State Dept: Local Guards at US Embassies Pose Risks to Personnel

Friday, 13 Jun 2014 01:31 PM

By Drew MacKenzie

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Local security guards employed at U.S. embassies are improperly vetted, posing a serious danger to American embassy personnel, the State Department has admitted after an internal audit conducted in the wake of the deadly Benghazi attacks.

The review by the department's Inspector General revealed that not one of the six embassies selected for the study had fully complied with the correct vetting procedures for hiring security contractors, The Washington Post reported.

The audit said "none" of the embassies "performed all vetting requirements" for local guards, placing "embassies and personnel at risk." The chief diplomatic security officers at five of the embassies were singled out for criticism, with the audit saying that they performed "inadequate oversight" of local guard vetting.

The State Department hires local guards to supplement U.S. security agents "because of growing security threats at posts worldwide," the audit said. Their job is mainly to secure access to posts and provide building and residential security.

The review, which was released on Friday, was authorized following the 2012 siege by Islamic militants on the U.S. mission in Benghazi, Libya, that left four Americans dead, including U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens.

According to the Post, local guards contracted to secure the perimeter and entry to the diplomatic compound either fled or failed to perform their duties properly.

The State Department's Accountability Review Board had previously said the mission's security officers had made an error in judgment by depending on a local Libyan militia and an inexperienced British firm that hired local guards.

And an investigation by the Senate Intelligence Committee learned that the compound had been vandalized a few months before the attacks by the same guards who were there to protect it, the Post said.

The audit was launched in an attempt to determine whether security contractors had complied with the Local Guard Program contract requirements "for vetting the suitability of local guards at posts overseas."

The 49-page review said that it had also studied "whether Regional Security Officers had performed adequate oversight of the local guard vetting process."

The six embassies involved in the process had their locations redacted from the report. But the Post said they were chosen in March last year from Africa, Europe and Latin America based on "the estimated number of local guards employed and the terrorist threat level."

The security chiefs at the embassies, who also had their names redacted, said they planned to make changes in their program, the audit noted, adding that several improvements in vetting local guards had already been made.

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