Thursday, October 25, 2007

Richard Griffin, State Department Official In Charge Of Diplomatic Security, Resigns

Richard J. Griffin, assistant secretary of state for the Bureau of Diplomatic Security, resigned suddenly yesterday.

According to John M. Broder of the New York Times:
The State Department official responsible for overseeing Blackwater USA and other private security contractors in Iraq resigned abruptly today.

Richard J. Griffin, who has been the director of the department’s diplomatic security bureau since June 2005, faced stiff criticism from Congress over his handling of a Sept. 16 shooting episode involving Blackwater that left 17 Iraqis dead and other acts of violence by the State Department’s security guards.
You can find much more about that incident here.

Griffin's resignation comes amid increasing criticism of the State Department and its relationships with "security contractors" such as Blackwater and DynCorp, as Paul Richter of the Los Angeles Times explains:
The State Department on Tuesday ordered additional revisions to the way it regulates its security contractors abroad after an expert panel issued a blistering report suggesting the current system was flawed and dangerous.

The changes are expected to be the basis for legislation governing overseas contractors, who are now beyond the reach of U.S. statutes, and will bring the contractors' looser rules on use of force into line with those of the military. The department will also speed up and improve investigations of incidents involving the use of force and will take steps to make the system for compensating victims more just.

The four-member panel's recommendations include cultural-sensitivity training for contractors and an effort by the State Department to boost the number of Arabic-speaking contractors in Middle Eastern countries.

The report also calls for the Iraqi government to improve the system for licensing contractors.

The recommendations stemmed from the involvement of guards from Blackwater USA, a private security firm that protects State Department personnel in Iraq, in the Sept. 16 shooting deaths of 17 Iraqis. The incident provoked an international outcry and generated huge pressure for change.

On Oct. 4, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice ordered changes in the way contractors do business, including the installation of vehicle cameras to ensure that incidents are recorded to aid investigations.

The State Department initially rebuffed criticism of the contractor system that the Sept. 16 incident elicited. But with the report's findings, its leadership acknowledges that the major criticisms have merit.
Will this sudden resignation change anything? Only the names of the people at the top of the heap, as Griffin noted in his letter of resignation:
As I submit my resignation and move on to new challenges, I do so with the realization that the senior management team that is in place in DS is extremely well qualified to confront the many challenges which lie ahead.
In other words, as Reuters noted,
Griffin will be replaced by his deputy, Gregory Starr, who will assume his duties from Nov. 1, the spokesman said.
But as the BBC reports, we aren't supposed to notice that the policy is at fault, not the man.
It was September's incident in particular, and the questions it raised in Iraq and the US, which led to Mr Griffin's sudden departure after 36 years in government service, our correspondent says.

For its part, the state department will hope a change at the top will start to restore confidence in the way America carries out and supervises diplomatic protection in Iraq, he adds.
But the only way they can restore our confidence is to stop doing what they're doing. And that is the one thing they will never do.