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State Department to Increase Guards at High-Risk Posts

Deputy Secretary of State Management and Resources Thomas Nides
Deputy Secretary of State for Management and Resources Thomas Nides speaks during the Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on the September 11th attacks on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, on Capitol Hill, on Thursday. Photographer: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

The State Department will hire more security guards and use more Marines to safeguard high-risk posts around the world in an effort to prevent assaults on U.S. diplomats following the deadly attack in Libya, a department official said.

Responding to a review panel’s findings of “systemic failures” and “grossly inadequate” security for the U.S. mission in Benghazi, Libya, the department plans to hire 150 more diplomatic security personnel, a 5 percent increase, Thomas Nides, deputy secretary of state for management and resources, told lawmakers today. The Pentagon has approved dispatching an additional 225 Marine Corps guards, he said.

“We will target them squarely at our high-threat posts,” Nides said at a hearing of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, where he and another top department official said security deficiencies contributed to the attack in Benghazi. Deputy Secretary of State William Burns described as “unacceptable” the lapses that came before the deaths of U.S. Ambassador to Libya Christopher Stevens and three other Americans on Sept. 11.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had been scheduled to testify at the hearing. She canceled after fainting and suffering a concussion, the State Department said in a statement Dec. 15.

She has agreed to appear next month, Senator John Kerry, a Massachusetts Democrat and the committee’s chairman, said as the panel began its work today. Later, in a hearing held by the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Chairwoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a Florida Republican, said Clinton also will testify before her panel in January.

Rethinking Reliance

The U.S. relies on host countries to provide the bulk of the security at embassies and consulates, as most nations do. Nides said the department has begun rethinking that practice.

“In today’s evolving threat environment, we have to take a new and harder look at the capabilities and commitment of our hosts,” he said. “We have to re-examine how we operate in places facing emerging threats, where national security forces are fragmented and political will may be weak.”

The independent review board appointed by Clinton to examine the Libya attack found that U.S. reliance on a poorly skilled Libyan militia and unarmed locally contracted guards for security support “was misplaced,” according to the unclassified version of the board’s report.

Clinton’s Pledge

The report outlined recommendations to bolster security at embassies worldwide, and the State Department this week released a letter Clinton sent to lawmakers pledging to implement “every one” of them.

Clinton wasn’t aware that officials in Libya had requested additional security before the attack, Burns said at both the House and Senate hearings today. Such requests were handled at the level of assistant secretary, he said.

Kerry endorsed a call by the review board to spend about $2.3 billion annually for 10 years to upgrade security.

“There’s no question in my mind we need more resources in significant ways,” said Kerry, who is under consideration by President Barack Obama to be nominated as Clinton’s successor.

Senator Bob Corker, a Tennessee Republican, questioned why congressional appropriators didn’t receive a request to transfer funds to bolster diplomatic security in Libya even as cables from there cited increasing risks.

Department’s Culture

He also questioned a pledge by Nides to ensure that all of the review board’s recommendations are at least “under way” before Clinton’s successor is in place early next year, and that all will be implemented as soon as possible. There have been 18 State Department review boards in the past, Corker said, and in no case has every recommendation taken hold.

“The culture in the State Department is one that needs to be transformed,” he said.

A potential partisan split over added funding for diplomatic security surfaced in the House committee hearing.

Representative Howard Berman of California, the panel’s top Democrat, said Congress bears much of the blame for insufficient diplomatic security because lawmakers have cut the State Department’s security funding.

That has “created a culture at the State Department that is more preoccupied with saving money than with achieving its security goals,” which may explain the department’s rejection of requests for improved security in Benghazi, said Berman, who is leaving Congress after losing his re-election bid.

“Requests for more money are a familiar refrain,” Ros-Lehtinen said. She said the State Department has spent funds on favored projects, such as global warming, instead of security.

“Budgetary constraints were not a factor in the department’s failure to recognize the threats and adequately respond to the situation in Benghazi,” Ros-Lehtinen said. “The problem was and is about misplaced priorities.”

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