State Department officials appealed to the Senate on Tuesday to increase security for U.S. diplomats around the world, but they refused to say whether the safety measures would have prevented last year's deadly terror attack on the consulate in Benghazi, Libya.
A bill, named after Ambassador Chris Stevens, who was among four Americans killed during the Benghazi attack, would increase funding for security in the most dangerous diplomatic posts and give the State Department more flexibility in selecting contracts, The Washington Times reported.
Gregory B. Starr, State Department director for diplomatic security, told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that the added funding would help the department in "many, many ways."
Republican Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona asked Starr if the terror attack on the Benghazi consulate could have been prevented if the Senate bill under consideration had already been in place.
"It will strengthen our capability to stay in places where the threats are greater, but I’m not going to blame Benghazi on the lack of this legislation," Starr testified, according to the Washington Times.
Introduced by Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez of New Jersey, chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, the bill would authorize $1.4 billion to improve security at “high-risk, high-threat” diplomatic posts, including construction of new facilities where needed.
The Sept. 11 attack in Benghazi, and the Obama administration’s initial claim it was a spontaneous protest triggered by an anti-Muslim video instead of a coordinated terror strike, prompted nearly a dozen hearings on Capitol Hill and charges that the White House ignored security threats that proved to be deadly.
The controversy engulfed then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who was forced to testify before Congress. Four State Department officials were demoted or placed on paid leave in the aftermath.
Menendez said it’s time to move past the controversy and take steps to protect diplomats.
"We have studied what went wrong, we have looked back, and now it’s time to look forward and do what needs to be done to prevent another tragedy," Menendez said.
Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee, the top Republican on the committee, said he's concerned that simply increasing funding for security won’t solve the problem. Instead, he said, federal money should be targeted at the most-dangerous diplomatic posts.
Corker said Congress should "figure out a way to balance between some of the longer-term projects that, candidly, are taking place that are not under very serious threat, with some of the short-term needs that we have."
Menendez cautioned that diplomatic assignments overseas can be dangerous, despite precautions.
"The fact is, we can never have absolute security in an increasingly dangerous world unless we hermetically seal our diplomats in steel tanks," Menendez said.
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