- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 25, 2013

U.S. diplomatic facilities in Afghanistan have serious security lapses that pose “unnecessary risk to staff,” including poor emergency preparedness and inadequate protections that might allow classified materials to fall into the hands of attacking enemies, according to an internal report that raises fresh questions about the State Department’s commitment to safety in the aftermath of the Benghazi tragedy.

The confidential State Department inspector general’s report, obtained by The Washington Times under the Freedom of Information Act, directly criticizes the department’s Bureau of Diplomatic Security for failing to perform a physical inspection before approving the security plan for the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, which was the target of a brash attack by Taliban insurgents two years ago.

When IG investigators inspected the embassy in Kabul, they found inadequate emergency shelters, food, water rations, medical supplies and backup communication equipment that would be essential to repel or survive an attack, according to the report, which was released to The Times partly redacted for security reasons.

Similar inspections elsewhere found the U.S. diplomatic post in Afghanistan’s western city of Herat lacked an emergency action plan instructing employees on how to respond to an attack and that a Provincial Reconstruction Team outpost in Qala-e-Naw lacked an agreement with allied forces to provide a military response in case of attack.

“The lack of adequate emergency shelters [redacted] the lack of sufficient emergency supplies and equipment, the lack of redundancy in communications, the [redacted] absence of an agreement with the non-Department law enforcement on emergency assistance, and the inability to identify and destroy sensitive material unnecessarily increased the risk of injury to embassy staff and of compromising sensitive material during an emergency situation,” the report warns.

The problems with security planning and resources aren’t the only red flags for the safety of American diplomats in Afghanistan.

A separate report this summer from the office of the special inspector general for Afghanistan reconstruction found that U.S. civilian and military personnel face increased security risks because officials at the State Department and U.S. Agency for International Development don’t have “express authority to terminate or default contracts” with known Afghan contractors connected to enemy forces. Only the Defense Department has the authority, the report found.

In other words, enemy fighters are in a position to use American tax dollars paid to criminal Afghan contractors to attack U.S. troops and personnel, the special inspector general’s report warned.

State Department officials did not respond to repeated requests for comment over the past week. But the Obama administration recently called for extensive funding to fortify its outposts, and Secretary of State John F. Kerry told trainees at the Foreign Service Institute recently that diplomatic outposts need “the resources and the support and the investments that make the risks that we take today worthwhile.”

2011 attack exposes vulnerabilities

The vulnerabilities identified in the two inspector general reports are all the more stark given that the Kabul embassy sustained a significant attack Sept. 13, 2011, that left some employees with minor injuries and the facility with damage.

“While there were no deaths or serious injuries in the 9/13 attack, there was unnecessary risk to staff during the 9/13 attack because of a lack of these resources and protections,” the State Department inspector general’s report said.

An after-action review of the 2011 attack found that the Kabul embassy:

Stored rations and supplies in unsecured containers.

Was hindered in its ability to communicate emergency messages to its personnel because of unreliable alarm and voice broadcasting equipment.

Generated confusion among employees about when, and for what purposes, they should use their cellphones during an emergency.

Employed law enforcement personnel who were “unsure as to what emergency response role they were expected to play, if any” during the attack.

Lacked a complete inventory of documentation, electronic data and sensitive equipment that would require destruction during an emergency.

Systemic security failures

The March report, titled Evaluation of Emergency Action Plans for U.S. Mission Afghanistan, is one of numerous inspector general reports released over the past year warning of weak diplomatic security around the globe. The reports, which focus on high-threat diplomatic posts in war zones or dangerous regions, uncovered systemic failures by State Department officials and security personnel in protecting employees overseas.

In fact, the State Department report noted that the current emergency action plan in Kabul “did not reflect the increased threat in Kabul or the significant growth in staffing levels at Embassy Kabul from 2009 to 2012.”

The Bureau of Counterterrorism’s 2011 country reports on terrorism stated that the number of attacks increased in Afghanistan from 1,122 in 2007 to 2,872 in 2011. In fact, “six of the ten major attacks in Afghanistan during 2011 were in Kabul, two of those attacks were on diplomatic facilities” and a number of hotels frequented by Westerners were attacked.

Concern about embassy security soared after the deadly attack on Sept. 11, 2012, by an al Qaeda affiliate on the U.S. diplomatic post in Benghazi, Libya. The attack killed U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three U.S. contractors working in the war-torn region.

James Carafano, a senior defense analyst with the Heritage Foundation, said the systemic failures unmasked by the various inspector general reports must be addressed by a congressional investigation.

“One of the reasons why it was so important to get to the bottom of what happened at Benghazi was not to play political ‘gotcha’ but to understand what went wrong and why so if systemic problems were identified they could be addressed,” Mr. Carafano said.

“We still have not gotten all the answers to the important question, but now we are getting additional information that suggests that there are shortfalls in security at other “high-risk” missions, embassies and consulates so maybe we do have a larger problem here and it is starting to look like the Benghazi-cover-up helped mask these larger issues,” he said.

Questions keep mounting

The Obama administration came under fire from Republican lawmakers after Susan E. Rice, as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, went on the Sunday talk shows five days after the Benghazi tragedy and suggested that the attack was a spontaneous riot instigated by an anti-Islamic video distributed on the Internet.

It was discovered later that Stevens had called the State Department for help, the attack was well-organized by the al Qaeda affiliate, and no U.S. military reaction force was summoned to help.

Questions keep mounting about how much the State Department has done to address security vulnerabilities.

The Washington Guardian reported in February that U.S. embassies and diplomatic facilities around the world had exempted themselves from security requirements without the knowledge of senior officials in Washington.

Then in June, the agency’s inspector general warned that failure by State Department officials to adequately protect U.S. diplomats in Beirut left them vulnerable to growing militant groups in the region. At the time of the report, State Department officials had not placed the embassy in Beirut on its latest list of high-threat diplomatic missions even though Lebanon is listed at the “critical” threat level for violence with rocket attacks and small-arms fire from the Syrian civil war.

Shortly after The Washington Times reported on the issue, State Department officials placed Beirut on the high-threat list.

A U.S. military official, who worked in security advisory roles in Iraq and Afghanistan for more than eight years, told The Times that one problem is that the “selection of an embassy facility is sometimes based more on aesthetics than security.” The official spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.

‘Security is not the emphasis’

During the September 2011 attacks in Kabul, armed Taliban militants fired small arms from the rooftops of high-rise buildings surrounding the embassy. They also targeted the headquarters of NATO’s International Security Assistance Forces, where senior U.S. commanders work and reside. The complex attack also included targeted suicide bombings of police and military checkpoints in the city.

“Many times, security is not the emphasis during the planning process but it’s more of a check-the-block afterthought,” the official said. “Basically, you can’t put an embassy underneath unsecure overhanging structures. In the case of Kabul, they did and according to the IG report the embassy failed on multiple fronts to ensure their employees safety based on what was required by the [emergency action plan]. They were lucky no one died in the embassy attack. “

The official noted that failure to inspect facilities routinely also place employees and U.S. assets at risk.

Mr. Carafano said the State Department cannot use sequester cuts as an excuse not to protect its employees because the department’s security funding was increased “dramatically” after the September attacks in Benghazi.

“The Department of State has been at war with al Qaeda longer than anyone. Since the bombings at the U.S. embassies in Africa in the 1990s, they have had to defend their personnel in some of the most dangerous places on earth. It is incredible to believe that more than a decade after Sept. 11 there are shortfalls in this mission,” Mr. Carafano said.

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