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November 29, 2012

Embassy Security in the NDAA
Posted by James Lamond

1306825229american-embassyIt’s that time of year again, when the amendments process for the National Defense Authorization Act is used as a vehicle to put forth new legislation. Yesterday and today have seen a flurry of amendments go to the floor. One amendment that passed through a voice vote caught my eye. It was proposed by John McCain and increases the number of Marines for security at American embassies and consulates. The amendment also asks DoD to reassess the rules of engagement for those Marines. The Hill reports:

The Senate passed an amendment to the defense bill by voice vote Wednesday that would place more Marines at U.S. consulates and embassies around the world… Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) introduced the amendment. He said the amendment was important to preventing more deaths overseas, referring to the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya on Sept. 11, 2012….

McCain said his amendment, 3051, would also ask the Department of Defense to reassess the rules of engagement for Marines stationed at embassies and consulates so they could engage in combat when attacked.

According to the Marine Corps Times, the amendment results in an overall 1,000 person increase of the Marine Corp. The MCT adds:

It’s not immediately clear how this would affect the Marine Corps’ ongoing personnel drawdown. Current plans call for shedding about 5,000 Marines from active duty each year through 2016 as the service works toward a new authorized end strength of 182,100.

The questions about effects on this amendment would have on personnel structure is only one issue. What caught my eye about this amendment is the overall question about the that Marines play in diplomatic security. In advocating for this bill Sen. McCain stated, the Benghazi attack was “a stark reminder that the security environment confronting American personnel serving in U.S. embassies and consulates abroad is as dangerous as any time that I can remember.”

However, the primary mission for Marines stationed in embassies and consulates abroad is not protection of personnel. The Marines Security Guard detachments are primarily assigned with protecting -- and destroying if necessary -- classified information that is vital to U.S. national security. Protection of the embassy/consulate and its personnel is a secondary mission of the Marines. That responsibility falls primarily to the little known, but highly trained, Bureau of Diplomacy Security at the State Department.

The Bureau of Diplomatic Security is “responsible for providing a safe and secure environment for the conduct of U.S. foreign policy.” Its website adds, “[e]very diplomatic mission in the world operates under a security program designed and maintained by Diplomatic Security.” However, there was no mention of this office in McCain's amendment. In fact, there have been repeated efforts in Congress to decrease funding. “Since retaking control in 2010, House Republicans have aggressively cut spending at the State Department in general and embassy security in particular. [Reps.] Chaffetz and Issa and their colleagues voted to pay for far less security than the State Department requested in 2011 and again this year,” explains Dan Murphy of the Christian Science Monitor last month.

Just to be clear, this is not so say that the Marines do not play an important role in diplomatic security. Clearly they do both in terms of information protection and protection of dignitaries and personnel. However, it is strange that Sen. McCain would advocate so forcefully for increasing the Marines presence with no mention of the forces primarily tasked with the mission, especially since his colleagues have repeatedly decreased funding.

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