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Report examines possible failings in funds for diplomatic security

November 29, 2012|By Morgan Little
  • A Libyan man investigates the inside of the U.S. Consulate after an attack that killed four Americans, including Ambassador Chris Stevens, on the night of Sept. 11, in Benghazi, Libya.
A Libyan man investigates the inside of the U.S. Consulate after an attack… (Mohammad Hannon / Associated…)

A recent report examining the funding and implementation of diplomatic security has found, among many things, that congressional appropriations for securing embassies, consulates and the like has been less than the amount requested in every year since 2007.

The report, from the Congressional Research Service, raises questions about claims from the Department of State that proper preventive measures were in place prior to the lethal attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, on Sept. 11.

The attack, which resulted in the death of U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens (the first U.S. ambassador to be killed in the line of duty since 1979) and three other personnel, has brought new attention to the security currently in place at the 285 diplomatic facilities the U.S. maintains.

Some of them, according to Assistant Secretary of State for Diplomatic Security Eric Boswell, currently operate “in locations where, in the past, we might have closed the post and evacuated all personnel when faced with similar threats.”

PHOTOS: U.S. ambassador killed in Libya

A key to the security failings in Benghazi outlined in the report was the inability of the fledgling Libyan government to provide adequate security, as required under the Vienna Conventions, with government backing replaced by local guards contracted through a British private security firm Blue Mountain, and members of the February 17 Brigade, a militia formed in opposition to the late Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi.

Less definite in the report is the role played by funding, which is by law handled by Congress. Since there has been no specific legislation passed since 2003, funding for diplomatic security is picked from “Worldwide Security Upgrade” funding provided from the Sate Department. That funding is then split between the baseline provided through appropriations, as well as additional supplemental funds that are requested separately.

Fiscal year 2010 marked the high point for both baseline security requests ($2.8 billion) and for funding enacted by Congress ($2.7 billion).

Fiscal year 2012 saw the largest discrepancy between funds requested and enacted, with a $240.4 million gap between the two, which ended up growing into a $251.1 million gap once additional requests were considered. That same fiscal year also saw the largest single-year drop in enacted base funding, at 6.1%.

A record-breaking $3.1 billion has been requested for fiscal year 2013, an increase of 6.5%.

Beyond questions over the use of the allocated funds, the report’s authors expressed concerns over the much-feared sequestration cuts scheduled to take place Jan. 2, 2013, which result in an estimated 8.2% cut in funding.

The report’s conclusion, in lining out possible future problems, highlights a hypothetical that particularly stands out, given the level of U.S. diplomatic involvement across the world.

“Another, perhaps longer-term related aspect of the funding debate is whether the United States can afford to maintain facilities and adequate security everywhere,” the report reads. “Especially in nascent democracies that are often unstable and unpredictable.”

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