International

Patrick F. Kennedy: The man in the middle

Kennedy's management office has come under close scrutiny for its handling of the September 11, 2012 Benghazi attack

U.S. Undersecretary of State Patrick Kennedy looks towards the family of U.S. diplomat Anne T. Smedinghoff, as he eulogizes her during her funeral Mass.
Charles Rex Arbogast/Getty Images

by Edward T. Pound and Katie Lannigan
Al Jazeera Investigative Unit

Patrick Kennedy is a State Department lifer.

With a diplomatic career spanning close to 40 years, Kennedy rose to near the top of the heap when he was named undersecretary for management at the State Department in November 2007.

But in the past year, as controversy grew over the State Department’s handling of the Sept. 11, 2012, attack on the U.S. Special Mission in Benghazi, Libya, Kennedy’s management office has come under close scrutiny. Indeed, over many years, that office has failed to implement security reforms that would provide better protection for tens of thousands of State Department employees posted in embassies and consulates around the world.

At least that’s the assessment delivered by a five-member independent panel of security and intelligence experts appointed by the State Department to evaluate the security program in “high risk, high threat posts.” Under the existing set-up, Kennedy’s office oversees the Bureau of Diplomatic Security and has the final say on “critical security requirements.”

In a nutshell, that’s a mistake, according to the panel, chaired by Mark Sullivan, the former director of the U.S. Secret Service. The security mission, the panel says, should be taken away from the management office. “As a matter of urgency,” the report says, the State Department should establish an undersecretary for diplomatic security.

Sullivan’s panel took pains to say that it was not placing blame on any one “individual or element within the Department” and that its report reflects only “the Panel’s judgment on best security management practices.” Nonetheless, the problems cited by the panel focus largely on security management issues in Kennedy’s operation.

Kennedy has his hands full. As undersecretary for management, known within diplomatic circles as M, he oversees the Bureau of Diplomatic Security and 11 other bureaus and offices.

“The M family is large, complex and deals with a myriad of Department of State issues such as personnel, budget, procurement, medical services, contracting and a host of other key matters,” the panel wrote. The increasing “number of temporary and permanent posts in complex, high-risk environments,” the panel said, “requires an organizational paradigm change with an Under Secretary for Diplomatic Security as the lynchpin necessary to safely enable the Department’s mission.”

The current diplomatic security system has been in place for more than 25 years. In 1985, as part of sweeping changes to State Department security, Congress created a new security arm known as the Bureau of Diplomatic Security. Lawmakers also established an assistant secretary of diplomatic security as the senior security executive.

However, the panel’s interviews with some Foreign Service officers and security agents suggest the process hasn’t worked that way. They identified Kennedy as “the senior security official … responsible for final decision making regarding critical security requirements.” The existing security structure has led to “confusion” with respect to “clear lines of authority, responsibility, and accountability for security.”

Kennedy, a Chicago native, joined the Foreign Service in 1973 and steadily rose up through the ranks. He certainly is no stranger to controversy. Six years ago, he led the State Department’s internal review of a deadly incident in which private security contractors shot and killed 17 Iraqi civilians in Baghdad’s Nisour Square.

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