U.S. diplomatic facilities may be at risk because of security problems, GAO report says

U.S. diplomatic facilities abroad may be at risk because of problems with their security standards and practices, according to a report this week from federal auditors.

The Government Accountability Office, a nonpartisan investigative wing of Congress, found inconsistency in the way the State Department prepares for evolving threats and the potential dangers to temporary facilities that operate longer than anticipated.

The report sheds additional light on the failures that led to a 2012 assault on a temporary diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya that killed four Americans, including U.S. ambassador J. Christopher Stevens. It could also provide more ammunition for Republicans to attack former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who is considering a possible 2016 presidential run.


Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton testifies about the Benghazi attack. (AP/Pablo Martinez Monsivais).

“Without a fully developed risk management policy, State may lack the information needed to make the best security decisions concerning personnel and facilities,” the GAO said.

A Senate Intelligence Committee analysis released in January faulted the State Department and intelligence community for the Benghazi incident, saying the State Department failed to increase security at the outpost and that intelligence agencies did not share information about it with the U.S. military, which didn’t have resources in place to defend the mission.

The GAO determined that the security standards for certain types of overseas facilities are lacking or unclear, and that updating guidelines has taken more than eight years in some cases.

The report also cited problems with the waivers for missions that cannot meet security standards. It said that “neither posts nor headquarters systematically tracks the waivers and exceptions” and that “State has no process to re-evaluate waivers and exceptions when the threat or risk changes.”

The GAO reported noted that the State Department has begun taking a number of steps to enhance its security efforts for overseas facilities. It also said some of the agency’s risk-management activities are “consistent with best practices.”

The State Department agreed with all but one of the GAO’s recommendations, which included working with the Bureau of Diplomatic Security to update security standards, establish a process for reviewing the guidelines and automating the tracking of waivers.

The agency said it was not in a position to answer a recommendation about its policies on temporary facilities because it is still evaluating that issue with an internal work group.

“The department thanks GAO for the constructive audit and will promptly implement the recommendations to operate more effectively,” the State Department said in a statement on Friday.

Josh Hicks covers the federal government and anchors the Federal Eye blog. He reported for newspapers in the Detroit and Seattle suburbs before joining the Post as a contributor to Glenn Kessler’s Fact Checker blog in 2011.
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