Protecting U.S. diplomats to be more difficult

Posted: Dec. 26, 2012 8:13 am Updated: Jan. 16, 2013 12:15 pm


SOME OF the U.S. officials involved in protecting our diplomats in Libya apparently believed that the United States was basking in the revolutionary glow of the overthrow of Moammar Gadhafi.

That glow turned into a raging inferno of violence Sept. 11 that claimed four Americans, including Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens.

An independent panel blamed the deaths on poor security preparations, a lack of trained personnel at the Benghazi consulate and a reliance on Libyan militias to provide security. Four State Department officials were removed or resigned, including the head of security.

"We clearly fell down on the job with regard to Benghazi," Deputy Secretary of State William Burns told the House Foreign Affairs Committee. Earlier, before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Burns said: "We learned some very hard and painful lessons in Benghazi. We are already acting on them. We have to do better."

The bigger question is whether the State Department, whose culture is one of openness and engagement, should even be responsible for protecting Americans abroad. Is the Bureau of Diplomatic Security, with 34,000 employees protecting 275 missions around the world, miscast in a role that could be led by the military?

The Associated Press reported the State Department's diplomatic security budget increased from about $200 million in 1998 to $1.8 billion in 2008, according to the Government Accountability Office. Much of that has gone into physical upgrades at embassies and consulates to meet specifications adopted after the deadly 1998 bombings of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.

For now, State Department officials want more money and promise to do a better job on security. The Pentagon is not likely to volunteer for a new mission of protecting embassies when it is trying to draw down forces from overseas.

The protection of American diplomats is only likely to become more difficult, however. Our diplomats should be focused on carrying out U.S. policy by being deeply engaged in the countries where they are based. Somebody has to have their backs.