Championing Responsible National Security Policy

Review Finds Security Problems at Diplomatic Posts

Long after the deadly attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, security shortcomings have remained a problem for some of the State Department’s most threatened overseas posts, according to a federal review.

An audit of five “high threat level posts” found that “common physical and procedural security deficiencies occurred among the posts reviewed,” according to a summary of the findings made public on July 12 by the State Department’s Office of Inspector General (OIG).

The posts “were not always in compliance with current physical security standards,” the Department’s internal watchdog said.

Based on the deficiencies identified in the audit, the Inspector General’s office had made 24 recommendations to the State Department about improving security systemically. Fourteen of those remained unresolved, requiring further action from State Department managers, the OIG said. The count was as of early May, OIG spokesman Doug Welty told the Project On Government Oversight.

In addition, 38 recommendations were issued to specific diplomatic posts covered by the audit. Ten were still open, the OIG summary said.

The September 11, 2012, tragedy in Benghazi focused renewed attention on the vulnerabilities of overseas diplomatic posts and created a sense of urgency in Washington to bolster defenses.

In the aftermath of the episode, State Department officials said they were ramping up security. For example, in December 2012, as a federal review board delivered a highly critical assessment of diplomatic security—saying systemic failures contributed to the casualties in Benghazi—then-Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton assured Congress that the State Department was “fixing what is not working” and “protecting our people.”

Despite all that attention, the audit shows that problems have persisted.

The Inspector General’s office last week posted a general summary of its audit findings that did not even identify the diplomatic facilities reviewed. The office declined to provide a copy of the full report, categorized as “sensitive but unclassified,” without a request under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA)—a potentially protracted process that the OIG suggested would not be especially fruitful in this case.

“Because redactions to the report under FOIA would be so extensive, the publicly releasable version of the report would be of little to no value. As a result, OIG produced the unclassified summary for public review,” Karen J. Ouzts, deputy general counsel in the Inspector General’s office, said by email in response to a request from POGO.

Releasing more detail would call attention to any weaknesses and put diplomatic posts at risk, Welty, the OIG spokesman, said.

The fieldwork for the audit was conducted from April 2012 to October 2012, Welty said. A person familiar with the Inspector General’s review told POGO that it covered facilities in Europe, Africa, and South America.

POGO asked a State Department spokeswoman to address the audit’s findings Wednesday. She said it could take several days for the Department to develop, review, and clear responses.