THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL
dangerous world, particularly when so much
second-guessing goes on? We all know there is
no perfect security; we cannot protect all of our
overseas personnel all of the time everywhere.
Some element of risk goes with the practice of
diplomacy. It is, however, the security profes-
sional’s job to minimize that risk, making pos-
sible the conduct of diplomacy while protecting information,
facilities and personnel as much as possible.
The solution is triage: balancing risks and threats against
the requirements of programmatic and diplomatic activity in
dangerous foreign environments.
For many years, the United States government has tried to
calculate risk in a systematic way. As early as the 1990s, every
post in the world, whether large or small, was placed in a series
of threat categories (critical, high, medium, low) related to ter-
rorism, crime, political instability and technical vulnerability.
These designations were worked out by DS professionals in
collaboration with the intelligence community and diplomatic
These early efforts were designed primarily to assist
decision-makers in determining what resources, both human
and financial, should be deployed and where they were most
needed. It was assumed that meaningful distinctions were pos-
sible and that threats were not universal.
Unfortunately, since then it has become clear that terrorist
threats exist virtually everywhere, from Ottawa and London
to Tripoli and Sana’a. Some are more obvious than others, or
more likely to happen, but the reality is the same: Terrorists
can carry out a unilateral attack almost anywhere in the world
if they are willing to sacrifice their own lives to take the lives of
others. Good intelligence can minimize that risk; good security
can mitigate the damage in terms of both physical destruction
and loss of life, but no system is fail-safe.
In the 30 years since Admiral Bobby Inman completedhis report on diplomatic security for the State Department in the aftermath of the 1983 Beirut embassy and Marine bar- racks bombings, there has been a steady reinforcement and
strengthening of embassies and consulates around the world.
The Inman Commission recommended a multibillion-dollar
program of embassy construction.
The new facilities, officially known as New Embassy Com-
pounds, are characterized by increased setback, blast walls,
strict fenestration standards for windows and myriad access
controls. Their purpose is to address the vulnerability of
embassies and consulates to street-level truck and car bomb-
ing, as well as a general lack of focus on security in many
Although State pushed for substantial additional resources
to construct new embassies in the most vulnerable locations in
the Middle East and Latin America, Congress never appropri-
ated enough funds to build all the chanceries needed to carry
out Inman’s recommendations. As a result, disaster struck
again in August 1998 with the bombing of our missions in Nai-
robi and Dar es Salaam.
A new task force was appointed under the leadership ofAdmiral William Crowe. His report reiterated many of the same recommendations contained in the Inman report, but empha-
sized the need to move embassies from vulnerable downtown
locations to new premises where enhanced security measures
could be put in place.
Notwithstanding massive increases in the DS budget and the
construction of dozens of new embassies, many vulnerabilities
remained. Even after applying diplomatic security triage, the
department struggled to identify the posts which were most at
risk or where the facilities were most lacking in state-of-the-art
In fact, resources have never been adequate to do all that
needs to be done to protect all U.S. staff overseas. To be sure,
we have made real progress, so that it is now very difficult for
criminals, terrorists or hostile security services to gain access
to our facilities. Yet weaknesses remain, particularly when host
governments do not live up to their responsibility to protect
To the great frustration of many security professionals,
efforts to tighten security often meet resistance at overseas
posts. During my time as assistant secretary of State for dip-
lomatic security in the 1990s, ambassadors frequently com-
plained if their threat levels were raised even one notch. They
simply did not subscribe to the new reality of pervasive threat,
worrying more that their staff would not be able to carry out
their assigned responsibilities if all DS recommendations were
put into place.
We all know there is no perfect security;
we cannot protect all of our overseas
personnel all of the time everywhere.