Report: Progress 'modest' on upping embassy safety

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WASHINGTON (AP) — The State Department has made only limited progress in its pledge to boost the number of Marine security guards at high-threat diplomatic posts around the world, the agency's internal watchdog said Thursday.

In a report, the department's inspector general said efforts to increase Marine Security Guard units in at-risk embassies and consulates — a main recommendation after the deadly Sept. 11, 2012, attack on the U.S. mission in Benghazi, Libya, that killed the Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans — had thus far made only "modest contributions" to that end.

The report found that only 10 of the 25 new Marine Security Guard, or MSG, detachments called for had been selected for "high-risk, high-threat" posts. It said the other 15 had been chosen for posts with low or medium threat ratings.

"The imbalance between high-threat posts and other posts appears striking when examining the creation of new detachments during the first year of the ongoing MSG expansion," the report said. It added "that the planned expansion is not fully consistent with" the post-Benghazi security recommendations.

The State Department and the U.S. Marine Corps said they are steadily working to meet the recommendations but that many high-threat posts currently lack the specialized infrastructure, including housing, required to host the units. While waiting for such improvements to be made, they said, it is best to staff lower-threat posts first so that Marines trained for embassy security are deployed abroad instead of waiting at bases in the U.S.

The inspector general acknowledged that officials are "making a concerted effort to use the additional Marines as quickly as possible" and that many posts with high or critical threat ratings aren't yet capable of supporting guard detachments. However, it recommended that the State Department and Marine Corps modify the procedure for selecting posts for new units.

There are now Marine Security Guard units stationed at 154 of the more than 285 U.S. diplomatic facilities worldwide.

Following the Benghazi attack, the department initially proposed adding 50 detachments at high- and medium-threat posts by the end of 2014, but due to restrictions on funding, that was reduced to 35 and then further cut to 25.

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