GAO report: Diplomatic posts still lack adequate security

U.S. diplomatic facilities abroad still lack adequate or uniform security standards, nearly two years after the deadly attack in Benghazi, Libya, a report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) finds.

Since the 1998 bombings of two U.S. facilities in East Africa, diplomatic personnel have faced increased security threats, according to the GAO, which audited 10 relatively high-risk overseas posts similar to the one in Benghazi for the report released Wednesday.

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U.S. personnel and facilities saw 336 attacks between 1998-2013, according to the Department of State's Bureau of Diplomatic Security. 

"These attacks raise questions about the security of U.S. diplomatic facilities, particularly those facilities not built to current security standards, such as the facility in Benghazi," the GAO report says.

The report warns that many U.S. diplomatic facilities are in older buildings that lack the latest safeguards and that the State Department’s own policies have led to inconsistent standards.

"To establish or maintain a U.S. presence in these and other locations, the Department of State often relies on older, acquired, and temporary diplomatic facilities that do not meet the same security standards as more recently constructed permanent facilities," the report says.

Safety standards at some of these facilities are lacking or unclear, the GAO adds.

The report found that officials at older facilities can receive exemptions for implementing newer safety measures. But those exemptions are not consistently tacked, and posts are often lax about requesting the needed waivers and following up on the process.

The State Department has taken some steps since Benghazi and has begun implementing recommendations from interagency security teams which assessed high-threat posts overseas.

The GAO, though, says it could do more.

The State Department hasn't implemented a risk management policy, the GAO found, and has no way to re-evaluate the risk level of some facilities that have been used longer than anticipated.

"In some instances, State and OSPB [Overseas Security Police Board] have taken over 8 years to update standards, which may leave some facilities more vulnerable in the interim," the report says.

The State Department received a sensitive copy of the report with classified information earlier this month. The locations of the facilities were removed in the public report released Wednesday. 

The GAO provided 13 recommendations to address the security standards, such as maintaining consistent terminology, reviewing security standards and ensuring consistent documentation.

The State Department "generally agreed" with the recommendations.

"State has done a lot in recent years especially to address security risks," said Michael Courts, GAO's director of international affairs and trade. He added the problems were with implementing security policies. 

The Department of State agreed with 12 of the recommendations, Courts said, and are reviewing the remaining one regarding interim and temporary facilities.