September 5 2013
photo by Reuters/Mohsin Raza
This commentary appeared on U.S. News & World Report on September 4, 2013.
The recent decision to close 19 U.S. embassies and consulates in the Middle East and Africa because of intelligence indicating terrorist planning for unspecific attacks underscores the need to continue focusing attention and resources on the danger al-Qaida and its affiliates pose to the United States and its allies.
The United States has closed diplomatic facilities and reduced personnel levels at embassies and consulates before, but closing so many facilities in so many places at the same time is something new. Such a pro-active, albeit broad, response to intelligence that reportedly wasn't specific to time or place may have provided a bonus to al-Qaida and other terrorist organizations: a media victory that demonstrates their ability to disrupt the United States without firing a shot.
Almost all of the embassies have re-opened. To reduce its vulnerability to attacks on diplomatic facilities and to avoid the possibility of this type of manipulation in the future, the United States needs to begin thinking more strategically about how to manage threats and cost-effectively harden our buildings. Here are a few ideas about how U.S. embassies and consulates could be better protected: