News / USA

US Boosts Diplomatic Security After Benghazi Attack

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton says last year’s deadly attack on the U.S. mission in Libya's eastern city of Benghazi has prompted her to take urgent steps to improve security at diplomatic posts worldwide.

But some American diplomats worry that new security rules ordered by Washington also could make it harder for their counterparts to do their jobs.

In the Benghazi attack, suspected al-Qaida militants raided several U.S. compounds on September 11, 2012, killing four Americans, including the U.S. ambassador.

Earlier that day, anti-American protesters stormed the U.S. embassy in Cairo, angered by a U.S.-made film about the Prophet Muhammad. Yemenis offended by that film also broke into the U.S. embassy compound in Sana'a.

  • Yemeni protestors break a door of the U.S. Embassy during a protest about a film ridiculing Islam's Prophet Mohammed, Sana'a, Yemen, September 13, 2012.
  • Yemenis protest in front of the U.S. Embassy during a protest about a film ridiculing Islam's Prophet Mohammed, Sana'a, September 13, 2012.
  • Egyptian protesters burn tires as they clash with riot police outside the U.S. embassy in Cairo, Egypt, September 13, 2012.
  • An Egyptian protester throws back a tear gas canister toward riot police outside the U.S. embassy in Cairo, September 13, 2012.
  • A policeman stands in front of a police car set on fire by protesters in front of the U.S. embassy in Cairo, Egypt, during clashes between protesters and police, September 13, 2012.
  • White House staff are pictured after they lowered the U.S. flag to half staff on the roof of the White House in Washington, September 12, 2012, following the death of U.S. Ambassador to Libya, Chris Stevens.
  • President Barack Obama delivers a statement with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton from the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington, September 12, 2012
  • A burnt car is parked at the U.S. consulate, which was attacked and set on fire by gunmen, in Benghazi, Libya, September 12, 2012.
  • An exterior view of the U.S. consulate, which was attacked and set on fire by gunmen yesterday, in Benghazi September 12, 2012.
  • An interior view of the damage at the U.S. consulate, which was attacked and set on fire by gunmen yesterday, in Benghazi, Libya, September 12, 2012.
  • Christopher Stevens, the U.S. ambassador to Libya, was killed along with three of his staff on September 11, 2012 during a demonstration at the U.S. consulate in Benghazi.  This photo was taken at his home in Tripoli, June 28, 2012.
  • A vehicle sits smoldering in flames after being set on fire inside the US consulate compound in Benghazi late on September 11, 2012.
  • An armed man waves his rifle as buildings and cars are engulfed in flames after being set on fire inside the U.S. consulate compound in Benghazi, Libya, late on September 11, 2012.
  • U.S. Consulate in Benghazi in flames during protest, September 11, 2012

Deploying more Marines

At a Senate hearing Wednesday, Secretary Clinton said she has responded to those incidents by asking for hundreds of additional Marine security guards to be sent to vulnerable diplomatic posts.

She said she also appointed an official to the new position of deputy assistant secretary of state for high threat posts, with responsibility for giving missions in dangerous places “the attention they need."

Findings of the Accountability Review Board for Benghazi

  • There were no protests before the attacks.
  • Intelligence provided no specific warning of the attacks.
  • The scale and intensity of the attacks was not anticipated.
  • Systemic failures and leadership deficiencies in the State Department resulted in inadequate security.
  • The Libyan government's response to the attack was "profoundly lacking."
  • U.S. personnel in Benghazi acted with courage in a "near impossible situation."
  • There was not enough time for U.S. military assets to have made a difference.
Clinton said she has designated more than 20 U.S. missions around the world as high-risk sites requiring tighter security.  But she said their locations are classified.

A labor union that represents American diplomats told VOA that sending more Marines to guard high-risk missions is a positive step.

American Foreign Service Association President Susan Johnson said many U.S. consulates and some embassies have had to operate without any Marines.

"Marines are there principally to guard and secure premises rather than offer personal protection,” she said. “Nonetheless, having them there in an emergency can also buy you time and can certainly help you to prevail or escape or minimize the damage, so we welcome that. But the Marines are not out there yet."

Seeking congressional help

Secretary Clinton also said she needs congressional support to implement security recommendations made by an independent panel that investigated the Benghazi attack. She urged lawmakers to give her the authority to use some existing State Department funds for deploying more security personnel and upgrading construction at U.S. missions.

Clinton also appealed to Congress to provide additional money for diplomatic security, saying the funds approved last year were inadequate and 10 percent below what she had requested.

Security overkill?

Anti-U.S. Protests Timeline:

  • September 11: Protesters attack U.S. embassy in Cairo, Egypt and U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya. U.S. Ambassador to Libya Chris Stevens and three other Americas are killed
  • September 12: Anti-U.S. protests spread to several Arab countries.
  • September 13: Protesters storm U.S. embassy compound in Sana'a, Yemen
  • September 14: Protests spread further across Africa, Asia and the Middle East
  • September 15: US orders non-essential personnel and families of diplomats out of Tunisia and Sudan
  • September 16: A protester dies during a clash with police in Pakistan
  • September 17: A protester dies during a clash with police in Pakistan
Some diplomats have expressed concern that the State Department could tighten security too much as it tries to satisfy congressional Republicans who accuse it of not doing enough to prevent the Benghazi killings.

Ronald Neumann, a former U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, Algeria and Bahrain, told VOA that political pressure on the Obama administration to avoid risky diplomacy is more “severe” than it was before Benghazi. 

“One of the biggest problems we are dealing with is an environment in which Washington officials become so nervous about security that they reduce the flexibility of diplomats in the field to make critical security decisions.”

Neumann, president of the Washington-based non-profit group American Academy for Diplomacy, said ambassadors should be the ones to decide whether they or their personnel make risky trips outside of their offices.

Nicholas Kralev, author of America's Other Army: The U.S. Foreign Service and 21st Century Diplomacy, said existing restrictions on diplomatic travel already have made life difficult for the diplomats.

“In many countries where it is deemed not safe to travel outside the capital, diplomats are banned from going. In some countries, they may get a waiver of that, but they have to request written permission.”

Kralev said Secretary Clinton tried to strike a balance between diplomatic security and flexibility before the September 2012 attacks.

“Unfortunately after the attacks, I do not see how this can happen, now that the focus is much more on the security part of this,” he said.

Accepting risk

Union leader Johnson said many diplomats have been speaking up in favor of flexibility.

“Benghazi is bringing the issue to the forefront. I am seeing a bit more pushback from the Foreign Service against calls to eliminate all risk, not travel anywhere and get 64 permissions to do so."

She said another way to improve security is to boost federal funding for training diplomats in foreign languages and country knowledge.

“[That training] makes you far more attuned to what is going on. You are more able to avoid a dangerous situation, and if it happens, you are better able to respond to it,” she said.

Neumann said no measures can provide perfect security.

“The steps [announced by Clinton] are good, but they do not mean that you can avoid another Benghazi or another diplomat being killed. That is not within the realm of the possible,” he said.

Michael Lipin

Michael covers international news for VOA on the web, radio and TV, specializing in the Middle East and East Asia Pacific. Follow him on Twitter @Michael_Lipin

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Comment Sorting
by: Just Me from: south
January 25, 2013 1:49 PM
Are you kidding me? There are still folks blaming a film for the Benghazi attack??? I looked at the date and reread the article. It's true, but how is it possible that anyone, at this point, manages to buy into those invented lies as the cause of four American deaths? I find this incredibly stupid.

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