Friday, September 14, 2012

Embassies are natural targets. They are the forward operating bases of American diplomacy, and as such, often the focal point of demonstrations and attacks. Security at U.S. embassies has changed dramatically in recent decades -- a process sparked by the shock bombing of the U.S. Embassy in Beirut in 1983 and re-emphasized after the coordinated attacks in Africa in 1998 -- as one layer of defense has been stacked upon another. In the decade after the 1998 bombings, the annual budget of the State Department's Bureau of Diplomatic Security skyrocketed from $200 million to $1.8 billion; in those same 10 years, there were 39 attacks on U.S. embassies, consulates, and official personnel, according to a 2009 report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO). Discussing the plans for the new U.S. Embassy in London, the Economist glibly described the U.S. process: "First, dig your moat." U.S. embassies are more secure than ever, but there could be a diplomatic cost to all the gates within blast walls within reinforced-concrete Hesco barriers. After all, this is the image the United States is presenting to the world. And even then, as events this week have demonstrated, despite all these defenses, embassies are not impregnable fortresses.

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