US plans to revamp security overseas

Fri, Dec 21, 2012, 00:00

The US state department will seek billions of dollars in new funds and revamp security procedures around the world in response to a critical independent investigation of the September 11th attack on the US mission in Benghazi, Libya, senior state department officials said yesterday.

US secretary of state Hillary Clinton’s two top deputies appeared at a US Senate hearing and conceded that US officials had failed to “connect the dots” ahead of the attack, which killed US ambassador to Libya Christopher Stevens and three other Americans. “We learned some very hard and painful lessons in Benghazi,” deputy secretary of state William Burns said. “We are already acting on them. We have to do better.”

The state department announced on Wednesday that its security chief had resigned and three other officials had been relieved of their posts following the report, which cited leadership and management deficiencies, poor co-ordination among officials and confusion over who had the authority to make decisions.

Senate foreign relations committee chairman John Kerry, now tipped to be US president Barack Obama’s pick to replace Mrs Clinton when she steps down next month, chaired the session and led the call for increased funding. “We need to make certain that we are not penny wise and pound foolish when it comes to supporting America’s vital interest overseas,” he told the hearing.

Request for funds

Mrs Clinton, unable to attend the hearing because of illness, has already asked for $1.4 billion (€1.06 billion) in funds for the 2013 fiscal year to be reallocated to improve security at US diplomatic missions, the state department said. It is also expected to request $2.3 billion a year for the next 10 years to further this work.

Deputy secretary of state Thomas Nides said the department had formed a taskforce to implement 29 recommendations in the report and sent security assessment teams to 19 US missions in 13 countries.

The department, in co-operation with the Pentagon, intends to send 35 additional marine detachments, or about 225 uniformed personnel, to beef up security at medium- and high-threat posts and to boost staffing of its own bureau of diplomatic security by about 5 per cent, or 150 additional agents, Mr Nides said.

The state department said Mrs Clinton had named Bill Miller, one of the department’s “most experienced” security professionals, to be the deputy assistant secretary of state for high-threat posts – a new position in the bureau of diplomatic security. The job will focus on US posts in Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Egypt, Indonesia, Iraq, Jordan, Kenya, Libya, Mauritania, Nigeria, Pakistan, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, Syria, Tunisia and Yemen.

Mr Miller will also be in charge of evaluating the recommendations from the taskforce and security assessment teams, and developing a plan to carry them out. The Benghazi incident could tarnish Mrs Clinton’s four-year tenure as secretary of state but the report does not fault her specifically.

US officials say the assault, which occurred on the anniversary of the September 11th, 2001, attacks on New York and Washington, was the work of Islamist extremists and have pledged to bring those responsible to justice. “We are absolutely committed to bringing every resource of the US government to bear to accomplish that,” Mr Burns said. “We don’t have all the answers yet but we are working this relentlessly and I think we are making some progress.”

Republican senator Bob Corker, an outspoken critic of the Obama administration’s response to Benghazi, said the panel report revealed a “sclerotic” state department that had failed to make good use of the resources already at its disposal.

Widespread change

“I am dismayed that this hearing has already focused on the need for additional money,” Mr Corker said. “We have no idea whether the state department is using its money wisely or not, and I think that’s a shame.”

Mr Nides said the department was still coming to terms with widespread changes across the Middle East and defended the department’s overall track record. “We get this right about 99 per cent of the time. We would like to be at 100 per cent without question,” he said. – (Reuters)