By Jim Kouri
In the aftermath of the Islamist attacks on two U.S. embassies which occurred almost simultaneously on Tuesday, President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton displayed surprise, even shock, to the press and the American people. Mrs. Clinton’s view that the attacks are isolated incidents doesn’t seem accurate, according to several counterterrorism experts who spoke to the Law Enforcement Examiner on Wednesday.
A group of Islamist protesters and gunmen attacked the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, on Tuesday. The invaders set fire to the consulate building and killed the American ambassador and others, according to an Israeli national police official.
“This attack, along with the one in Egypt, is a reminder of the Iranian invasion of a U.S. embassy in Tehran that led to a lengthy hostage crisis which brought down the [President Jimmy] Carter administration,” said Thomas Sullivan. Sullivan is a former police official who helped with security when the Shah of Iran and his family sought protection and hospitalization for the former Iranian leader.
Sullivan believes a full investigation is needed since the Obama administration was warned by a Government Accountability Office report that was released to the U.S. Congress, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and concerned agencies and organizations in 2011.
The GAO analysis addressed the growth of diplomatic security’s missions and resources, and the challenges diplomatic security officials face in conducting their work.
The Department of State’s Bureau of Diplomatic Security is responsible for the protection of people, facilities, information, and property at over 400 embassies, consulates, and other facilities throughout the globe, according to the GAO analysis.
In addition, Diplomatic Security provides protection to the Secretary of State, foreign dignitaries visiting the United States, and several other U.S. government officials. Diplomatic Security dedicates 72 special agents to provide a 24-hour protective detail for the Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
Since the 1998 bombings of U.S. Embassies in East Africa, the scope and complexity of threats facing Americans abroad and at home has increased and diplomatic security must be prepared to counter threats such as crime, espionage, visa and passport fraud, technological intrusions, political violence (riots and intrusions), and terrorism, according to analysts at the GAO.
To address these objectives GAO analysts interviewed numerous officials at Diplomatic Security headquarters, several domestic facilities, and 18 international postings. They also analyzed diplomatic security and State Department budget and personnel data, as well as assessed challenges facing diplomatic security officials through the analysis of interviews with personnel positioned domestically and internationally, budget and personnel data provided by the State Department and Diplomatic Security, and planning and strategic documentation.
Since 1998, the Office of Diplomatic Security’s mission and activities — and, subsequently, its resources — have grown considerably in reaction to a number of security incidents. As a consequence of this growth, analysts identified several challenges. In particular, the State Department is maintaining a presence in an increasing number of dangerous posts, which requires additional resources, the analysts noted.
In addition, staffing shortages in domestic offices and other operational challenges — such as inadequate facilities, language deficiencies, experience gaps, and the difficulty of balancing security needs with State’s diplomatic mission — further tax Diplomatic Security officials’ ability to implement all of its missions.
Diplomatic Security’s desire to provide the best security possible for State’s diplomatic corps has, at times, been in tension with State’s diplomatic mission. For example, Diplomatic Security has established strict policies concerning access to U.S. facilities that usually include personal and vehicle screening, according to the GAO analysts.
Some public affairs officials — whose job it is to foster relations with host country nationals — have expressed concerns that the security measures discourage visitors from attending U.S. embassy events or exhibits. In addition, the new embassies and consulates, with their high walls, deep setback, and strict screening procedures, have evoked the nickname, “Fortress America.”
The State Department has also received criticism from liberal-left think-tanks for adopting what seems to be a “zero tolerance” for security incidents. Two are encouraging State to change its security culture and practices from risk avoidance to risk management.
The GAO analysis revealed that Diplomatic Security’s ability to fully carry out its mission of providing security worldwide is hindered by staffing shortages in domestic offices–even in light of its workforce growth–and other operational challenges such as inadequate facilities, pervasive language proficiency shortfalls, and host-country constraints, among others.