For Trump White House, diplomatic security challenges remain

WASHINGTON – Donald Trump hammered rival Hillary Clinton during the presidential campaign for failing to prevent the attack on the U.S. mission in Benghazi, Libya, when she was secretary of state. Soon, he is the one who is responsible for the protection of America’s diplomats, but he offered virtually no insight into how he will do that.

After the 2012 Benghazi attack, Congress strengthened the expenditure for the security of the tens of thousands of Americans and foreign employees of the united states diplomatic service. Security experts and career diplomats say that there have been improvements, but that there are significant shortages.

Last week, the murder of the Russian ambassador to Turkey, Andrei Karlov, was a chilling reminder of the fact that diplomats are increasingly exposed to threats, even in countries that are not usually regarded as a hardship posting. The assassin shouted, “do not forget Gaza,” apparently referring to Russia’s military intervention in Syria.

It is not clear whether having a brashly outspoken figure as an Asset in the White House will compound for diplomatic security challenges. The foreign policy of Trump and his choice for the secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, currently remains a mystery.

The Trumpet transition team did not respond to questions about how his administration will address diplomatic security.

Keeping diplomats safe is an expensive thing. In the last budget of the year, Congress approved $3.39 billion for the Diplomatic security functions all over the world. That is good for approximately 7 percent of the Ministry’s general budget.

Diplomatic security is also very controversial, since the death of Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans in Benghazi.

The Republican-led House Select Committee on Benghazi concluded in June that there were major errors by the Obama administration, although it is not a “smoking gun” pointing to wrongdoing by Clinton. The committee included Rep. Mike Pompeo, R-Kan., Trump’s pick to head the CIA.

Another member of the committee, Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, criticized the Obama administration for refusing to make the position of the secretary of state for diplomatic security. He called it the most important change to improve diplomatic security.” He said committee Democrats “stonewalled and played games while we are on the search for truth.”

The top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, Rep. Adam Schiff of California, accused the Republicans lose interest in diplomatic security now that the election is over.

“Since the problem is no longer a useful cudgel against Secretary Clinton, I fear that the (Republican) majority of the bet for diplomatic security will disappear, and the State Department, could be faced with the cuts on the security of both the budgets and to the core diplomatic functions,” Schiff said.

In 2012 government research the following the Benghazi attacks that are more than two dozen recommendations for improvements of the security, with the emphasis serious lapses in management and leadership left the consulate vulnerable.

The Bureau of Diplomatic Security declined to answer specific questions on the areas where improvement is still needed, but said that diplomatic security “constantly balances the available resources to provide a safe and secure environment for the conduct of AMERICAN diplomacy.”

Security experts and diplomats say that there is more that can be done within the individual diplomatic missions to improve security. Mission the security chiefs could use more training and ambassadors and other mission leaders must also be given greater authority over the safety of interest because they are most familiar with the circumstances on the ground, experts say.

Fred Burton, a former diplomatic security agent, said mission safety officials “never had the opportunity to speak for ourselves on this kind of decision-making meetings because you down on this flow chart and you’re left … with all the challenges of man in a place like Benghazi.”

Burton, author of “Under Fire: The Untold Story of the Attack in Benghazi,” said he is not optimistic the problem can be remedied, unless Tillerson confirmed “and his desire is for the restructuring of the bureaucracy in the State.”

Traditionally, host countries are obliged by the convention for the protection of diplomatic facilities. But with non-state actors are gaining ground and the state of destabilisation of governments, the fall to the US to take all precautions to protect its diplomats while still giving them the freedom to do their work.

Robert Ford, a former ambassador to Syria, said the most convenient way Congress and the administration can advance diplomatic security is by providing “strong support for locally determined security needs resources.”

“Security issues cannot realistically be micro-managed from Washington-based officials, because only the people on the ground have an up-to-date sense of the conditions and the evolution of threats,” he said.

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