatic Security. They include:
1. The massive U.S. Embassy cost overruns in Baghdad;
2. The killing of Iraqi civilians by Blackwater in Nisour Square, Baghdad in 2007;
3. The ArmorGroup sex scandal in Kabul;
4. The repeated hit and run incidents by Embassy security vehicles in Peshawar;
5. The hit and run killing in Lahore in 2011 by an Embassy security vehicle;
6. The repeated security clearance suspension abuses within the State Department;
7. The shipping of substandard chemical warfare suits to U.S. embassies in 2008;
8. The issuance of substandard body armor, which might have contributed to the deaths of Embassy employees Steven Lee Farley (2008) and Terry Barnich (2009);
9. The counterespionage failures, including that of Walter Myers, who was discovered by the FBI instead of DS; and
10. A history of retaliating against State Department whistleblowers.
The Kabul Press documented some of these DS abuses in its 2011 investigative report: “U.S. Diplomats Fear Bureau of Diplomatic Security.”
One would think that this consulate debacle and DS’ “what me worry” attitude toward security would cause Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to immediately fire DS’s senior management. Unfortunately accountability like fiscal responsibility are not currently in the State Department’s dictionary, so nothing will happen.
At the same time and little noticed is the fact that DS officials, in a bizarre twist, are supporting one of their agents who has been charged with second-degree murder by prosecutors in Hawaii. The case involved the 2011 murder of Hawaiian resident Kollin Elderts by DS agent Chris Deedy. According to published reports, Agent Deedy was assigned to Hawaii to provide security for the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) conference in November 2011. In the early morning hours of November 5, 2011, Deedy, accompanied by two other men and a woman (presumably also DS agents) were at a nightclub and reportedly had words with Mr. Elderts. They then apparently followed him to a local McDonalds restaurant at 3:00 a.m. where more words were exchanged and an altercation took place during which time Mr. Deedy reportedly fired three shots, one of which killed Mr. Elderts. While Mr. Deedy claimed self-defense and Mr. Elderts had alcohol and drugs in his system, the Hawaiian prosecutors apparently decided to file murder charges after reviewing the security video from inside the restaurant. There is a campaign underway in Hawaii called “Justice for Kollin.” The story was reported worldwide, including by the British Daily Mail on November 7, 2011.
While incidents happen and Mr. Deedy is presumed to be innocent, the State Department’s handling of the case is suspect. The Department reported that Mr. Deedy is back at work at a desk job at DS. This is astonishing as all jobs within DS require an active security clearance. This means that being charged with murder is not a sufficient basis within the State Department for suspending a security clearance!
In November 2011 the Director of the Diplomatic Security Service, Scott P. Bultrowicz, reportedly issued an E-mail to all his DS employees regarding the case. The E-mail was leaked to the news media by outraged DS officials. [Note to President Obama - not all leaks are against the public interest]. Bultrowicz essentially issued a gag order which prohibited any E-mail discussion of Mr. Deedy, his state of mind or the incident because all such e-mails “may be subject to discovery” (by the Hawaii prosecutors). The E-mail comes close to being obstruction of justice, but the U.S. Justice Department will almost certainly ignore it. Director Bultrowicz refused to discuss the other three agents involved in the matter, their role and whether they are facing any disciplinary action.
What is needed within the Bureau of Diplomatic Security is the same system of checks and balances that exists in all major police departments, which is an independent internal affairs unit patterned on that of the New York Police Department. Until there is such oversight, the State Department will continue to lurch from scandal to scandal, with America’s image being further degraded with each new incident.