Where are we now on national security?Op-Ed
We pause today, as we have for each of the past 12 years, to reflect on the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, when al-Qaida terrorists murdered nearly 3,000 Americans. Sadly, we also remember the lives of four other American terrorist victims. One year ago today, terrorists – armed with machine guns, rocket-propelled grenades and mortars – set fire to, attacked and overran U.S. diplomatic facilities in Benghazi, Libya. By the end of that onslaught, four Americans, including U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens, were dead. So what have we learned?
Clearly the calculated attacks in Benghazi caught the U.S. government woefully unprepared. Given the symbolic importance of the Sept. 11 date, U.S. facilities – especially those in the Middle East, like Benghazi – should have been on the highest alert. Tragically, they were not. It seems that everyone at the State Department forgot to circle “September 11” on their calendars.
The Benghazi attacks exposed a State Department bureaucracy that was indifferent to the needs of diplomats on the ground. For months, the department systematically declined to provide added manpower, despite repeated security requests from the field. And as the terrorist threat increased, the department still continued to withdraw security resources from Libya.
Perhaps not surprisingly, since the Benghazi attacks there has been no accountability at the State Department. The organization’s own Accountability Review Board found that “systemic failures and leadership and management deficiencies” resulted in an inadequate security posture at Benghazi on 9/11. Four employees were placed on paid “administrative leave.”
Yet today, all four are back at work, while others making important Benghazi decisions were never even cited by investigators. It seems that the department has done what the government often does – investigate internally, slap a few wrists and move on. I plan to convene a Foreign Affairs Committee hearing to demand the State Department hold its personnel accountable.
At the same time, we must provide our diplomats serving abroad with the necessary security resources. In July, the committee approved legislation that I introduced. The “Department of State Operations and Embassy Security Act” significantly increases resources to improve security by reducing spending in other areas. To ensure that increased security funding is prioritized, the legislation requires the State Department to survey U.S. diplomatic facilities abroad and produce a list of those deemed “high-risk, high-threat.”
We know that our military response to Benghazi was far too slow, so this legislation directs the State Department and the Pentagon to develop contingency plans for emergency situations like Benghazi. These would include planning for rapid deployment of military assets to counter a terrorist attack. This legislation also significantly increases the number of U.S. Marines stationed at our overseas diplomatic posts, while funding the construction of new Marine-staffed access points at our high-threat facilities. A few hardy Marines are a key deterrent.
There is also the outstanding matter of justice. For nearly a year now, President Obama has said that apprehending the Benghazi attackers is his “biggest priority.” But in the past 365 days, not a single terrorist has been brought to justice for the attacks. It took the FBI weeks to even access the site, not arriving until long after media outlets picked over the crime scene. Despite secret indictments and rhetoric from the administration, the attackers remain free. Intolerable.
Unfortunately, al-Qaida and its affiliates are not “on the run,” as President Obama has reported. The Benghazi attacks, the January terrorist attack in southern Algeria that resulted in the kidnapping of Americans and last month’s unprecedented closure of nearly two dozen U.S. embassies in the Middle East and North Africa prove that. Our embassies are potential, even likely, targets.
Improving their security is vital. Congress and the Obama administration owe that to the men and women serving our nation in these hostile environments. Something to remember on 9/11, and year round.
Rep. Ed Royce, R-Fullerton, is chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
View on The Orange County Register’s website: http://www.ocregister.com/articles/benghazi-525152-department-security.html