Failure to Heed 2009 Report on Diplomatic Security May Have Contributed to Benghazi Attack

Monday, November 19, 2012
Sean Smith, information management officer killed in Benghazi (photo: Wikipedia)

A bi-partisan failure to act on a 2009 GAO report on diplomatic security may have contributed to the success of the September 11, 2012, terrorist attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, that killed two American diplomats, including ambassador J. Christopher Stevens, and two security officers. The report concluded that the Bureau of Diplomatic Security (BDS) was too reactive, and recommended that the State Department conduct a strategic review to ensure that the Bureau’s plans and activities meet the Department’s needs. According to testimony by GAO official Michael J. Courts last week, such a review has not occurred, although the Bureau has created a Strategic Planning Unit.


The BDS has its work cut out for it, protecting more than 80,000 U.S. government employees working at more than 270 diplomatic posts in 180 countries worldwide. Between 1998 and 2009, there were 39 attacks aimed at such posts, not including regular attacks on the Embassy in Baghdad, Iraq, since 2004.


Although Diplomatic Security funding and personnel increased considerably between 1998 and 2010—the budget grew nine-fold from $200 million to $1.8 billion and the workforce doubled—since 2011 Republicans in Congress have pushed to cut BDS funding by tens of millions of dollars and the agency has experienced staff shortages. In 2008, about one-third of BDS’s domestic sub-offices had vacancy rates greater than 25%, and several offices reported staff shortfalls were causing backlogged cases and training gaps.


Even if the State Department had conducted the recommended strategic review of BDS, and even if Congress had not cut diplomatic security funding, there is no way to know if these steps could have altered the outcome at Benghazi. In the exceptionally thick fog of war associated with fighting terrorism, the far flung diplomatic outposts of empire are always tempting targets.

-Matt Bewig


To Learn More:

State Neglected GAO’s Diplomatic Security Advice (by Kedar Pavgi, Government Executive)

Expanding Mission of State’s Diplomatic Security Bureau concerns lawmakers, GAO (by Elizabeth Newell, Government Executive)

Lamb to the Slaughter (by Josh Rogin, Foreign Policy)

State Department Diplomatic Security’s Recent Growth Warrants Strategic Review (GAO Report) (pdf)

Diplomatic Security Challenges (Michael J. Courts, GAO Testimony) (pdf)


Broheme 11 years ago
Matt - you totally made up an acronym. "BDS" - never the Bureau of Diplomatic Security called that. Within State and other agencies, it's always been referred to as DS or DSS (the Dip Sec. Service).

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