The State Department has a new directorate within Diplomatic Security (DSS) that focuses on seventeen high threat diplomatic posts overseas.
Those posts now fall under a High Threat Unit that reports to Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Bill Miller. He was described as “an experienced Diplomatic Security Official” by a senior State Department official. The posts previously fell under the portfolio of Charlene Lamb, another Deputy Assistant Secretary of State. The scope of the expanded High Threat Unit has widened to include Algeria, Azerbaijan, Egypt, Indonesia, Jordan, Kenya, Libya, Mauritania, Niger, Pakistan, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, Tunisia and Yemen. Previously the only posts that fell under the High Threat designation were in Iraq and Afghanistan.
A senior State Department official described the move as part of an “ongoing effort to deal with a world that is constantly changing” and denied that it was a direct reaction to recent events in Benghazi, Libya. The official pointed out that there were direct threats made to U.S. missions in Egypt, Yemen, Sudan and Tunisia around the same time as the fatal Benghazi assault. The attack in Libya resulted in the death of four American personnel including ambassador Chris Stevens.
Two senior officials described the decision to CBS News as a matter of shifting of personnel and resources to “elevate the level” of oversight at risky posts and gave those duties to a specifically assigned Deputy Assistant Secretary. They denied that this was a demotion of Charlene Lamb though these posts no longer fall under her portfolio. The officials spoke on the condition of anonymity as they were not authorized to speak on the record.
During the night of the September 11 attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Lamb was the U.S. official at Diplomatic Security Command Center who monitored the fatal assault on “multiple open lines” in “almost real-time” via audio-only feeds according to the testimony that she delivered to the House Oversight Committee on October 10. Her hesitant responses during that questioning was widely viewed within the department as damaging to the agency. She described her role as being responsible for the “safety and security of more than 275 diplomatic facilities.”
A senior State Department official said that no congressional approval was required for the bureaucratic shift and no new funds were involved. However, the State Department is expected to request from Congress an increase in funding for security purposes at U.S. missions. To ask for any increase is considered a sensitive topic because of the ongoing budget and fiscal issues in Washington and also because of the highly-charged political firestorm that erupted around the Obama Administration’s response to the Benghazi attacks.