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Statement of Rep. Christopher Shays
May 10, 2005
In a report for the Subcommittee released today, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) concludes the State Department has not yet developed a comprehensive strategy that clearly identifies safety and security requirements or the resources needed to better protect U.S. officials and their families from terrorist threats abroad. Despite recommendations by several panels since the late 1980s, programs to enhance security outside the embassy walls remain a porous patchwork. No hands-on antiterrorism training course is required for U.S. personnel and dependents going overseas. Host nation cooperation varies widely. Federal departments and agencies do not effectively or consistently monitor personal security programs.
These desultory efforts are too easily overwhelmed by the powerful human tendency to conclude, "It can't happen to me!" or "If it's going to happen, there's nothing I can do about it." Defeating the myths of invulnerability and inevitability requires teaching government employees and their families how to recognize threats, how to take reasonable precautions, and how to handle themselves appropriately in menacing situations. Those lessons need to be reinforced regularly as part of a strategic focus that links embassy security and personnel safety to harden today's soft targets against the very real threats waiting outside.
The terrorist attack on the school in Beslan, Russia last year reminded the world once again that terrorism is blind to moral boundaries. Terrorists recognize no zone of safety for the innocent. American officials and their families abroad must be equipped to maintain a perimeter of personal safety wherever they go.
Despite many studies, numerous recommendations, several efforts and some progress, our witnesses this afternoon will describe just how much must still be done to shield America's soft targets abroad. We look forward to their testimony.
Mr. DUNCAN. Mr. Chairman, thank you for calling this very important hearing.
I am sitting down here only because I have some other meetings set up, so I am not going to be able to stay for the whole hearing. I will stay for as long as I can. Mr. Chairman, I admire the way you handle this subcommittee. I think you are one of the finest chairmen that I have ever worked with in my years in the Congress, and you have turned this subcommittee into an extremely important subcommittee dealing with very important topics.
I will say this. We have seen in history, wars started over the killing of one citizen of one nation by a citizen from another nation, so we have to do everything possible to protect our citizens so passions do not become inflamed and so we do not get into wars we should not get into.
On the other hand, I recall Governor Gilmore, who chaired the President's Commission on Terrorism and what to do about it, in his cover letter to the President, he said we must resist the urge to seek total security, because it is not achievable and it will drain resources away from things that are attainable.
So the key question is what does both common sense and intelligence tell us about what is achievable? We cannot protect every American citizen from every conceivable threat that is out there. But what can we do that is realistic, that is cost effective? We need to not just do anything and everything that anybody can think of because it has the word "security" attached to it. I think that is why this hearing is important: what is achievable and what is reasonable at the same time. Thank you.
Mr. SHAYS. Thank you. I particularly thank you for your very thoughtful words.
Mr. Kucinich, welcome, the ranking member of the subcommittee.
Mr. KUCINICH. Mr. Chairman, thank you. Good afternoon to all of the witnesses.
The safety and security of our Nation's Ambassadors, foreign service officers, civil servants, and their families concern this subcommittee and concern me deeply. The number of incidents of international terrorism against so-called "soft targets" is rising, and Congress should assist the State Department in every way it can so our diplomats can continue their invaluable work of representing America's values and ideals around the world.
While I believe the State Department is doing all it can to protect its employees abroad, it continues to play fast and loose with the Congress. Mistakes made in last year's annual survey of international terrorism and the decision by the Department to simply not include the statistics in the report anymore are deeply troubling.
By all accounts, violence around the world is rising sharply. According to the National Counterterrorism Center, there were 651 incidents of terrorist acts last year that killed nearly 2,000 people. Violence directed against Americans and disapproval of our Nation's foreign policy actions are at an all-time high. Those people who are at our embassies are on the front lines. Whether on the battlefield or not, they are on the front lines. They know quite well just how vulnerable of a target they are.
The administration needs to have an open and honest dialog with Congress and the American people concerning the security of those who work overseas for the United States of America. We need to have all of the facts in front of us and we need to hold the State Department accountable for its actions. However, improving overseas security is not just about better counterterrorism strategies, increased surveillance, driver training courses or evacuation drills. The real issue is money and where our priorities lie. The President's fiscal year 2006 budget request for the Department of Defense is $419.3 billion. Last week Congress approved the $82 billion supplemental for fiscal year 2005 for the Department of Defense for operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.
On the other hand, the fiscal year 2006 budget request for the State Department was just $13.3 billion, or 31 times smaller than that for the Pentagon. No wonder there is no money left over for overseas security, our Nation's coffers are totally depleted.
The State Department is asking for only $15 million a year to protect soft targets, including just $10 million to increase security at American and international schools abroad. Meanwhile, the Pentagon is asking for $7.8 billion for a missile defense program, a program which has repeatedly failed basic tests and where there is no end to spending in sight. I voted against the President's request for supplemental funds and am a strong opponent of the missile defense program, but I am a strong proponent of the men and women who serve in the State Department. I have visited many of our embassies. I know the level of dedication of the people who work for our government. I know they are serving this country honorably, and the least we can do is make sure that we provide for their security.
In my opinion, more of these precious resources need to be spent on physical capital modernization, technology and increased resources for public diplomacy at our embassies, consulates, and posts abroad. Too many of our State Department offices overseas are in shabby condition, overcrowded, and lack modern communications technology such as Internet and e-mail. We cannot keep trying to solve 21st-century problems with 20th-century thinking.
Mr. Chairman, thank you for holding this hearing. I hope this subcommittee is going to do everything it can to protect our diplomatic corps.
Mr. SHAYS. Thank you.
Statement of Rep. Dennis Kucinich
Ranking Minority Member
House Subcommittee on National Security, Emerging
Committee on Government Reform
U.S. House of Representatives
Hearing on "Overseas Security: Hardening Soft Targets"
May 10, 2005
Good afternoon, Mr. Chairman, and good afternoon to all of
the witnesses here today.
The safety and security of all of our nation's ambassadors,
foreign service officers, civil servants, and their families concern me deeply. The number of incidents of international terrorism against these "soft targets" is rising, and Congress should assist the State Department in every way it can so that our diplomats can
continue their invaluable work of representing America's
democratic ideals and values around the world.
Yet, while I believe that the State Department is honestly
doing all it can to protect its employees abroad, it continues to play fast and loose with the Congress. The mistakes made in last year's
annual survey of international terrorism, and the decision by the
Department to simply not include the statistics in the report
anymore are deeply troubling.
By all accounts, violence around the world is rising sharply.
According to the National Counterterrorism Center, (hold up
report) there were 651 incidents of terrorist acts last year that killed nearly 2,000 people. Violence directed against Americans and
disapproval of our nation's foreign policy actions are at an all-time high. Believe me, those on the front-lines - whether they are on
the battlefield or at overseas posts - know quite well just how
vulnerable of a target they are.
This Administration needs to have an open and honest
dialogue with Congress and with the American people. We need to have all of the facts in front of us, and we need to hold the State Department accountable for its actions.
However, improving overseas security is not just about better counterterrorism strategies, increased surveillance, driver training