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Friday, September 27, 2013

Securing U.S. Diplomatic Facilities and Personnel Abroad: Background and Policy Issues

Alex Tiersky
Analyst in Foreign Affairs

Susan B. Epstein
Specialist in Foreign Policy

The United States maintains about 285 diplomatic facilities worldwide. Attacks on such facilities, and on U.S. diplomatic personnel, are not infrequent. The deaths of Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other U.S. personnel in Benghazi, Libya on September 11, 2012, along with attacks on U.S. embassies in Egypt, Sudan, Tunisia, and Yemen, drew renewed attention to the challenges facing U.S. diplomats abroad, as well as to the difficulty in balancing concerns for their security against the outreach required of their mission. Congress plays a key role in shaping the response to these challenges, such as by providing resources for diplomatic security and examining security breaches overseas.

The inability to provide perfect security, especially against the evident threat of mob violence, has focused particular scrutiny on the deployment of diplomatic personnel in high-threat environments. The Department of State currently maintains a presence in locations faced with security conditions that previously would likely have led State to evacuate personnel and close the post.

Under reciprocal treaty obligations, host nations are obligated to provide security for the diplomatic facilities of sending states. However, instances in which host nations have been unable or not fully committed to fulfilling this responsibility have sometimes left U.S. facilities vulnerable, especially in extraordinary circumstances. U.S. facilities therefore employ a layered approach to security including not only the measures taken by a host country, but also additional, U.S.-coordinated measures, to include armed Diplomatic Security agents, hardened facilities, U.S.-trained and/or contracted local security guards, and sometimes U.S. Marine Security Guard detachments.

The rapid growth in the number of U.S. civilians deployed in high-risk environments of Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan spurred significant investment in recent years in the Department of State’s capacity to provide security in dangerous areas through its Bureau of Diplomatic Security (DS). However, it simultaneously placed unprecedented burdens on DS’s capability to carry out this mission successfully there and in other challenging locations.

Most of the funding for the protection of U.S. missions abroad is provided through Worldwide Security Protection (WSP) within the State Department’s Diplomatic & Consular Programs (D&CP) account and through Worldwide Security Upgrades (WSU) within the Embassy Security, Construction and Maintenance (ESCM) account. The total security funding requested for FY2014 is about $3.98 billion.

This report provides background information on the organization, practice, and funding of U.S. diplomatic security efforts. It also provides summary information on the September 11, 2012, attack on U.S. facilities in Benghazi, Libya, as well as on the subsequent Accountability Review Board. More information on congressional and State Department actions in response to the Benghazi attack is available in CRS Report R43195, Securing U.S. Diplomatic Facilities and Personnel Abroad: Legislative and Executive Branch Initiatives, by Alex Tiersky.

Date of Report: September 12, 2013
Number of Pages: 28
Order Number: R42834
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DHS Headquarters Consolidation Project: Issues for Congress

William L. Painter
Analyst in Emergency Management and Homeland Security Policy

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) was established in early 2003, bringing together existing parts of 22 different federal agencies and departments in a new framework of operations. In its first few years, the department was reorganized multiple times, and more focus was given to ensuring its components were addressing the perceived threats facing the country rather than to addressing the new organization’s management structure and headquarters needs. Therefore, the consolidation of physical infrastructure that one might expect in creating an operation of such size and breadth did not occur at that time.

As the Coast Guard began to plan consolidating its leases on headquarters facilities into secure federally owned space, DHS was finding its original headquarters space at the Nebraska Avenue Complex too limited to meet its evolving needs. In 2006, the George W. Bush Administration proposed combining the two projects into one $3.45 billion headquarters consolidation project on the West Campus of St. Elizabeths Hospital in Anacostia.

Since that year, Administrations of both parties have requested funding for this initiative. Thus far, the project has received $460 million from DHS and $908 million from the General Services Administration (GSA), for a total of $1,368 million through FY2013. Most of these resources have been allocated to the construction of a new consolidated headquarters for the Coast Guard on the campus, which opened ceremonially on June 29, 2013.

However, this project has not received sustained funding from Congress—80% of the funding it has received so far came in FY2009 when a surge of supplemental funding combined with the regular appropriations for GSA and DHS provided $1.1 billion for the project. With the completion of its first key component, and the release of a new cost estimate reflecting a less aggressive construction plan, the debate over this project enters a new phase.

The purpose of this report is to outline the policy considerations to be evaluated in deciding whether to continue funding the consolidation of the remaining DHS headquarters functions at St. Elizabeths, and to explore some of the benefits and consequences of several possible ways forward.

The fate of this initiative could have significant impact on the department operationally, budgetarily, and culturally. Operationally, the consolidated headquarters would provide a higher level of security for many DHS headquarters functions, and would provide a more capable departmental operations center to help coordinate the federal response to natural disasters and terrorist attacks. Budgetarily, the department would benefit from reduced overhead costs in the long term, but would face significant pressure on its near term budget to see the construction through to completion. Culturally, the new headquarters could help promote the integration of the department’s components into “One DHS,” and have some direct and indirect contributions to improving departmental morale.

This report examines four potential ways forward for the headquarters project: Going no further than the Coast Guard headquarters phase; reducing the future DHS presence on the campus and sharing the site with other government agencies; proceeding with the project as outlined in the new baseline; and aggressively funding the project to accelerate completion.

