What was the Secretary of State doing during the weeks running up to the dangerous September 11th anniversary?
During the Democratic Convention (Sept. 3-6), the political pundits chuckledthat Secretary of State flew the coup and headed as far away from the DNC convention as possible. The commentators speculated that Hillary didn’t want to be around her husband, Bill, when he gave his speech, nor her commander in chief, Barack Obama. For personal and political reasons, Secretary Clinton planned a prolonged diplomatic trip which coincided with the convention and stretched from August 30th through September 9th. Her strategy to avoid her two nemesis turned out to be a reckless and ill-advised decision.
As the Secretary of State took flight during the weeks leading up to September 11th, Al Qaeda was planning its fatal attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya.
Hillary’s wanderlust is breathtaking. The U.S. Department website proudly touts the nearly million miles logged and 110 countries traveled by Secretary of State during 376 travel days.
One would expect with 2000 members of the Diplomatic Security Service stationed around the world at embassies and consulates that Madame Secretary would assess staffing levels for the all important and dangerous September 11th anniversary date.
Ah, but no, Madame Secretary wanted to get out of Dodge. So, on August 29, 2012, Hillary flew to the strategic Cook Islands, a quaint group of Polynesian islands, for a nice little holiday at the taxpayer’s expense. She stayed on the islands for 3 days, no doubt negotiating some high level diplomatic agreement.
With 169 American embassies abroad, as well as 137 consulates and 60,000 American diplomats and their families living in dangerous countries, one would expect that Madame Secretary would spend a few weeks leading up to the significant 9/11 anniversary date, meeting with her staff, talking to Ambassadors, reviewing cables to ensure that every safety precaution is in place in the American diplomatic community.
But, no, Hillary didn’t want to be on American soil during the Democratic National Convention. She couldn’t watch Bill and Barack getting the adoring attention of the Democratic Party. Attention that she felt she deserved and was denied in the 2008 campaign. So, she jetted off in her State Department plane to Polynesian paradise where no U.S. embassy or consulate exists. With its tiny population of 11,000 and beaches, the Cook Islands boast as the perfect honeymoon destination.
Americans working abroad for the U.S. State Department would have expected that the Secretary of State request a briefing and serious appraisal of hotspots, danger zones, vulnerable outposts and a thorough threat assessment for all American diplomats and their families. After all, everyone understands that anniversary dates are important milestones for terrorists. But no, the Cook Islands needed her diplomatic skills.
One would hope and expect that Secretary Clinton would be firmly ensconced in her office watching and communicating with embassies around the world during the heightened danger of the infamous September 11th anniversary. Americans would expect that in the weeks preceding the anniversary of September 11th, the Secretary of State would confer with her Diplomatic Security Service to ensure that all embassies/consulates and personnel are protected and have the necessary security measures. Surely, this priority shouldn’t be left to a career foreign service bureaucrat, like Charlene Lamb. Intelligence 101 demands that the looming threat of 9/11 terrorism is a a top priority for any Secretary of State. As they say in the Navy, this requires ‘all hands on deck,’ that is, if you believe in terrorism.
But if you rename terrorism as an ‘overseas contingency operation’ and believe that Al-Qaeda ended with the death of Osama Bin Laden, then it makes sense to ignore the September 11th elephant in the room and fly off for Mai Tais and coconuts in the Cook Islands. No reason to fret over the pesky unrest in the Middle East, Al-Qaeda is defeated.
Hillary had more important concerns than the safety of her staff. She didn’t want to be anywhere near Charlotte, North Carolina. So, for her own personal and political interests, she chose to get out of town while the planning for the attack of Benghazi was well underway.
Here’s the travelogue of the Rick Steves of the State Department according to the State website:
- Hillary left Washington on August 29.
- From August 30 until September 9th, Hillary was galavanting from the Cook Islands to Indonesia, China, Timor-Leste, Brunei, and Russia.
- She left Russia sometime late September 9th or 10th
- With a 12 hour trip from Russia to Washington, D.C., Hillary probably arrived in the United States jet lagged and groggy around September 10 or 11th.
- Was she even in her office on September 11th? Certainly, she had no time to check on the safety and status of the embassies, consulates and thousands of Americans abroad who were already experiencing September 11th in their respective country time zones.
While the traveller in chief hopped around the globe, the consulate in Benghazi was in the crosshairs of Al Qaeda.
When an administration diminishes a war on terror and renames it as an ‘overseas contingency operation,’ intelligence briefings are not a priority. While Hillary was on the other side of the world, President Obama attended his last intelligence briefing on September 5th. Who was watching the intelligence? Americans expect the President to keep the country and its diplomats safe. But no, the critical week before 9/11 he was off on the campaign trial.
So while no one was paying attention, the so-called defunct Al-Qaeda planned the murderous assault on a U.S. Ambassador, 2 Navy Seals and a state department official.
Conventional wisdom in Washington is that Hillary is a very hard worker. Jet setting around the world is not the hallmark of a great Secretary of State. Rather, ‘fostering conditions for stability and progress for the benefit of the American people and people everywhere’ is the mission of the Department of State. The cables and earlier attacks from Libya demonstrated an unstable and dangerous place for Americans which demanded an attentive Secretary of State, not a globe trotter.
It’s not glamorous sitting at your desk reviewing cables, intelligence reports, and assessing staff levels. Hillary relegated those mundane, yet critical tasks to Charlene Lamb, a career foreign service bureaucrat. Tragically, Ms. Lamb made the wrong decisions, and 4 Americans are dead.
Fewer frequent flier miles and more frequent hours at the office might secure a safer world for Americans.
© Elizabeth Yore-2012 All Rights Reserved.
Elizabeth Yore is the former Special Counsel at Harpo, Inc.where she served as Oprah Winfrey’s Child Advocate. She was also the former General Counsel at the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services, and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. She worked with the brave and courageous agents of the Diplomatic Security Service of the U.S. Department of State who saved American children around the world.