Libya attack: Congressmen casting blame voted to cut diplomatic security budget
Reps. Jason Chaffetz and Darrell Issa claim the Benghazi consulate sought more security before the deadly attack. They also both voted to cut the State Department's embassy security budget.
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Scott Lilly, who spent three decades as a senior staffer for Democrats in Congress, often working on budget matters, and now a fellow at the Center for American Progress in DC, says the cuts sought by Congress have been steep since the new House sat in 2011.
The Worldwide Security Protection program (WSP), which the government says provides "core funding for the protection of life, property, and information of the Department of State," and a separate embassy security and construction budget, which in part improves fortifications, have both been under fire.
"In 2011 they came in and passed a continuing resolution for the remainder of that fiscal year. The House proposed $70 million cut in the WSP and they proposed a $204 million cut in Embassy security," says Mr. Lilly. "Then the next year, fiscal 2012, they cut worldwide security by $145 million and embassy security by $376 million. This year's bill is the same thing all over again. The House has cut the worldwide security budget $149 million below the request."
Roughly 260 installations
That's not the actual budget – simply the negotiating position of Congress. The Senate and the President have sought more money than the House for embassy security, but the horse-trading means that the State Department ends up with less than it requested. For instance, in the fiscal 2012 budget, the cuts over the State Departments' request were "whittled back by the Senate," he says, to $109 million for WSP and $131 million for embassy security.
"We've got something like 260 embassies and consulates around the world, and there's a remarkable number of them that aren't anywhere close to Inman standards and are still particularly dangerous," says Lilly. "Inman standards" refers to the report written by Admiral Bobby Ray Inman on US building security abroad after the 1983 Marine barracks bombing in Beirut that left 241 US troops and 58 French soldiers dead.
Nearly 30 years later, many US missions abroad don't meet the code. Lilly recalls traveling to Tashkent, Uzbekistan, on a congressional delegation years ago and finding the embassy, in a crumbling old Soviet party building, cramped and nowhere near a safe offset from the road to guard against attacks. "They had file cabinets on landings of stairways because they had so little room, the building was barely five feet off the road," he says. "It was so bad I got Bob Livingston, who was chairman of the appropriations committee at the time, to cancel an event and go look at it. He was so upset that he put an earmark in a bill to fix it."
I suggested to Lilly that if there weren't enough trained personnel for diplomatic protection in Libya, then maybe Stevens should have reined his operation in and done a lot less. Basically bow to the limitations.
He pushed back on that idea: "If the foreign service took that attitude, a hell of a lot less would get done. They know they're taking risks just by living in these places. They're pretty adventuresome and they've got to get out and do the job," he says. "Benghazi is a critical point in creating a stable environment in Libya, and Stevens knew he had to get out and work it."
To be sure, US missions abroad are much safer now than they were years ago, thanks to the Inman standards and a major overhaul of security measures after the 1998 Al Qaeda attacks on three US embassies in Africa.
Adam Serwer at Mother Jones wrote earlier this week on embassy security in a piece that has a chart on attacks on US diplomats going back to 1970. It shows that annual attacks have declined sharply since over 30 in 1991.