Billions still needed to protect embassies

Despite an intensive $4 billion drive to protect U.S. embassies, at least 150 American missions abroad fall short of security standards put in place after deadly bombings, The Associated Press has learned.

It will cost twice that amount to replace or renovate just the most vulnerable ones, according to documents the AP reviewed.

The push to upgrade security began in earnest after bombings of the American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania a decade ago. The attacks killed 231 people, including 12 Americans. The security effort took on new urgency after strikes of Sept. 11, 2001, which led to government-wide vulnerability reviews.

The results so far suggest there is a long way to go to bring all the roughly 265 embassies and consulates up to standard.

The State Department says it will need about $7.5 billion to construct buildings at about 50 posts and $850 million for “major rehabilitation” at 40 others through 2013. The figures are in the department's Long-Range Overseas Buildings Plan that was sent to Congress last week.

In addition, about 60 other embassies and consulates will need to be replaced or will require substantial work by 2018, according to documents accompanying the 450-page plan, which is labeled “sensitive but unclassified” and not to be shared with foreign governments, according to officials familiar with its contents.

The long-range plan is not a formal request for money. It is more like a wish-list of projects deemed critical by experts in the State Department's real estate, security and regional bureaus. It is updated annually, but action on this year's list is not expected until after the next administration takes office in January.

Nearly all the facilities identified fail to meet at least some of the strict security requirements put in place after the East Africa bombings, officials said. Those include setting buildings significantly back from major roads and reinforcing walls and windows.

Since Sept. 11, the Bush administration has pumped $4.1billion into embassy and consulate construction, building 57 facilities that do meet the security specifications. On top of that, the State Department spends about $100 million a year in security upgrades for the more than 16,100 properties it manages around the world.

But the officials say even that major effort has not been enough, especially as construction costs have risen and the dollar has declined against foreign currencies.

“It really has not yet put us where we have to be,” Richard Shinnick, director of the department's Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations, said. “We have important protective responsibilities.”

In many cases, that means embassies must be relocated from downtown locations in capitals to outlying areas, even suburbs.

Neither Shinnick nor the other officials would discuss specific problems at any embassies or consulates or identify any locations for security reasons.