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Improve security at embassies

Last Saturday marked the first anniversary of the terrorist attack on the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, killing at least 226 people, including 12 Americans. Despite heightened security at embassies across the globe, many American outposts remain vulnerable. That's inexcusable.

Decisionmakers in Washington need to take the threat more seriously. It is worth remembering that more Americans died in those two embassy attacks than in the recent air war in the Balkans.

A State Department investigation following last year's bombing concluded that a "collective failure" on the part of Congress and several presidential administrations was to blame for the lax security at the African embassies. That isn't exactly news.

The government has never reached the security standards set by Bobby Inman, the former deputy CIA director who headed a special commission that examined embassy security after the U.S. Embassy in Beirut was bombed in 1983. The Inman report recommended, among other things, that at least 100 feet separate each embassy's exterior wall and the nearest public access to provide protection from deadly vehicle bombs. As of Wednesday, only 31 of the 260 diplomatic posts met that requirement.

Before last summer's fatal attack, the U.S. ambassador to Kenya repeatedly asked our government to step up security at the embassy there. But Congress, citing budget constraints, never funded the initiative.

Terrorist attacks, in reality, have declined globally in the last year. But it would be foolish to embrace such false comfort.

Congress has spent $1.5-billion on improvements since last year's tragedy, mostly to hire new guards, increase the number of top security agents, install new security equipment and fortify or relocate posts. That's a start, but more needs to be done or American diplomats will continue to be at risk serving their country in foreign capitals.

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