Shutdown Stalls Embassy Security Increase, State Dept. Says
Everyone hates the government shutdown - congressional Republicans and the Obama administration alike - and today the U.S. State Department joined in.
Thanks to the budget standoff, some embassy security guards might not be able to assume their posts as recommended in the wake of the Benghazi, Libya, attack, the State Department said today.
"I think for a Congress that's never missed an opportunity to talk about embassy security, this is a result of its inability to do its job," State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said at a daily press briefing.
It's unclear how many guards will actually be prevented from staffing embassies, but the number is no more than the 151 guards the State Department has planned to hire and train. The State Department's comments, of course, come as congressional Republicans and the Obama administration have sought to highlight the shutdown's worst effects.
After the Benghazi attack last year, the State Department convened an Accountability Review Board to examine what went wrong and issue recommendations to prevent future attacks. Among its 24 recommendations were added Diplomatic Security agents and an increase in spending on security.
The biggest post-Benghazi upgrades in security staffing have involved Marines: Congress has approved 1,000 new Marines for embassy security, plus 600 to 650 Marines in response teams based in Spain and Djbouti.
The State Department has created 151 new Diplomatic Security Service agent jobs and had planned to hire 113 of them this year. Guards will miss a component of their training with the cessation of Department of Homeland Security law-enforcement training activities.
The State Department suggests they won't be able to assume their new posts, but the department did not say how many agents would be prevented from staffing U.S. diplomatic facilities because of the shutdown. It's unclear how many have already taken the field, so the number of guards actually prevented from staffing embassies is somewhere between zero and 151.
"What this means for us here at the State Department is that new diplomatic security agents may be delayed in obtaining their initial federal criminal justice training," spokeswoman Harf said today. "They do this prior to coming to the State Department for specialized training. This means that it delays strengthening embassy security abroad."
Also wrapped up in the stalemate over government funding is the State Department's increased request for $2.2 billion in security funds for the next fiscal year, another recommendation by the Accountability Review Board and a step the department has touted.
A high-ranking State Department official said earlier today the shutdown has prevented the Obama administration from enforcing sanctions on Iran and Syria.
The U.S. Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control, which investigates sanctions violations and issues new sanctions against people and entities helping Iran and Syria, along with the State Department's sanctions monitoring group "has been completely, virtually utterly depleted in this time," State Department Under Secretary for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee today.
A Treasury official Wednesday outlined the same shutdown-related problem.