- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 8, 2015

More than three years after the Benghazi tragedy, the State Department is rejecting one of the recommendations from its internal watchdog to improve security at its high-risk diplomatic posts, and hasn’t yet completed other high-priority reforms recommended by independent experts, according to an internal progress memo.

In all, three of the 29 security recommendations made after Benghazi by an Accountability Review Board have not yet been completed, State Department officials told The Washington Times.

A separate recommendation made by the department’s inspector general has been rejected in a dispute that continues to linger just weeks before former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton makes a highly anticipated appearance before the House Select Committee on Benghazi. Mrs. Clinton is set to testify October 22.

State Department officials and their independent watchdog agree much progress has been made on embassy and consulate security since the Sept. 11, 2012, fiery terrorist attack that killed Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other Americans in eastern Libya.

The improvements include better training for security personnel, more support from Marine guards, 151 new civilian security positions, new protective and breathing equipment, better fire training, new “tripwire” procedures for evacuations and more modern surveillance cameras at high-risk facilities to be installed by the middle of next year.

But the many post-action reviews that followed the Benghazi incident also identified systemic weaknesses that allowed employees to work in high-risk posts without adequate safety evaluations as well as too much reliance on security support from foreign contractors and governments.

SEE ALSO: House defeats attempt to dismantle Benghazi committee

The ARB after-action report, for instance, specifically recommended that State’s Diplomatic Security (DS) office “implement a plan to strengthen security beyond reliance on host government security support” for high-risk, high-threat (HRHT) posts.

Though more than two years old, that recommendation has not been fully implemented, the State Department’s inspector general stated in a recent memo.

“DS has not developed a plan for strengthening security at HRHT posts,” but it “has undertaken several initiatives directed at the recommendation’s intent, including enhanced personnel training, increased use of the Deliberate Planning Process, expansion of the Marine security guard (MSG) program and revision of its mission, and closer coordination and cooperation with DOD,” the inspector general reported in a little-noticed memo released in late August when most of official Washington was on vacation.

The IG also noted that State had outright rejected one of its recommendations for improved security: to develop mandatory minimum security standards for high-risk outposts overseas.

“Recommendation 17 of the ARB process review report recommended that the Department develop minimum security standards that must be met prior to occupying facilities in HRHT locations,” the IG noted. “The Department rejected this recommendation, stating that existing Overseas Security Policy Board standards apply to all posts and that separate security standards for HRHT posts would not provide better or more secure operating environments.”

In a formal response to the IG, the department’s Diplomatic Security office said its “high threat” assessment program — along with daily threat analysis and countermeasures — already fulfill the need for “holistic planning for high threat, high risk posts all day, every day.”

The IG disagreed, declaring “the department’s response does not meet the recommendation’s requirement for standards that must be met prior to occupancy.” As a result, the watchdog has reissued that recommendation and urged State to take action.

State Department spokesman Alec Gerlach told The Times that State has taken all security recommendations seriously, having “implemented new procedures to address high-threat posts, procured critical security assets and engaged Congress to secure increased funding for Embassy Security.”

But he acknowledged some of the recommendations have not been fully implemented yet.

“We adopted all the ARB’s 29 recommendations and are committed to implementing each,” he said. “We have closed 26 of 29 recommendations, some of which require long-term technical upgrades. The remaining three are in progress.”

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