On Wednesday, the White House announced President Obama’s choice for ambassador to Libya. If confirmed, Deborah Jones would succeed Christopher Stevens who was killed in the terrorist attack in Benghazi last September 11. Six months following the attack, however, security at the Benghazi consulate remains alarmingly inadequate.
In accordance with international standards, it is generally incumbent upon the host nation to help maintain the security of other nations’ diplomatic posts within its borders. But, in Libya the fall of the Qadhafi regime, and the chaos that ensued, left the country without a strong central directorate. And, though the State Department was aware of the volatility and security risks in the region, according to the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee (HSGAC) the State Department neglected to reinforce the compound with additional security staff. The report also states the U.S. relied on obviously unsuitable local security provided by the February 17 Brigade and Blue Mountain Libya.
In addition to the Benghazi consulate’s subpar security, it was also the site of previous violent attacks which preceded the September 11 attack. The Washington Post reported:
“Security in eastern Libya deteriorated sharply in recent months. A string of attacks, some linked to fundamentalist groups, made clear that Westerners were no longer safe. The International Committee of the Red Cross suspended operations and evacuated staff in the east after an attack June 12 on its compound in the port city of Misrata. In Benghazi, convoys transporting the U.N. country chief and the British ambassador were attacked in April and June, respectively. The British government shut down its consulate soon afterward.
The U.S. outpost had a close call of its own June 6, when a small roadside bomb detonated outside the walls, causing no injuries or significant damage. But the Americans stayed put.”
And the recognizable need for more security went unaddressed.
One of the neglected security issues, impacting the Benghazi consulate, involves the many security requirements which are either skipped or exempted—without the knowledge of the State Department. The granting of exemptions from security standards, at U.S. diplomatic missions around the world, is prevalent. This is according to State Department Deputy Inspector General Harold Geisel who has raised new safety alarms regarding the facility.
One might expect that the State Department’s security office would employ an efficient system for monitoring exception and waiver request, but that is not the case according to the inspector general’s report.
Some of the key findings in the report are as follows:
• The State Department’s security record keeping is so sloppy that it still has active waivers on file for posts it no longer operates
• Washington is unaware that several facilities have not complied with the required security standards
• On 15 occasions, regional security officers “were unable to locate an exception or waiver approval or denial that was on file” with the Office of Security, which indicates that an outpost was bypassing security details and that the State Department would not have been aware of it
• Some diplomatic outposts are using buildings that have not been secured or cleared by the State Department’s Directorate of Security
• “The use of warehouse space for offices. Office space must meet greater physical security standards than warehouse space,” Geisel wrote in a January 7th review
• Concerns regarding the many requests from regional security officers which have never been reviewed in Washington
U.S. officials have issued assurances that security at U.S. diplomatic posts has been tightened. At the same time, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland has said that budgetary restrictions may prevent upgrades of security measures at some of these posts. Meanwhile, the agency has not developed any viable solution for tracking the vast array of exceptions and waivers. Some of them date back to 1987 and have yet to be checked to see if they are still current.
Rep. Ed Royce (R-CA), House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman and leader of the congressional investigation into the Benghazi attack, told the Washington Guardian that, “the failure to maintain adequate records is a troubling development for an institution plagued by bureaucratic breakdowns.” Royce added: “The State Department must do a better job at monitoring the security of our diplomats abroad.”
The Heritage Foundation has recommended that Congress launch a Congressional Select Committee to oversee sensitive issues in regard to security, pointing out that Select Committees investigated both Watergate and the Iran-Contra affair.
The State Department has clearly fallen short of meeting its own security standards at the Benghazi consulate and other diplomatic facilities. A dereliction of duty has occurred on the part of those tasked with the safety of diplomatic employees abroad. Unless the State Department steps up and takes responsibility for the security of its diplomatic facilities, the new ambassador to Libya, like her predecessor, could meet an unfortunate end.