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MAY 2015



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.

Conducting Triage

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

personnel abroad.

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 completed

his 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

overseas missions.

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 of

Admiral 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

diplomatic premises.

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.