Securing U.S. Diplomatic Facilities/Personnel: Funding, Sequestration, Affordability and Risks

Secrecy News has just posted a November 26, 2012 report by the Congressional Research Service on diplomatic security and notes that “In almost every year since 2007, Congress appropriated less money for diplomatic security than had been requested.  In FY2012, the State Department sought $2.9 billion for security, and Congress enacted $2.6 billion.”

The CRS report itself described the funding as following a “boom and bust” cycle:

“Observers have suggested that funding for embassy security follows a “boom and bust” cycle, in which major attacks are followed by a sudden influx of resources that may be difficult to expend in a well-planned manner. An influx of security-related resources in the 1980s was followed by a lull in the 1990s when diplomatic security funding was greatly reduced prior to the 1998 attacks in Kenya and Tanzania. The subsequent State Department Accountability Review Board suggested that the preceding years of reduced spending for embassy security was a contributing factor to the vulnerability of the targeted embassies.”

If Congress stays true to form, the boom is already starting.  The Hill reports:

The Senate passed an amendment to the defense bill by voice vote Wednesday that would place more Marines at U.S. consulates and embassies around the world… Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) introduced the amendment. He said the amendment was important to preventing more deaths overseas, referring to the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya on Sept. 11, 2012….

McCain said his amendment, 3051, would also ask the Department of Defense to reassess the rules of engagement for Marines stationed at embassies and consulates so they could engage in combat when attacked.

The amendment authorize a 1,000 person increase in the size of the Marine Corps to provide additional protections for U.S. embassies and consulates. More here. While I do think we should revisit our use of force policy at our overseas post, the Democracy Arsenal takes up the other side of this amendment — why there is a push to increase Marine presence instead of increasing Diplomatic Security agents:

“Just to be clear, this is not so say that the Marines do not play an important role in diplomatic security. Clearly they do both in terms of information protection and protection of dignitaries and personnel. However, it is strange that Sen. McCain would advocate so forcefully for increasing the Marines presence with no mention of the forces primarily tasked with the mission, especially since his colleagues have repeatedly decreased funding.”

More from the CRS report:

The United States maintains about 285 diplomatic facilities worldwide.1 Attacks on such facilities, and on U.S. diplomatic personnel, are not isolated instances. U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other U.S. personnel were killed in Benghazi, Libya, on September 11, 2012, after armed individuals attacked and burned buildings on the main mission compound and subsequently attacked a second annex site where U.S. personnel had been evacuated.

Five other U.S. ambassadors have died by violent acts in the line of duty, although none since 1979.2 In addition to this total, 38 U.S. diplomats who were not ambassadors have been killed in the past 30 years.3 There were 39 attacks against U.S. embassies and consulates and official U.S. personnel overseas between 1998 and 2008, excluding regular attacks against the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad.4
[…]
The inability to provide perfect security, especially against the evident threat of mob violence, has focused particular scrutiny on the deployment of diplomatic personnel in high-threat environments. The Department of State currently maintains a presence in locations faced with security conditions that previously would likely have led State to evacuate personnel and close the post.

Under reciprocal treaty obligations, host nations are obligated to provide security for the diplomatic facilities of  sending states. However, instances in which host nations have been unable or not fully committed to fulfilling this responsibility have sometimes left U.S. facilities vulnerable, especially in extraordinary circumstances. U.S. facilities therefore employ a layered approach to security, including not only the measures taken by a host country, but also additional, U.S.-coordinated measures, to include armed Diplomatic Security agents, hardened facilities, U.S.-trained and/or contracted local security guards, and sometimes U.S. Marine Security Guard detachments (whose principal role is securing sensitive information).

The rapid growth in the number of U.S. civilians deployed in high-risk environments of Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan spurred significant investment in recent years in the Department of State’s capacity to provide security in dangerous areas through its Bureau of Diplomatic Security (DS), while simultaneously placing unprecedented burdens on DS’s capability to carry out this mission successfully there and in other challenging locations. With greater focus on these frontline states, funds for other U.S. facilities could be strained.
[…]
As Congress examines whether enough funding has been provided or more is needed for properly securing American personnel, embassies, and information around the world, it will do so in a climate of shrinking budgets; any proposed funding increases are likely to be met with calls for offsetting cuts elsewhere.

