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By Ali Watkins, McClatchy Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON — In the over two years since Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans were killed in an attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, the State Department says it has overhauled its strategies for high-risk diplomatic posts overseas.

At the first public hearing of the House Select Committee on Benghazi, led by South Carolina Republican Trey Gowdy, officials said the State Department has implemented nearly all of the nearly 70 recommendations provided to it in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2012, attack and is working to implement the rest.

Among the actions take by the State Department, Assistant Secretary for Diplomatic Security Greg Starr said it has expanded its training for Foreign Service officers, provided more resources to high-risk diplomatic missions and partnered with the New York City Fire Department to deter fire risks at foreign posts.

In a progress report issued ahead of the hearing, the State Department detailed those efforts, saying it has created new diplomatic security positions and deployed 17 new Marine Corps detachments in conjunction with the Defense Department.

Noting attacks on U.S. diplomatic missions date back decades, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle blasted the State Department for failing to implement changes before the attack at the Libyan consulate. Gowdy pointed to recommendations from 1999, which were issued by an accountability board following several attacks on U.S. diplomatic missions in Africa.

“It is stunning to see the similarities in the recommendations made decades ago and the recommendations made after Benghazi,” Gowdy said in his opening statement. “We do not suffer from a lack of recommendations. We do suffer from a lack of implementing and enacting those recommendations. … So it is appropriate to review the recommendations of the most recent (Accountability Review Board).”

Convened by then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in the weeks following the Libya attack, the Benghazi Accountability Review Board offered a list of 29 recommendations, 24 of which are unclassified. Twenty-two of the recommendations, Starr said Wednesday, have been fully implemented, and the State Department is working to implement the other seven.

Those seven, Starr said, are more “evergreen” recommendations like language training programs, which will take sustained effort and time to complete.

Following the board’s recommendation, the State Department created an independent “panel of outside independent experts (military, security, humanitarian) with experience in high-risk, high-threat areas to support (the department), identify best practices … and regularly evaluate U.S. security platforms in high-risk, high-threat posts.”

The department’s independent panel produced its own set of nearly 40 recommendations. Members of that independent panel who testified before Gowdy’s committee Wednesday also said nearly all of their suggestions had been implemented.

Photo: Speaker Boehner via Flickr

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