- Oregonians flee in face of fast-moving wildfire as homes go up in blaze
- Eric Holder: ‘Racial animus’ fuels opposition to Obama and me
- Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl to return to active duty at Fort Sam Houston
- Israel says it’s downed drone along southern coast
- Despite offensive, Gaza rockets still hit Israel
- Extra-time goal gives Germany World Cup title over Argentina
- Strong quake hits Japan, triggering tsunami
- Sniper heaven: Pentagon’s self-guided bullets leave enemies nowhere to hide
- Violent gang taking advantage of immigration crisis, using border as recruiting hub
- Medicaid enrollment continues to soar under Obamacare, administration says
Sensitive security vetting at U.S. Embassy in Iraq is turned over to troubled State Department
Move made despite series of scandals
Question of the Day
Battered by scandals surrounding security failures in Benghazi and allegations of criminal activity by diplomats, the State Department is taking over the sensitive process by which background checks are given to locals hired to work at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, the largest and most expensive diplomatic post in the world.
The process is presently handled by a private security company contracted to the Pentagon. But a recently circulated contract solicitation indicates that the firm conducting the vetting — and the budget for the process — is being shifted to the State Department's Bureau of Diplomatic Security.
"Due to the large number of personnel assigned to and supporting the U.S. mission in Iraq, [Diplomatic Security] requires the services of a contractor to assist with the vetting and badging of American citizens, third country nationals, and local nationals," states the contract solicitation, posted this month on FedBizOpps.gov.
The identity of the firm handling the task is blacked out in the solicitation, which says the new contractor will "assist with various steps of the background and suitability investigation process, check applicants through U.S. government databases, and obtain biometrics data of individuals applying for access to the embassy."
The State Department had no official comment, but officials speaking on background downplayed the development, saying the shift is part of the yearslong transition from military to civilian control over U.S. operations in Iraq.
Prior to the late-2011 withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq, the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad "utilized security resources from both the departments of State and Defense (DoD)," one State Department official said via email. "The vetting capabilities described in the FedBizOpps solicitation are one such capability."
"The DoD-sourced vetting services contract that previously provided this capability has run its course," the official said. "DoD no longer has a requirement for such services in Iraq, and the Department of State does. This is why we have begun the solicitation/procurement process to fulfill this operational requirement."
Another State Department official echoed those comments.
"Obviously, this is something that's still needed in Iraq and so the State Department has decided they would pick up this contract," the official said. "There's no reason for DoD to spend this money when they no longer have a combat command there in Iraq."
The State Department has been criticized by its internal watchdog agency for not moving fast enough to take control of tasks formerly managed and financed by the U.S. military in Iraq and for failing to rein in rampant spending on contractors.
The State Department and the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad "are behind schedule in implementing a plan to oversee more than $5 billion in contracts," says a "sensitive but unclassified" report by the State Department's office of inspector general.
The report, posted June 3 on the inspector general's website, suggests the Pentagon's management of the overall vetting process may have been inefficient, putting more pressure on the State Department to improve the system while moving quickly to fill large gaps in the embassy workforce.
The Baghdad facility — often dubbed by news reports as "The Fortress" — is America's largest overseas diplomatic post and cost roughly three-quarters of a billion dollars to build during the late 2000s.
As of February, the embassy had authorization for 469 local employee positions, but 187 are vacant, according to the inspector general's report.
Despite more than 10 years in Iraq, the report says, U.S. officials "lack firsthand knowledge of local conditions and the best places to recruit potential candidates," in part because American diplomats "rarely venture beyond the international zone" surrounding the embassy.
That caution can be explained by the relative instability of security in Iraq: U.S. military forces are no longer the target, but suicide bombings and sectarian conflict between Sunni and Shiite Muslims continue to rage.
But shifting the responsibility for security to the State Department raises its own questions. Elsewhere in the region, the department's track record on security in postwar environments has been mixed.
The department suffered a particularly unfortunate blow last year when armed militants stormed a makeshift diplomatic post and CIA house in the eastern Libyan city of Benghazi, killing U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other Americans.
In Benghazi, the State Department worked with a British company that hired local guards to protect the diplomatic post. A report by Reuters in October noted that the company Blue Mountain Group hired about 20 Libyan men — including some who said they had minimal training — to screen visitors and help patrol the makeshift post.
Some sustained injuries and said they were ill-prepared to protect themselves or others when armed militants stormed the facility.
But foreign policy insiders generally discourage comparing the Wild West atmosphere of eastern Libya to the postwar security situation in Iraq.
In Baghdad, the embassy's website says, "a local guard force and other security support personnel" are part of the operation, which also includes "special agents of the State Department's Diplomatic Security Service" as well as "a Marine security guard detachment."
No such detachment was on hand in Benghazi.
Iraq also is home to a U.S.-trained military and security force of more than 400,000 active soldiers, unlike Libya, where local militias — some of them with hard-line Islamist agendas — continue jockeying for power.
Furthermore, one State Department official said, "since the U.S. military has pulled out of Iraq, we have not had any U.S. loss of life due to any attacks."
That said, the official added: "We're not putting any less emphasis on how we deal with safety and security of our personnel, especially in a high-threat post like Iraq, where security is our No. 1 priority."
"In no way are we minimizing that threat," the official said.
© Copyright 2014 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.
About the Author
Guy Taylor is the National Security Team Leader at The Washington Times, overseeing the paper’s State Department, Pentagon and intelligence community coverage. He’s also a frequent guest on The McLaughlin Group and C-SPAN.
His series on political, economic and security developments in Mexico won a 2012 Virginia Press Association award.
Prior to rejoining The Times in 2011, his work was ...
- Israel rejects talk of cease-fire; Hamas targets suspected nuke site
- Germany demands ouster of U.S. spy chief
- Senate committee presses Obama administration on inaction against Russia
- Obama backs Israel's strikes on Hamas after assault on civilians
- ISIL leader emerges in sign of bravado as Iraqi government flounders
Latest Blog Entries
TWT Video Picks
By Robert N. Tracci
Congress must use its appropriations power to secure the border
- DOJ investigates Nebraska parade float critical of Obama
- Agency scrubs Malia Obama photos at White House's request: report
- A 'new Cold War': China's top paper warns of 'slippery slope' towards conflict with U.S.
- Violent gang MS-13 taking advantage of immigration crisis, using border as recruiting hub
- Emeryville, Calif., police chief: Guns aren't for defense
- Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi formerly a U.S. captive
- KUHNER: Will Russia-Ukraine be Europe's next war?
- Germany wins World Cup title on Mario Goetze goal in extra time
- Obama's 'blank check' rejected as border solution
- New York City creates ID card so 500K illegal immigrants can get services
Obama's biggest White House 'fails'
Celebrities turned politicians
Athletes turned actors
20 gadgets that changed the world
Fighting in Iraq
World Cup's sexiest WAGs