15 U.S. foreign outposts still have inadequate security, Senate panel told

 

McClatchy Washington Bureau

Fifteen diplomatic posts in high-threat areas fail to meet safety standards 10 months after the attacks that killed four Americans, including the U.S. ambassador, in Benghazi, Libya, State Department officials told Congress Tuesday.

Gregory Starr, the State Department’s director of diplomatic service, told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that modifying many of those buildings in their current locations is not possible. He said some of the buildings are not far enough from the street or other public areas to be adequately protected.

“We cannot retrofit many of our buildings to withstand blasts or direct attacks without the ability to move to a new location . . . and build a new facility,” he said.

Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., said he thought the State Department should be more careful about how it chose to spend the $2.2 billion it’s requested for embassy security. “A lot of money (is) being spent in places that, candidly, the security issues are not necessarily urgent,” he said, citing Oslo, Norway, and The Hague in the Netherlands as examples. Starr countered that global security trends are hard to predict and the department must address short- and long-term needs.

Starr also said that State plans to hire 151 new security agents over the next two years to bolster diplomatic security.

Current concerns about diplomatic security date to the Sept. 11, 2012, attacks on U.S. outposts in Benghazi. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and State Department computer expert Sean Smith died of smoke inhalation when the building they were in was set on fire, and CIA security contractors Glen Doherty and Tyrone Woods were killed hours later when armed militants attacked a CIA annex nearby. A State Department internal investigation found that security at the Benghazi mission was “grossly inadequate” and filled with “relatively inexperienced” officers.

Four State Department officials are still on administrative leave awaiting further action after the review. Corker said he was concerned that the inaction has led to “a lack of accountability” and that personnel issues are an important piece of the puzzle.

“Too often security issues seem to come down to more money when they are more the result of a failure to prioritize resources or a lack of leadership to respond appropriately when threats emerge,” Corker said in a statement released after the hearing.

Starr is now the State Department’s top official on diplomatic security. The assistant secretary for diplomatic security position is still vacant after the December resignation of Eric Boswell after the accountability results were released.

While Starr told senators that Secretary of State John Kerry was reviewing those on administrative leave, as well as the circumstances of the attack, he went on to praise the reprimanded officers.

“These are people that have given their careers to diplomatic security as well and the security of the Department of State, and I have a great deal of admiration for them,” Starr said. “It does not excuse the fact that we had a terrible tragedy in Benghazi . . . (but) all through the years that we’ve had multiple attacks in Yemen and in Afghanistan and in Iraq, those people performed admirably.”

The hearing’s main intent was to discuss an embassy security bill sponsored by committee chairman Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J. The bill would authorize money for embassy security, Arabic language training and a Foreign Affairs Security Training Center, while also directing the State Department to prioritize safety over cost when awarding contracts.

“We must strike the proper balance between sealing off vulnerabilities in high-threat areas and continuing to conduct vigorous and effective diplomacy that serves the national interest,” Menendez said.

Email: bkamisar@mcclatchydc.com

Read more Politics Wires stories from the Miami Herald

  • CIA director apologizes to Senate leaders

    CIA Director John Brennan is apologizing to Senate intelligence committee leaders after his inspector general found that CIA employees acted improperly when the CIA searched Senate computers earlier this year.

  • Witness of Syrian atrocities testifies in Congress

    Images of emaciated corpses, slashed necks and ripped-open foreheads are on display at a remarkable hearing of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

  • More than 3,300 US inmates have sought clemency

    More than 3,300 federal inmates have applied since April to have their prison sentences cut short under a new Justice Department clemency initiative, according to data provided to The Associated Press.

Miami Herald

Join the
Discussion

The Miami Herald is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere on the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

The Miami Herald uses Facebook's commenting system. You need to log in with a Facebook account in order to comment. If you have questions about commenting with your Facebook account, click here.

Have a news tip? You can send it anonymously. Click here to send us your tip - or - consider joining the Public Insight Network and become a source for The Miami Herald and el Nuevo Herald.

Hide Comments

This affects comments on all stories.

Cancel OK

  • Marketplace

Today's Circulars

  • Quick Job Search

Enter Keyword(s) Enter City Select a State Select a Category