The Benghazi Report and the Diplomatic Security Funding Cycle – Stratfor

The  Benghazi Report and the Diplomatic Security Funding Cycle is republished  with permission of Stratfor.”

By Scott Stewart Vice President of Analysis

On Dec. 18, the U.S. State Department’s Accountability Review Board released  an unclassified version of its investigation into the  Sept. 12 attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya. U.S. Ambassador to  Libya Christopher Stevens and three other Americans were killed in the attack,  so the report was widely anticipated by the public and by government officials  alike.

Four senior State Department officials have been reassigned to other duties  since the report’s release. Among them were the assistant secretary of state for  diplomatic security; two of his deputy assistant secretaries, including the  director of the Diplomatic Security Service, the department’s most senior  special agent; and the deputy assistant secretary responsible for Libya in the  State Department’s Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs.

The highly critical report and the subsequent personnel reassignments are not  simply a low watermark for the State Department; rather, the events following  the attack signify another  phase in the diplomatic security funding cycle. The new phase will bring  about a financial windfall for the State Department security budgets, but  increased funding alone will not prevent future attacks from occurring. After  all, plenty of attacks have occurred following similar State Department  budgetary allocations in the past. Other important factors therefore must be  addressed.

Predictable Inquiries

The cycle by which  diplomatic security is funded begins as officials gradually cut spending on  diplomatic security programs. Then, when major security failures inevitably  beset those programs, resultant public outrage compels officials to create a  panel to investigate those failures.

The first of these panels dates back to the mid-1980s, following attacks  against U.S. facilities in Beirut and Kuwait and the systematic bugging of the  U.S. Embassy in Moscow. These security lapses led to the formation of the  Secretary of State’s Advisory Panel on Overseas Security, chaired by former  Deputy CIA Director Adm. Bobby Inman. The law that passed in the wake of the  Inman Commission came to be known as the Omnibus Diplomatic Security and  Antiterrorism Act of 1986, which requires that an accountability review board be  convened following major security incidents.

There are a few subsequent examples of these panels. Former Chairman of the  U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. William Crowe chaired an Accountability Review  Board following the bombings of U.S. embassies in East Africa in 1998. And after  the Benghazi attacks, an Accountability Review Board was chaired by former U.S.  Ambassador Thomas Pickering. The Dec. 18 report was the findings of the  Pickering board.

Predictably, the review boards, including Pickering’s, always conclude that  inadequate funding and insufficient security personnel are partly to blame for  the security breaches. In response to the reports, Congress appropriates more  money to diplomatic security programs to remedy the problem. Over time, funds  are cut, and the cycle begins anew.

Funding can be cut for several reasons. In times of financial austerity,  Congress can more easily cut the relatively small foreign affairs budget than it  can entitlement benefits budgets. Cuts to the overall State Department budget  generally result in cuts for security programs.

Moreover, rivalries among the various State Department entities can affect  spending cuts. The Diplomatic Security Service’s budget falls under the main  State Department budget, so senior diplomats, rather than Diplomatic Security  Service agents, represent the agency’s interests on Capitol Hill. Some within  the security service do not believe that senior diplomats have their best  interests at heart when making the case for their budgets — at least until a  tragedy occurs and Congressional hearings are held to air these problems. For  their part, others in the department resent the Diplomatic Security Service for  the large budgetary allocations it receives after a security failure.

More than a Matter of Funding

With Congress and the presumed next Secretary of State John Kerry now calling  for increased spending on diplomatic security, the financial floodgates are  about to reopen. But merely throwing money at the problems uncovered by the  accountability review boards will not be enough to solve those problems. Were  that the case, the billions of dollars allocated to diplomatic security in the  wake of the Inman and Crowe commission reports would have sufficed.

Of course, money can be useful, but injecting large sums of it into the  system can create problems if the money provided is too much for the bureaucracy  to efficiently metabolize. Government managers tend to spend all the money  allocated to them — sometimes at the expense of efficiency — under a “use it  or lose it” mentality. Since there is no real incentive for them to perform  under budget, managers in a variety of U.S. government departments spend massive  amounts of money at the end of each fiscal year. The same is true of diplomatic  security programs when they are flush with cash. But the inevitable reports of  financial waste and mismanagement lead to calls for spending cuts in these  programs.

If the U.S. government is ever going to break the cycle of funding cuts and  security disasters, the Diplomatic Security Service will need to demonstrate  wisdom and prudence in how it spends the funds allocated to them. It will also  be necessary for Congress to provide funding in a consistent manner and with an  initial appropriation that is not too big to be spent efficiently.

Beyond money management and a consistent level of funding, the State  Department will also need to take a hard look at how it currently conducts  diplomacy and how it can reduce the demands placed on the Diplomatic Security  Service. This will require asking many difficult questions: Is it necessary to  maintain large embassies to conduct diplomacy in the information age? Does the  United States need to maintain thousands of employees in high-threat  places like Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan at the expense of smaller  missions, or can the critical work be done by hundreds or even dozens? Is a  permanent U.S. presence even required in a place like Benghazi, or can the  missions in such locations be accomplished by a combination of visiting  diplomats, covert operatives and local employees?

At the very least, the State Department will need to review its policy of  designating a facility as a “special mission” — Benghazi was designated as such  — to exempt it from meeting established physical security standards. If the  questions above are answered affirmatively, and if it is deemed necessary to  keep a permanent presence in a place like Benghazi, then security standards need  to be followed, especially when a facility is in place for several months.  Temporary facilities with substandard security cannot be allowed to persist for  months and years.

Host Countries

As they consider these issues, officials need to bear in mind that the real  key to the security of diplomatic facilities is the protection provided by the  host country’s security forces as dictated by the Vienna Convention. If the host  country will not or cannot protect foreign diplomats, then the physical security  measures mandated by security standards can do little more than provide slight  delay — which is what they are designed to do. No physical security measures  can stand up to a prolonged assault. If a militant group armed with heavy  weaponry is permitted to attack a diplomatic facility for hours with no host  government response — as was the case in Benghazi — the attack will cause  considerable damage and likely cause fatalities despite the security measures in  place.

The same is true of a large mob, which given enough time can damage and  breach U.S. embassies that meet current department security standards. The U.S.  Embassy in Tripoli, a state-of-the-art facility completed in 2009, was heavily  damaged by a mob of pro-Gadhafi supporters in May 2011 and rendered  unserviceable.

In another example, a  large crowd caused extensive damage to the U.S. Embassy in Tunis and the  adjacent American School just three days after the Benghazi attack. In that  incident, Tunisian authorities responded and did not provide the attacking mob  the opportunity to conduct a prolonged assault on the embassy. Though the mob  caused millions of dollars worth of damage to the compound, it was unable to  breach the main embassy office building. Without host country security support,  there is little that can be done to assure the safety of U.S. diplomats, no  matter what happens to security budgets.

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