Saturday, March 5, 2011

"Not The Best Security" In Tripoli (And Elsewhere)

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Amidst the evacuation of citizens and embassy staff from Libya last week, CNN World ran a very brief interview with the acting Chief of Mission, Joan Polaschik, in which she made a few remarks about the poor state of physical security at the U.S. Embassy in Tripoli.

Moments after a plane took off from Tripoli on Friday carrying the last American diplomats out of Libya, the White House announced it was suspending its embassy operations and imposing sanctions on the Ghadafi regime.

The news came after American officials caught in an increasingly perilous position completed an elaborate evacuation from Tripoli.

"We had not the best security," said Joan Polaschik, the embassy's acting head of mission. She spoke to CNN Friday night, shortly after a U.S.-chartered flight landed with evacuated American diplomatic personnel in Istanbul, Turkey

We don't have the typical fortress America embassy compound (in Tripoli). In fact we have a group of residential villas," Polaschik added.

Unlike most American diplomatic posts around the world, the U.S. Embassy in Tripoli had no Marine guard presence. Instead, it relied on security guards provided by the Libyan government.

And while other American embassies and consulates have been substantially reinforced in recent years to protect against bomb and mob attacks, the embassy in Tripoli consisted of six villas in a poorly protected compound.

"The Libyans did not give the U.S. permission to build an embassy," said another recently evacuated American diplomat, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

Read it here.

I can find no fault with the statement that U.S. Embassy Tripoli had "not the best" physical security. But it is evidently far from the only one in that situation. In fact, it seems the typical embassy is not a fortress.

According to this publicly available source of information, the United States has roughly 260 embassies, consulates, and other missions around the world. But how many of the 260 are so-called Fortress Embassies? Only 30 percent.

Here's how I know that. According to this very informative publicly available source provided by the Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations, OBO has to date completed about 70 construction projects under a new construction program that began in 2001. However, as the source shows, many of those projects were housing compounds, or annexes, or something other than embassy office buildings. This second, and equally unimpeachable, source of publicly available information from the General Accountability Office says that exactly 52 new embassies and consulates were completed between 2001 and July of 2010. Let's round that number up to 60, to account for those that have been completed since then.

So, only 60 out of our 260 diplomatic missions, or 23 percent, are Fortress Embassies. If we include the 20 or so fortresses that were built in the 1980s and early 90s during the Inman building program, we can get to 30 percent. The fortresses remain distinctly atypical.

What about Marine Security Guards? Do "most" embassies have Marine Security Guards? The answer is yes, but not by much. According to DipNote, Marines currently serve in 150 diplomatic posts in 138 countries. That's more than half of our 260 posts, or 56 percent. In the movies every U.S. embassy has Marine Security Guards, but in real life the odds are barely 50/50.

Incidentally, in the movies every embassy seems to not only have Marines, but to have about an entire company of them. For example, the large crew that chased Jason Bourne:

Lastly, was the U.S. Embassy in Tripoli really housed in a few poorly protected villas inside a haphazard compound? You can't expect to find that sort of thing described in publicly available sources of information that were put on the internet by official U.S. government agencies. Except for this one from the Office of the Inspector General:

From 2004 until May 2008, the U.S. Liaison Office and then Embassy Tripoli operated from the Corinthia Bab Africa Hotel in downtown Tripoli and at an annex, the Villas compound, in a commercial-residential neighborhood.

-- snip --

The main chancery is now located at a complex of eight villas and three vacant lots, known as the Villas compound. One villa will house the consular, FCS, and PD sections, and three others will house the management office and its subsections. Another villa will house the executive office, political/economic section, regional security office, and the Defense attaché office.

So that's confirmed. There were no heavy security upgrades at the embassy's interim location in the Villas. When we go back to Tripoli, which with any luck will be in a post-Qaddafi era, maybe we'll finally get the permission of the new host government to built a big old forbidding fortress.


Anonymous said...

TSB: The brits land 5 SAS and a female diplomat by small helicopter
(Lynx?) S. of Benghazi. The rebels take them, refuse to deal with them and put them on the boat to Malta.
Did they do all that just to tell the rebels we can't help you???? GWB

Or did Obama intervene?

TSB said...

There have been similar reports involving German and Dutch troops and aircraft, but those guys were caught in the course of trying to evacuate their citizens. The British incident involved sending an envoy to a rebel faction.