Date of Report: September 11, 2013
Number of Pages: 36
Order Number: R42753
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Thursday, September 26, 2013

NSA Surveillance Leaks: Background and Issues for Congress

John W. Rollins
Specialist in Terrorism and National Security 

Edward C. Liu
Legislative Attorney

Recent attention concerning National Security Agency (NSA) surveillance pertains to unauthorized disclosures of two different intelligence collection programs. Since these programs were publicly disclosed over the course of two days in June, there has been confusion about what information is being collected and under which authorities the NSA is acting. This report clarifies the differences between the two programs and identifies potential issues that may help Members of Congress assess legislative proposals pertaining to NSA surveillance authorities.

The first program collects in bulk the phone records—including the number that was dialed from, the number that was dialed to, and the date and duration of the call—of customers of Verizon and possibly other U.S. telephone service providers. It does not collect the content of the calls or the identity of callers. The data are collected pursuant to Section 215 of the USA PATRIOT ACT, which amended the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) of 1978. Section 215 allows the FBI, in this case on behalf of the NSA, to apply to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) for an order compelling a person to produce “any tangible thing,” such as records held by a telecommunications provider, if the tangible things sought are “relevant to an authorized investigation.” Some commentators have expressed skepticism regarding how such a broad amount of data could be said to be “relevant to an authorized investigation,” as required by the statute. In response to these concerns, the Obama Administration subsequently declassified portions of a FISC order authorizing this program and a “whitepaper” describing the Administration’s legal reasoning.

The second program targets the electronic communications, including content, of foreign targets overseas whose communications flow through American networks. These data are collected pursuant to Section 702 of FISA, which was added by the FISA Amendments Act of 2008. This program acquires information from Internet service providers, as well as through what NSA terms “upstream” collection that appears to acquire Internet traffic while it is in transit from one location to another. Although this program targets the communications of foreigners who are abroad, the Administration has acknowledged that technical limitations in the “upstream” collection result in the collection of some communications that are unrelated to the target or that may take place between persons in the United States. Notwithstanding these technical limitations, the FISC has held that this program is consistent with the requirements of both Section 702 and the Fourth Amendment provided that there are sufficient safeguards in place to identify and limit the retention, use, or dissemination of such unrelated or wholly domestic communications.

The Obama Administration has argued that these surveillance activities, in addition to being subject to oversight by all three branches of government, are important to national security and have helped disrupt terror plots. These arguments have not always distinguished between the two programs, and some critics, while acknowledging the value of information collected using Section 702 authorities, are skeptical of the value of the phone records held in bulk at NSA. Thus, recent legislative proposals have primarily focused on modifying Section 215 to preclude the breadth of phone records collection currently taking place. They have also emphasized requiring greater public disclosure of FISC opinions, including the opinion(s) allowing for the collection of phone records in bulk.

This report discusses the specifics of these two NSA collection programs. It does not address other questions that have been raised in the aftermath of these leaks, such as the potential harm to national security caused by the leaks or the intelligence community’s reliance on contractors.

Date of Report: September 4, 2013
Number of Pages: 21
Order Number: R43134
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Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Federal Mandatory Minimum Sentencing Statutes: An Abbreviated Overview

Charles Doyle
Senior Specialist in American Public Law

Federal mandatory minimum sentencing statutes limit the discretion of a sentencing court to impose a sentence that does not include a term of imprisonment or the death penalty. They have a long history and come in several varieties: the not-less-than, the flat sentence, and piggyback versions. Federal courts may refrain from imposing an otherwise required statutory mandatory minimum sentence when requested by the prosecution on the basis of substantial assistance toward the prosecution of others. First-time, low-level, non-violent offenders may be able to avoid the mandatory minimums under the Controlled Substances Acts, if they are completely forthcoming.

The most common imposed federal mandatory minimum sentences arise under the Controlled Substance and Controlled Substance Import and Export Acts, the provisions punishing the presence of a firearm in connection with a crime of violence or drug trafficking offense, the Armed Career Criminal Act, various sex crimes including child pornography, and aggravated identity theft.

Critics argue that mandatory minimums undermine the rationale and operation of the federal sentencing guidelines which are designed to eliminate unwarranted sentencing disparity. Counter arguments suggest that the guidelines themselves operate to undermine individual sentencing discretion and that the ills attributed to other mandatory minimums are more appropriately assigned to prosecutorial discretion or other sources.

State and federal mandatory minimums have come under constitutional attack on several grounds over the years, and have generally survived. The Eighth Amendment’s cruel and unusual punishments clause does bar mandatory capital punishment, and apparently bans any term of imprisonment that is grossly disproportionate to the seriousness of the crime for which it is imposed. The Supreme Court, however, has declined to overturn sentences imposed under the California three strikes law and challenged as cruel and unusual. Double jeopardy, ex post facto, due process, separation of powers, and equal protection challenges have been generally unavailing.

The United States Sentencing Commission’s Mandatory Minimum Penalties in the Federal Criminal Justice System (2011) recommends consideration of amendments to several of the statutes under which federal mandatory minimum sentences are most often imposed.

This is an abbreviated version of CRS Report RL32040, Federal Mandatory Minimum Sentencing Statutes, stripped of its citations, footnotes, and appendixes. 

Date of Report: September 9, 2013
Number of Pages: 18
Order Number: RS21598
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