State neglected GAO’s diplomatic security advice

The U.S. Embassy in Malta's security guards quarters are marked with a large sign. The U.S. Embassy in Malta's security guards quarters are marked with a large sign. Lino Arrigo Azzopardi/AP

The State Department did not follow up on recommendations made in 2009 to improve diplomatic security, a failing that may have contributed to critical staffing shortages at dangerous diplomatic posts around the world, a Government Accountability Office official said Thursday.

In a written statement presented to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, GAO’s Michael J. Courts said a lack of a “strategic review” at State’s Bureau of Diplomatic Security lead to the office expanding its resources and personnel “reactively” without consideration of its longer term future. Courts referenced a GAO report released in late 2009 that said State faced serious “operational challenges.” especially in dangerous posts that needed “adequate strategic guidance.” He said the bureau had made some improvements, but State should integrate the problems Diplomatic Security faces into the department’s broader strategic planning.  

“For example, State’s strategic plan does not specifically address Diplomatic Security’s resource needs or management challenges,” Courts wrote.

The Bureau of Diplomatic Security has come under increased political scrutiny following the Sept. 11, 2012, attacks on a U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya. Security personnel testifying at a congressional hearing in October said Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Charlene Lamb rejected additional resources for the Benghazi consulate because she said the mission had changed, negating the need for additional forces.

Areas for improvement highlighted in Courts’ testimony include facilities and buildings, inadequate foreign language knowledge, experience gaps, “host country laws” that prohibit personnel from taking adequate precautions, and a need to balance the diplomatic mission with security concerns.

“Realistic security assessments need to be conducted and we must ensure that our front-line diplomats are provided the necessary protection to do their jobs effectively,” House Committee on Foreign Affairs Chairwoman Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., said in a written statement released Thursday.  

The State Department declined to comment for this story. 
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