WASHINGTON — Tension continues to mount in the Middle East after Tuesday’s deaths of the U.S. ambassador to Libya and three other American diplomat. As demonstrations continue in the region, sparking more deaths and injuries, President Obama has ordered all U.S. diplomats to review security and to increase it if necessary.
American embassies and consulates in Asia and the Middle East are no strangers to terrorism. In 1999, Ambassador Christopher Hill, was serving in Macedonia when local police officers were overwhelmed by demonstrators. He says people incorrectly believe U.S. Marines are based at embassies to stop violence.
“The Marines are a very small unit and their primary job is protect American documents," Hill explained. "They are not there to provide a perimeter defense. Essentially you are looking for a local government to do that.”
Beyond the first layer of security, architectural security firms suggest blast-resistant, hardened shell exteriors with inner doors leading inside or with walls surrounding the building.
In 1998, simultaneous bombings killed more than 200 at the Kenyan and Tanzanian embassies. The buildings were not set back from the road. Security firms also recommend emergency alert systems and safe rooms.
Former Afghan Ambassador to the United States, Sayed Jawad, says security must be balanced.
“An embassy is the window and the voice of the United States and the host country. Technically you can make it as secure as you want it to be, but then you have difficulty of getting the message out,” he said.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was quick to respond to the YouTube video that ridiculed Islam and sparked the violence.
“The United States government had absolutely nothing to do with this video," Clinton insisted. "We absolutely reject its content and message.”
YouTube has blocked the video in Libya and Egypt, where the protests began. Former Ambassador Jawad doesn’t agree with that, even though his Afghan government has also blocked YouTube to keep people from seeing the video.
“As soon as you try to censor it, as soon as you try to take it out you create more sensation about it," noted Jawad. "This is a low-budget, ridiculous movie and it’s not really worth so much sensation.”
However, the "sensation" is spreading the protests and has U.S. embassies advising Americans to be vigilant.
“You are often asked to imagine the unimaginable. Imagine that some small group planning to attack the embassy turns into a much larger group than any of your intelligence could have alerted you to," explained Ambassador Hill referring to training diplomats receive.
Expect the unexpected. A proactive method of security that could help prevent this type of event in the future.