◉ By Domani Spero
Two top Diplomatic Security officials went before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee for the July 16 hearing on S.980, The Embassy Security and Personnel Protection Act of 2013: The guy who currently holds three jobs, Gregory B. Starr (Acting Assistant Secretary for Diplomatic Security, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Diplomatic Security, and Director of the Diplomatic Security Service) and Bill Miller, the Deputy Assistant Secretary of High Threat Posts.
McClatchy reports that the officials told the Senate that fifteen diplomatic posts in high-threat areas fail to meet safety standards 10 months after the Benghazi attacks. Mr. Starr was quoted saying, “We cannot retrofit many of our buildings to withstand blasts or direct attacks without the ability to move to a new location . . . and build a new facility.”
The Starr testimony is here, and the Miller testimony is here.
AA/S Star’s testimony includes this:
DS is hiring 151 new security professionals this and the next fiscal year, many of whom will directly serve at or provide support to our high-threat, high- risk posts. We are also working very closely with the Department of Defense (DOD) to expand the Marine Security Guard program, as well as to enhance the availability of forces to respond in extremis to threatened U.S. personnel and facilities. We recently worked with DOD and the U.S. Marine Corps to elevate personnel security as a primary mission of the Marine Security Guards. Each of these efforts enhances the Department’s ability to supplement, as necessary, the host government’s measures in fulfilling its obligations under international law to protect U.S. diplomatic and consular property and personnel.
Missions overseas with some exceptions typically get one RSO and one ARSO. According to a March 2013 statistics, Diplomatic Security has 1,951 Security Officers (diplomatic couriers, engineers and techs excepted). It is slated to grow by 151 in FY2013 and another 151 in FY2014 to a total of 2,253. This is the crew that staff eight field offices in the United States, most of 284 posts overseas, the expanded DS offices in Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan and the newly designated high-threat, high-risk posts that now numbers 27. These are the same folks that provide security to the Secretary of State seven days a week, 24 hours a day, everywhere he travels in the world, as well as protective security details for cabinet-level foreign dignitaries who visit the United States.
We have some two months left in the fiscal year. Whoever is hired or will be hired for the remainder of this fiscal year and next year still has to undergo required training. At this point, can we really count on those additional 151 new security professionals to serve or provide support to these 27 high threat posts?
In May 2013, in its announcement of the ARB Benghazi recommendation implementation, the Department said this:
“All high threat posts now have a minimum of a one-year tour of duty. We are planning to ensure overlap between incumbent and incoming positions to facilitate continuity of operations at high threat posts. Temporary duty assignments are set at a minimum of 120 days.”
That looks good on paper but you can’t do overlap if you can’t staff positions with incoming personnel. There is a limited pool of available agents with high-threat tactical training, and a good number of them are probably deployed to AIP posts. Some have also done back to back one-year postings between Iraq and Afghanistan. Then there’s Pakistan, Libya, Yemen and all that …
From our burn bag: “Another round of TDY requests for high-threat posts went unfilled with exactly ZERO DS agents volunteering. DS is now at the point where they’re threatening to direct agents to these high-threat locations for periods of 45 to 60 days.”
Even if DS is successful in ordering TDY directed assignments to high threat locations for 45-60 days, that is only half the duration State had previously cited as a minimum TDY length on its the Benghazi ARB implementation. And it would be exactly the same as the Libya TDYs, which, according to RSO Eric Nordstrom were 8-weeks duration or 56-day temporary duty assignments.
The Department also said that it “established a High Threat Board to review our presence at High Threat, High Risk posts; the Board will review these posts every 6 months.”
May 20, 2013 see State Dept Announces Implementation of 24 Out of 29 ARB Benghazi Recommendations
Fast-forward to July 2013, there are now 27 posts which fall under the high- threat, high-risk designation. And the DAS for the High Threat bureau just told Congress that the list will be reviewed annually, at a minimum, and more frequently as needed.
After the September 2012 attacks on our facilities in Libya, Yemen, Tunisia, Sudan, and Egypt, the Department reviewed its security posture and created my position, the Diplomatic Security Deputy Assistant Secretary of High Threat Posts, also known as HTP, along with a staff of security professional to support high-threat, high-risk posts. The Department assessed our diplomatic missions worldwide and weighed criteria to determine which posts are designated as high- threat, high-risk – there are now 27 posts which fall under this designation. This designation is not a static process and the list will be reviewed annually, at a minimum, and more frequently as needed. As emergent conditions substantially change, for better or for worse, at any post worldwide, high-threat, high-risk designations will shift, and missions will be added or deleted from this category. The HTP Directorate I oversee will lead the security operations in these high- threat, high-risk posts around the world, coordinate strategic and operational planning, and drive innovation across the broad spectrum of DS missions and responsibilities. We continue to work closely with the Regional Bureaus to ensure that everyone has visibility of the security threats at our posts.
We do not have a complete list of the high threat posts except the 17 posts already reported by the National Review Online in November 2012 from a State Department announcement, and CBS News here in December 2012 with a “senior State Department official” as source. See New Diplomatic Security Office to Monitor 17 High Threat Diplomatic Missions (With ARB Update) Dec 8, 2012 and State Dept’s New High Threat Posts Are Not All Danger Posts Dec 9, 2012.
As of this writing, the positions of Assistant Secretary of State for Diplomatic Security (formerly held by Eric Boswell), Deputy Assistant Secretary for International Programs (formerly held by Charlene Lamb) and Director for the Office of Foreign Missions (formerly held by Eric Boswell) remain vacant.
During the same hearing, Mr. Starr, according to McClatchy told senators that Secretary Kerry was reviewing those on administrative leave, as well as the circumstances of the attack but went on to praise the reprimanded officers.
“These are people that have given their careers to diplomatic security as well and the security of the Department of State, and I have a great deal of admiration for them,” Starr said. “It does not excuse the fact that we had a terrible tragedy in Benghazi . . . (but) all through the years that we’ve had multiple attacks in Yemen and in Afghanistan and in Iraq, those people performed admirably.”
It’s been almost seven months to the day three DS and NEA officials were put “on administrative leave pending further action.” Are these positions open because these officials will potentially return to these jobs after their administrative investigations conclude or is it because the government’s case is not going anywhere? Also, Secretary Kerry has been on the job for about six months now and on travel for over two months (68 days on travel since assuming post), visiting 27 countries, logging 134,691 miles along the way.
When does he even get the time?