The State Department is looking to tap into unspent money meant for reconstruction in Iraq to beef up the security of diplomatic posts in dangerous parts of the world, according to a new proposal from the State Department sent to Congress on Monday. The request came just ahead of the release Tuesday night of a report by an independent inquiry that faults the State Department for a lack of security on the night of the Sept. 11 attacks in Benghazi, Libya.
The request Monday to move $1.3 billion from the Iraq budget to new diplomatic security spending was connected to the Accountability Review Board’s findings, two Senate staffers who read the request told the Daily Beast. These officials and two other U.S. government officials who have read the proposal, say it recommends more U.S. Marines be stationed at dangerous diplomatic posts. It also says the State Department should be given more flexibility in the budget to spend money for physical security improvements like blast walls and electronic gates, and for hiring and improving the capabilities of the diplomatic security service.
Specifically, the funding request says diplomatic security service should have the “capability to track threats and disseminate information.” Unlike the FBI or even big city police departments, the diplomatic security service doesn’t currently have its own technical division, or a unit dedicated to electronic surveillance and wire-tapping, making the service reliant on the CIA and State Department for intelligence on threats to an embassy.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton fell ill this week and canceled what would likely be her last testimony before Congress in public hearings scheduled for Thursday. Clinton is not required by law to make public the details of the Accountability Review Board's report, which is launched when U.S. personnel are killed in the line of duty overseas. Nonetheless, she has pledged to be as transparent as possible about them. A retired senior diplomat, Thomas Pickering, and retired chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mike Mullen will brief members of Congress Wednesday on those classified findings.
The unclassified report blames the State Department for failing to have adequate security in place in Benghazi and relying too much on local militias who failed to fend off the attackers that evening. Specifically, the report blames unnamed "senior State Department officials" for lacking "proactive leadership" in rejecting requests for more security personnel in Libya.
It also says Ambassador Chris Stevens, who lost his life that evening from smoke inhalation after attackers burned the building that included the facility's safe room, decided on his own to travel to Benghazi "independently of Washington." Stevens had minimal protection with him and his travel plans to Benghazi were not "shared thoroughly with the Embassy’s country team, who were not fully aware of planned movements off compound."
With Congress and the White House wrangling over how to create hundreds of billions of dollars in cuts for defense and domestic programs like social security, it’s unlikely there is much new money for making diplomatic security improvements.
According to testimony last month from Michael J. Courts, a Government Accountability Office auditor, funding for diplomatic security was $200 million annually in 1998, the year al Qaeda bombed the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. By 2008, that figure had risen to $1.8 billion. The size of the workforce doubled in the meantime, to more than 2,000, between 1998 and 2009. Courts said this massive expansion has occurred without the State Department conducting a strategic review of its diplomatic security needs.