EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA


November 24, 2012

Column: Libya shows we need tougher embassy security

The question to be asked about the terrorist attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi is simple: Have the lessons learned three decades ago about who and what are needed to physically protect American interests overseas been forgotten? The lapses during the Carter administration — which resulted in both the Iranian hostage crisis in 1979 and Moscow bugging of the U.S. Embassy in Moscow in the early ’80s led ultimately to security reforms within the State Department.

But the attack in Libya that killed Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans — a disaster that apparently had been in the making for some time — appears to have come about in a policy shift that downgraded protections for American embassies and personnel throughout the Middle East. Stevens may or may not have been in Benghazi for a covert nighttime meeting that he thought was safe with minimal personal security. Certainly, the consulate itself was not well-enough protected.

The minimalist approach to security advocated by the “black dragons” — career foreign service officers who have risen to the upper echelons of the State Department — that stimulated a major overhaul during the Reagan White House following a study by Adm. Bobby Inman appeared to be creeping back into vogue under Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. There have been some $300 million cuts in the department’s security budget despite the obvious continuing threat to U.S personnel and interests in the world’s biggest tinderbox.

Al-Qaida operatives throughout the Middle East as well as Europe are constantly searching for soft targets as opposed to the bigger embassies, which are well fortified and reinforced by Marine detachments. Obviously a consulate in Benghazi was high on their list. They seemed to have been able to track the movement of Stevens and Sean Smith, a Foreign Service information officer. The ambassador’s popularity among several of the key factions in Libya also worked against him by giving him a false sense of security, according to those close to the situation. The two highly trained former Navy SEALs with him — Tyrone Woods and Glen Doherty — while capable enough, were overwhelmed.

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