Also of near-term concern is the possible effect that the Budget Control Act of 2011 (BCA, P.L. 112-25) sequestration could have on diplomatic security funding. If across-the-board spending reductions occur as scheduled on January 2, 2013, currently estimated at about 8.2% of funding, security funding could be reduced as well. Those who consider embassy security funding to be insufficient would find the problem exacerbated by sequestration. The combined effects of a sequestration in 2013 and a half year Continuing Resolution that ends in March 2013 could generate concerns about diplomatic security funding in the months and years ahead.

Some foreign policy experts are concerned that, with limited available dollars for foreign affairs overall, war-related costs in frontline states may be drawing funds away from needs in the rest of the 285-plus U.S. diplomatic facilities around the world. With the recent Arab Spring uprisings, for example, U.S. personnel located in those countries may be more vulnerable than those located in the frontline states where the embassies were built and heavily fortified recently. Some observers wonder if the rapidly evolving changes in Arab Spring countries may have contributed to difficulties in achieving and maintaining adequate diplomatic security there. Possibly adding to the difficulty is the unpredictability in the timing of funding bills being passed by Congress.

Fiscal years may not be in sync with new increasing needs or with contracts. Furthermore, when Congress is unable to pass funding bills until well into the new fiscal year, or passes continuing resolutions in place of spending bills for the remainder of the fiscal year, the agency is left to guess what annual funding they can expect and has fewer months to spend the funds once received.

Another, perhaps longer-term related aspect of the funding debate is whether the United States can afford to maintain facilities and adequate security everywhere, especially in nascent democracies that are often unstable and unpredictable. If embassy security is the responsibility of the local government, but that government does not have the capability required to keep American personnel safe, the U.S. government must weigh the security risks of keeping a U.S. presence in such environments.

Continue reading, Securing U.S. Diplomatic Facilities and Personnel Abroad: Background and Policy Issues.

domani spero sig

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4 Comments

Filed under Congress, Diplomatic Security, Follow the Money, Foreign Service, FS Funding, Govt Reports/Documents, McCain, Security, State Department

4 responses to “Securing U.S. Diplomatic Facilities/Personnel: Funding, Sequestration, Affordability and Risks

  1. Jim – thanks, that’s a good point. Even at a critical crime post I’ve been in at one time, there were only two RSOs. I understand that Mission Iraq has 200 DS positions. If Iraq ever becomes a normal operation, what kind of RSO numbers do we expect to stick there? Maybe 12 depending on how many constituent posts there will be. Also I don’t know off hand how many of new hires are 1361 employees. But lets say there will be a surplus of 180 positions out of Iraq? Where would those agents go? I don’t know. But I presume bidding would be super awful for our DS folks. I’d like to think that some workforce planning had been done concerning this, but I just don’t know.

    What I’m really hoping for is for our policy leaders to have a serious conversation on what diplomacy in the next 50 years should be like. Unless we have a vision on what kind of diplomatic engagement is in our diplomats’ future, we will continue throwing money on security, because we won’t know any better. How much security will be required for expeditionary diplomats? How will 1000 more Marines help?

  2. Jim

    Even if the size of the Missions in Iraq and Afghanistan are decreased, it does not mean those DSS agents will be put in other RSO offices. It seems that the more embassies and consulates increase staffing, DSS agents and the RSO offices they work in remain status quo with one, two or three agents. This leaves many agents fighting to get out or stay overseas.

  3. Patricia, I have similar doubts on that. As to the funding, it goes up but the showing up of diplomats in warzones and other danger posts has also made the logistics of keeping them there secure more expensive. Imagine the Iraq operation that now has its own diplomatic hospital, and air service supported by over 10,000 personnel. Do we really need to be that big in Iraq? Do we have to be everywhere even in places that are hard to secure?

  4. What the CRS report doesn’t say is that even though every year State requested more for D/S and Congress did not appropriate the full amount requested, the amount appropriated has also increased pretty substantially over the time period included. (See the table at the back.)

    Re more Marines: Would a small number of Marine guards have changed the equation in Benghazi? I have my doubts.

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