US diplomats vulnerable to security lapses
(The Philippine Star) - March 10, 2015 - 12:00am

The recent attack on United States Ambassador to South Korea Mark Lippert by a knife-wielding activist shows the need to tighten security for American diplomats, even in countries that are considered “safe.” Lippert was scheduled to deliver a speech at a breakfast lecture organized by the Korean Council for Reconciliation and Cooperation when 55-year-old Kim Ki-Jong rushed from behind and started slashing the envoy, who suffered a one-inch deep, four-inch gash on his face.

The attacker is known by Korean police as a hard-core activist who can be violent, like in 2010 when he threw a piece of concrete at Japanese Ambassador Toshinori Shigeie, which fortunately missed but hit the translator instead. A police officer who spotted Kim asked organizers if he should be allowed inside the venue, and the organizers answered in the affirmative since Kim was closely associated with one of the groups invited to the event.

South Korea normally provides police security for diplomats upon request, but sources said the US Embassy did not ask for additional security, although there were over 20 officers deployed with four on standby outside the venue. Critics slammed the Korean police as inept, saying someone should have shadowed Kim when he went in considering his history of violent protests.

Apparently, no one thought Lippert would be subjected to an attack since the US diplomat is well liked, having engaged in a charm offensive – going by foot to the US Embassy from his official residence or walking his dog at night. His popularity surged even more when his wife gave birth to a baby boy this January and the couple gave him a Korean middle name, calling him William James Sejun Lippert.

The Ambassador happens to be a “basketball buddy” and close ally of President Barack Obama, with the two having worked together when Obama was a senator and also during the presidential campaign. Lippert was eventually appointed to multiple key positions in the Obama White House including deputy assistant to the President and chief of staff of the National Security Council.  The 42-year-old Lippert actually made history for being the first ambassador to be a political appointee, as well as the youngest to be posted in South Korea – supposedly a “low-threat” environment.

Obviously, diplomats assigned to high-risk countries such as Afghanistan, Pakistan, Lebanon, etc. because of terrorism, warrant tight security, but the attack on Lippert also shows their vulnerability to wackos and nut cases anywhere in the world, even in such places as Norway, The Netherlands, Iceland, Geneva and Athens where a rocket-propelled grenade fired at the US Embassy damaged the building.

A report by the US State Department’s Bureau of Diplomatic Security that details the list of “significant attacks” against US Embassy personnel abroad from 1998 to 2012 also discloses the 2005 grenade-throwing incident that happened in Tbilisi, Georgia in May 2005. George Bush was set to deliver a speech at Freedom Square with then-Georgia president Mikheil Saakashvili when a man lobbed a grenade at the podium – which was protected by bulletproof glass. The live grenade failed to explode.

Other attacks had fatal consequences, like what happened at the US Consulate in Benghazi, Libya in 2012 which continues to be the subject of an investigation due to perceived security lapses. Former State Secretary Hillary Clinton is being blasted by critics for allegedly failing to provide additional security for the Embassy personnel despite the request of Ambassador Chris Stevens, who died during the violent attack by Islamic militants. 

CIA restructures, gets ready for digital warfare

The 67-year-old Central Intelligence Agency is getting a makeover with the addition of a Directorate of Digital Innovation that would equip top spooks with the latest in cybertech. CIA director John Brennan made the announcement following concerns that the agency is losing out in terms of cyberwarfare and is unable to cope with modern threats.

Critics also say the hunt for Osama bin Laden also took so long due to inefficient management and bureaucracy, plus the fact that no one knows who is in charge of which mission or project. Brennan says his plan will follow the military model where a commander will be in charge of all operations in a region to ensure more efficiency and accountability. The overhaul is aimed at streamlining operations where intel analysts will have more interaction with undercover operatives to prevent instances where information is withheld – something that members of the clandestine service do not exactly welcome because they are secretive when it comes to sources.

Not surprisingly, the CIA director did not cite specific examples on how the current structure has been hindering operations, save for saying he wants to identify seams, “wring efficiencies” and engage in modernization even if the current system is “not broken.”

Final note on APO-Oberthur spat

Last Feb. 17, we aired concerns about possible delays in the issuance of e-passports following the expiration of Oberthur’s contract because of the unavailability of new supplier APO Production Unit for meetings. APO chair Mila Alora wrote us saying there have been at least three meetings with Oberthur, and that the system has been subjected to numerous attacks and interferences immediately after the change in operational control – with her reply given space in our Feb. 24 column.

Oberthur’s lawyers sent us an email averring that three meetings were indeed conducted but no management support agreement was concluded because APO was not aptly represented, adding that their client is available to support both the DFA and APO considering the latter’s “seeming lack of experience” to maintain the e-passport system.

On a final note, I think we have given this issue enough space in our column, and it’s time for both parties to get together and settle their differences between themselves. 





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