It might be that the British party was intercepted by a rival to the faction they were trying to reach. Shades of Somalia, where the UN intervened to support its favorite warlord (Ali Atto), which put us in opposition to Atto's main enemy, Mohammad Farah Adid.

Anonymous said...

After seeing the way the Brits pleaded with the rebels publicly later it looks to me like the rebels might have been tired of this "We need to find out who they are talk", especially when "they" were assisting the evacuation. So the question became "Who the hell do you think YOU are sneaking in here." I thought it was pretty justified! GWB

Anonymous said...

To laughter from Labour backbenchers, Mr Alexander said: "The British public are entitled to wonder whether, if some new neighbours moved into the Foreign Secretary's street, he would introduce himself by ringing the doorbell or instead choose to climb over the fence in the middle of the night."

The botched mission was the latest in a series of setbacks for the Foreign Office, he said.

TSB said...

It's a tricky business to deal with rebel factions when your government still recognizes the Qaddafi regime. I would be pleased if we kept our distance until there is a resolution in their civil war.

Anonymous said...

I understand the cost and complications of doing a NFZ but I disagree: If they want a NFZ we should encourage it and also demand
the right to fly in humanitarian aid.
(not arms) and also help evacuate trapped African workers. Then we could do the NFZ on the cheap by using AWACS and attacking a couple fighter jets on missions. DO SOMETHING ... BE OF SOME HELP! gwb

Anonymous said...

Pepe Escobar is great! I slightly disagree with him though. We can do everything we SHOULD do in the name of humanitarian aid. And get NATO and the UN to go along. And the Saudis could supply anti-tank weapons and ammunition to the Benghazi rebels. Let this thing be theirs and let them handle it their way. gwb

TSB said...

I see that the Organization of the Islamic Conference (the Muslim UN members) are now calling for a no-fly zone, so maybe there will be political cover for some Muslim nation like Eygpt to intervene.

I still prefer the USA staying out, since a no-fly zone means joining a civil war on the side of we-don't-really-know-who. It doesn't stay in the air for long (planes go down eventually), and anyway, Qaddafi doesn't need to use air power to attack the rebels, so we wouldn't really be doing anything unless we attacked his forces on the ground.

My suggestion: whoever it is who is selling Libyan oil today ought to hire a private army. That worked for the mine owners in Sierre Leone several years ago.

Anonymous said...

It’s Official: Tunisia Now Freer than the U.S.

Posted on 03/08/2011 by Juan
Tunisian Prime Minister Béji Caïd Essebsi announced on Monday the dissolution of the country’s secret police arm. This step toward democracy is the most important taken by any Arab country for decades.

The Tunisians now have free speech,
free press and eliminated Min. of Information.... I wish we had freedom of the press! Things are happening fast!! gwb

Anonymous said...


It seems you have to go to Asia Times to find out what's new these days. Looks like India, Brazil and
S. Africa have torpedoed O'bama's plans to have a "fully deniable" no fly zone in Libya. Timesawaistin!

TSB said...

I think that Russia and China oppose it, so the UN Security Council won't authorize one. Also, I believe Turkey, a key Mulsim nation, is opposed and Italy, whose cooperation would be vital, is not eager.

Anonymous said... David Bromwich, Superpower Bypassed by History
Posted by David Bromwich at 10:10AM, March 10, 2011.
Mornin TSB! On days like this when
Juan Cole is pummeling bigots like Peter King and Nixon I skip right to
Tom Engelhardt who is my age but a fantastic writer and editor.Today he is making fun of our great military
leaders and the huge table where Hillary and the boys pile all the
"OPTIONS" they love to talk about.
Have a great day! lilGWB

Anonymous said...

The money quote from the above essay:
Samuel Johnson completed his great Dictionary of the English Language in 1755 without financial backers from the aristocracy. When Lord Chesterfield arrived late on the scene to offer his help, Johnson replied in a letter that has become famous: “Is not a patron, my lord, one who looks with unconcern on a man struggling for life in the water, and when he has reached ground, encumbers him with help?”

Barack Obama, Frank Wisner, and Hillary Clinton were, in exactly that sense, patrons of the struggle for liberty by the people of Egypt. We embarrass other countries with our help, and it is only natural that we stumble. We are sleepwalking in someone else’s house.

Anonymous said...


Karzai relative 'killed in Nato raid'
An elderly relative of Afghan President Hamid Karzai was shot dead by Nato forces during a botched night raid in southern Afghanistan today, Karzai's brother said, stoking controversy over the war's civilian toll.

Worst year for civilian deaths in Afghanistan