Gregory B. Starr, acting assistant secretary for diplomatic security, and Bill Miller, deputy assistant secretary of high threat posts, testify at the Senate hearing on the Embassy Security and Personnel Protection Act 2013. (Ananth Baliga / Medill News Service)
Fifteen high-threat State Department posts around the world need major security and personnel upgrades, according to diplomatic security chief Gregory Starr.
Delays in upgrading the security for those posts are due to difficulties in finding new locations, but short-term fixes have been made, he told senators Tuesday.
In all, there are 27 diplomatic posts categorized as high-threat, high-risk, Starr said at hearing held 10 months after the attack on the American compound in Benghazi, Libya.
“Many of those locations we have withdrawn our families. We have cut down and moved our staffing levels to only the personnel we absolutely need,” said Starr. He did not specify where those high-risk posts are located.
Last September, Libyan Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans were killed when the Islamic militant group Ansar-al-Sharia attacked the temporary U.S. compound in Benghazi.
Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., has sponsored a bill to implement and fund the 29 recommendations of the Benghazi Accountability Review Board. He said that no cost is too high to secure U.S. diplomatic personnel overseas.
“Such investments are not an extravagance. They are not simply another budget item,” said Menendez.
The board was created by then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to investigate the attack; Republicans criticized Clinton for initially misrepresenting what had occurred and for not providing adequately security to the compound.
“I thank the chairman for introducing this legislation. And in the long term it will help us on a number of different fronts. But I am not going to sit here and tell you that the tragedy in Benghazi could have been avoided had we had this legislation,” said Starr.
The State Department has been allocated $1.4 billion and wants an additional $800 million to address security needs of building new facilities.
Separate from the review board recommendations, the Pentagon and the State Department have agreed that Marines guarding diplomatic posts now will have responsibility for guarding personnel as well as sensitive documents, which had been their main mission in the past.
The State Department is using a racetrack facility in West Virginia with the capacity to train 2,500 Foreign Service officers. According to Starr, this does not meet the number of people stationed at high-threat locations. Personnel at some of the facilities do not have needed training and have only taken a four-hour online course, he said.
In 2000, an assessment was made of the vulnerability of 264 U.S. diplomatic locations; 110 of the 175 deemed to need to an upgrade have been upgraded.
Ananth Baliga reports for the Medill News Service.