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Some U.S. diplomatic posts violating security standards: report

By Susan Cornwell

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Some U.S. diplomatic posts are violating security standards for overseas buildings and the State Department is not keeping track of the exemptions to the rules it does grant, the department's inspector general's office said in a review released after the attack on the U.S. mission in Benghazi.

"Inspectors ... found conditions of noncompliance with security standards for which posts had not sought exceptions or waivers," the report by Deputy Inspector General Harold Geisel said.

In 2011, the State Department's Bureau of Diplomatic Security had in its files over 1,000 waivers and exceptions, some quite old, granting exemptions to security standards at U.S. diplomatic missions abroad, the report said.

But it was not clear which waivers were still "active," and some waivers in the bureau's files were for buildings that no longer exist, the report found.

A copy of the two-page, redacted version of the report was obtained by Reuters. It is now on the inspector general's website and dated January 7.

The State Department said it was working to carry out the report's recommendations. The recommendations said embassies and missions abroad should be required to certify every year that they have sought official exemptions if they cannot comply with security rules. The report also recommended that the Bureau of Diplomatic Security update its files.

"The department takes this report and the recommendations it contains seriously," a State Department official said in a statement emailed to Reuters. "We concur with the recommendations and have already taken steps within the Bureau of Diplomatic Security to implement the recommendations."

The inspector general's review did not mention the September 11, 2012, attack on the diplomatic mission and a nearby CIA facility in Benghazi, where the U.S. ambassador and three other Americans were killed. Nor did it describe any exceptions made to security standards there or at any other post.

But a separate review in December of the Benghazi assault described security precautions at the U.S. mission in the eastern Libyan city as "grossly inadequate to deal with the attack that took place" there.

The December report by an Accountability Review Board appointed by former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton noted that the U.S. mission at Benghazi was a temporary residential facility that was exempted from diplomatic office security standards.

Militants attacked and overwhelmed the U.S. diplomatic facility in Benghazi in a sustained assault. An FBI investigation is continuing.

WAREHOUSE SPACE FOR OFFICES

Security standards for U.S. diplomatic facilities around the world, such as the distance from the property's perimeter to the building, are set by law and by the Overseas Security Policy Board, an interagency body.

Geisel's report reviewed physical security files and conditions at 27 overseas posts - about a tenth of the U.S. diplomatic missions around the world - as well as the files at the State Department's Bureau of Diplomatic Security. The 27 posts were not identified in the brief unclassified excerpt of the report.

The Bureau of Diplomatic Security "does not regularly review waiver approvals to determine whether they are still active," the report said.

"As of August 2011, (the Bureau of Diplomatic Security) had more than 1,000 exceptions and waivers (to physical security standards) on file dating back to 1987," Geisel's review said.

"Inspectors found waivers for facilities that are no longer leased by the U.S. government or no longer exist," said Geisel's report. It was sent to Patrick Kennedy, the undersecretary of state for management.

The inspectors discovered diplomatic posts that were violating security standards and had not asked for official exemptions from them, the report said.

"The most common example was the use of warehouse space for offices," it said, adding that office space required greater physical security standards than warehouse space.

(Editing by Warren Strobel and Peter Cooney)

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