The House, fearing another terrorist attack like the twin bombings of U.S. embassies in Africa a year ago, voted Wednesday to more than quadruple the Clinton administration's proposed spending to fortify America's embassies worldwide.
Congressional concern for the safety of diplomats and other Americans abroad has grown with the approach of the Aug. 7 anniversary of the bombings that killed 224 people, including 12 Americans, and injured thousands.
The House renamed its main foreign operations legislation "The American Embassy Security Act." It would allocate $1.4 billion--60% of the bill's funding--to rebuild or remodel American embassies around the world. The remaining $1 billion would go to State Department programs, international agencies and refugee relief.
"American facilities abroad are under threat as they never have been before," said Rep. Benjamin A. Gilman (R-N.Y.), chairman of the House International Relations Committee. The bill notes that security at half the 250 U.S. facilities abroad is considered inadequate.
After three days of debate on a variety of amendments not connected with embassy security, the House approved the bill on a voice vote with nearly all members present.
The legislation also addresses concern over the response of U.S. law enforcement units to crises abroad. One provision would allow the FBI immediately to lease an aircraft to send agents to the site of a crisis, something officials say took more than 13 hours after word of the African bombings.
Several embassies have been closed for brief periods in recent weeks because of security lapses or new threats. A major concern is the proximity of many embassies to public streets, making them vulnerable to car bombs such as those that hit the embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.
The State Department has stepped up warnings surrounding the anniversary of the African bombings, which the U.S. government blames on a terrorist organization allegedly led by Saudi Arabian millionaire Osama bin Laden.