Clinton: Improvements Must Be Made to Diplomatic Security
By Valerie Insinna
The United States is making every effort to track down the terrorists that assassinated former ambassador to Libya Chris Stevens, said Secretary of State Hilary Clinton during an Oct. 12 speech on the Maghreb region at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
However, perfect security is often impossible for diplomats in conflict zones, she added.
“We will never prevent every act of violence or terrorism,” she said. “Our people cannot live in bunkers and do their jobs. But it is our solemn responsibility to constantly improve to reduce the risks our face.”
Clinton added that no one takes that responsibility more seriously than herself and State Department security professionals.
This comes just two days after the former chief security officer for the American embassy in Libya said at a House Committee on Government Oversight and Reform hearing that his request to extend the stay of an U.S. Africa Command unit was denied by the bureau of diplomatic security.
The State Department initially reported that Stevens had been killed during a protest in response to an offensive YouTube video about the Muslim prophet Mohammed. However, officials later said his death was caused by a terrorist attack on the consulate in Benghazi.
An investigation by the accountability review board will determine the timeline of the clash, an effort Clinton said is going as quickly and thoroughly as possible.
Arab Spring countries in northern Africa face a growing threat from extremist groups seeking to exploit the region’s instability. One such group, al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb, is based in northern Mali but is seeking expansion, Clinton said.
“We are using every tool we can to help our partners fight extremism and meet their security challenges," Clinton said, citing greater levels of cooperation between diplomats and the U.S. military as well as with local security forces.
"We recently embedded additional foreign service experts with region expertise into the U.S. Africa Command to better integrate our approach," she said. “We’re helping [local] border guards upgrade their equipment and tighten their patrols so that weapons don’t flood the region even more than they already have.”
The United States is also increasing counterterrorism efforts to try to eliminate safe havens and stop recruiting. Africa Command’s Trans-Sahara Counterterrorism Partnership, which provides counterterrorism training to North African militaries, is one such example of such outreach, she said.
Despite the recent wave of attacks on U.S. diplomatic compounds, Clinton was adamant that the violence did not reflect the values of the majority of citizens in those countries.
“The terrorists who attacked our mission in Benghazi did not represent the millions of Libyan people who want peace and deplore violence,” she said. “And in the days that followed, tens of thousands of Libyans poured into the streets to mourn ambassador Stevens, who had been a steadfast champion of their revolution."
Clinton called the democratic transition of Arab Spring countries a “strategic necessity” and said the United States will not return to a false choice between stability and values.
Read more about diplomatic security in the upcoming December 2012 issue of National Defense.
Photo Credit: State Department