Panel urges new focus on embassy security
- Article by: ERIC SCHMITT New York Times
- September 3, 2013 - 11:12 PM
WASHINGTON – An independent review panel has concluded that with U.S. embassies and consulates facing an increasing threat of terrorist attacks, the State Department office overseeing diplomatic security is mired in the agency’s sprawling bureaucracy and must be elevated in importance.
A separate, broader inquiry last December into the attack on the U.S. mission in Benghazi, Libya, that killed four Americans last Sept. 11 blamed the diplomatic security bureau and another State Department office for failing to coordinate and plan adequate security. That inquiry also found that several diplomatic security officials showed poor leadership, and recommended the creation of the latest panel to examine these and other department flaws.
Diplomatic security is one of 11 functions overseen by an undersecretary for management, Patrick F. Kennedy, which include budget, personnel, procurement and medical services.
The new panel’s findings, which have not yet been publicly released, do not specifically address the department’s handling of the Benghazi attacks. But it implicitly criticizes Kennedy’s office for not paying enough attention to the bureau that oversees security at 275 installations, and recommends “as a matter of urgency” establishing a new undersecretary job to give security matters more clout within the department’s highest policymaking circles.
“The Department’s present direction of expeditionary diplomacy, operating with an increasing number of temporary and permanent posts in complex, high-risk environments, requires an organizational paradigm change,” the panel said in its 31-page report. “The threats Foreign Service personnel face requires the Department’s security function not to be relegated to the same status as other important but distinctly different, support functions.”
With the one-year anniversary of the Benghazi attacks next week and the department still recovering from the temporary closing of 19 embassies and consulates across the Middle East and North Africa because of a terrorist threat, the security of U.S. diplomatic posts remains a major concern as well as the source of a highly charged debate about the Obama administration’s ability to ensure the security of overseas outposts.
The panel provided its report to the department late last week. A copy was given to the New York Times by someone who felt it was important to publicize the panel’s findings on diplomatic security.
A department spokesman, Alec Gerlach, declined to comment on the report until it is formally submitted.
The State Department late last year appointed for the first time a senior official — a deputy assistant secretary of state — to ensure that embassies and consulates in dangerous places got sufficient attention.
But this review found that step insufficient, noting that in Washington, clear lines of authority and responsibility for diplomatic security were lacking. The report said a new undersecretary would be responsible for “conducting threat and vulnerability assessments to identify risk” and recommending safeguards.
© 2013 Star Tribune