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ROYCE: Al Qaeda’s threat to U.S. embassies is real

Reinforced security at high-risk posts is essential

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This past weekend, following renewed security threats against U.S. diplomats abroad, the State Department ordered a number of embassies around the world closed as a precautionary measure. Our government must take whatever steps are necessary to protect U.S. diplomats and other personnel serving abroad.

However, the embassy closures serve as further evidence of what many of us already know: The threat from al Qaeda and al Qaeda-linked terrorist groups, as well as al Qaeda-inspired individuals, is serious and ongoing, both here at home and around the world.

This runs counter to President Obama's narrative that al Qaeda has been decimated. The president certainly deserves credit for taking down Osama bin Laden, but since the deaths of bin Laden and other al Qaeda leaders, the president and his administration have championed the notion of al Qaeda's demise, implying that the seriousness of the terrorist threat has greatly diminished.

Such statements are, at best, naive. Just last month, a RAND Corp. analysis concluded that al Qaeda's scope and capabilities are expanding. The presence of al Qaeda affiliates in Iraq, Syria, Yemen and West Africa has increased dramatically in the past few years, and this expansion appears poised to continue. Moreover, its recruiting and training strategies have evolved to make use of online forums in which to spread its doctrine.

Then there are also the headline-grabbing instances of terrorists targeting Americans. The deadly attack on the U.S. diplomatic facility in Benghazi, Libya, on Sept. 11 was a calculated terrorist attack that caught the U.S. government woefully unprepared.

The House Foreign Affairs Committee has held three hearings that examined the calamitous security decisions made within the State Department prior to this attack, with a fourth hearing planned for next month. It doesn't take a congressional investigation, though, to realize that U.S. facilities in the Middle East — including the one in Benghazi — should have been on high alert that day. It seems that no one at the State Department thought to circle "Sept. 11" on the calendar.

The Benghazi attack and this weekend's embassy closures clearly demonstrate the need to better secure our diplomatic facilities abroad.

Last Thursday, the House Foreign Affairs Committee approved legislation that I introduced to accomplish just that. By reducing spending in other areas, the Department of State Operations and Embassy Security Act provides significant additional resources for the State Department to improve security.

The bill requires the State Department to designate a list of "high-risk, high-threat" diplomatic facilities aboard. This will encourage security resources to be allocated where they are most needed.

The bill also directs the State Department and the Defense Department to jointly develop enhanced contingency plans for emergency situations, including planning for rapid deployment of military resources to counter an attack. The U.S. military was far too slow in responding to Benghazi.

A key component of embassy security is contract security guards. My legislation includes a significant change to existing law, which would allow the State Department to award security contracts for its high-risk, high-threat facilities on a "best-value" basis, rather than on a "lowest-cost" basis. The security of our diplomats serving in dangerous overseas posts is far too important to be placed in the hands of a company that simply says, "I'm the cheapest."

In addition, this embassy-security legislation increases the number of U.S. military personnel stationed at diplomatic posts, adding 156 new Marine Corps security guards at overseas embassies. It would also fund construction of 26 new Marine-operated access points at those high-threat posts.

Unfortunately, extremists who have long sought to kill Americans at home and abroad will continue their mission to destroy the United States. Congress and the administration must work together to improve the security of diplomatic facilities around the world and to protect the lives of those brave men and women who volunteer to serve our country. This begins with the administration's recognition that the terrorist threat has not yet been eliminated.

Rep. Edward R. Royce, California Republican, is chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

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