30 years after Marine barracks attack, U.S. Embassy in Beirut doesn't meet security standards

(CBS News) WASHINGTON - The Oct. 23, 1983, attack on the U.S. Marine barracks in Beirut, Lebanon, and the suicide bombing at U.S. Embassy there just a few months earlier, are often pointed to as the beginning of major anti-U.S. attacks from Islamist groups. Those two bombings, and the mass fatalities that resulted, led to the creation of the Diplomatic Security Bureau and new guidelines for U.S. posts and facilities around the world.

Yet today, many of those procedures and updated security requirements are still not in place, even though the terror threat against U.S. posts has increased.

A State Department official acknowledged to CBS News that the U.S. Embassy in Beirut does not meet current security standards required under the Secure Embassy Construction and Counterterrorism Act (SECCA), in part because it "was not built by the U.S. government."

Watch this 1983 CBS News Special Report on the barracks bombing:

While the State Department maintains that the security program on site is "robust and proactive," the official also said there are plans to build a new, up-to-date embassy in the Lebanese capital. Securing funding for that involves persuading Congress to loosen its grip on the U.S. government purse strings.

After last year's attack in Benghazi, Libya, President Obama asked Congress to approve $4 billion in funds for security overhauls at U.S. posts. That still has not happened. Sen. Robert Menendez of New Jersey, the Senate Foreign Relations Chairman, passed a bill out of committee but has not been able to get it to a full Senate floor vote.

The State Department also asked the Pentagon for 1,000 extra Marine Guards to deploy to high-threat posts. While that was made law under the 2013 National Defense Authorization Act, the Marine Guards have not yet deployed.

A Marine spokesman tells CBS News that the manpower shift is taking time because there are not enough trainers or classroom spaces to prep the guards before deployment, and not enough room at diplomatic posts to house them. The Pentagon is trying to recruit volunteers. Marine Guards must undergo six to seven weeks of training to teach them how to protect classified material at whichever posts they are assigned to worldwide. The State Department has requested that a Marine Security Guard detachment be sent to Beirut.

Today -- on the 30th anniversary of the barracks attack -- there is no Marine Guard at the U.S. Embassy in Beirut.

  • Margaret Brennan

    Principally assigned to the State Department, Margaret Brennan also serves as a CBS News general assignment correspondent based in Washington, D.C.

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