The Foreign Service Journal - June 2014 - page 44

JUNE 2014
Views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the AFSA State VP.
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Post-Benghazi Security
I am concerned. Not so much
by the world, and the events
of Sept. 11—2001 and 2012—
but by our institutional
response to them. President
Franklin D. Roosevelt once
said, “The only thing we have
to fear is fear itself.” Today I
worry about how the State
Department’s fear of another
Benghazi is impacting the
Foreign Service.
I recently attended two
events featuring Cameron
Munter, our former ambas-
sador to Pakistan, and
Gerry Feierstein, our former
ambassador to Yemen (April
Both presentations are
worth viewing as we think
about this question:
our collective response to
Benghazi threaten to make the
Service less knowledgeable
about the world, less effective
on the ground and, ultimately,
less influential with the host
country and the United States
government itself?
Earlier this spring I visited
colleagues serving in Kabul
and Islamabad. It had been
three years since I last vis-
ited, and several more since I
served there. I wanted to see
current conditions and hear
from members about the
effect of the security environ-
ment on their professional
and personal lives.
Front Office Leader-
In both posts I found
an employee workforce that
was appreciative of the front
office’s efforts to educate
employees on the current
threat environment, accom-
modate their travel and
movement requests, and
ensure the mission was suffi-
ciently resourced to manage
the security programs.
Employees and supervi-
sors found the Regional
Security Office’s section-
specific outreach briefings
especially useful in helping to
develop, evaluate and priori-
tize their own travel requests.
A New Normal?
At the
same time, several employ-
ees expressed concern about
the increasing “militariza-
tion” of our diplomatic pres-
ence, reflected in everything
from the language used
to describe travel (Is this
mission-critical? or mission
essential?) and the equip-
ment used to do it (armored
vehicles with Blue Force
Trackers) to the Tactical
Operations Center monitor-
ing of employee movements.
Several senior officers
wondered about the long-
term effect on the Service
of a generation of officers
and specialists who have
grown up knowing nothing
other than this “new security
Chief-of-Mission Author-
I left both countries
thinking more about the
question of chief-of-mission
authority. One of the effects
of Benghazi seems to be
increased departmental
reach into what were previ-
ously COM decisions. For
instance, travel requests that
previously could be approved
in the field now require
approval fromWashington’s
7th floor. The “value added”
of this “non-tariff” travel
barrier should be examined
and better communicated to
those on the ground.
Kabul and
Islamabad are the depart-
ment’s two largest overseas
building projects. They
include new embassy office
buildings, annexes and resi-
dential housing.
While there is universal
support for residential hous-
ing in Kabul, not everyone
is convinced of the wisdom
of on-compound housing in
Does it make sense from
an operational and policy
standpoint, as Cameron
Munter asks, to introduce
a “membrane” of concrete
and barbed wire between the
diplomats and the popula-
tions they are sent overseas
to engage?
The policy of transition-
ing to off-compound group
housing and, ultimately, on-
compound housing in Islam-
abad is worth discussing.
The security concerns may
indeed outweigh professional
concerns, but we need to
have such a discussion—and
we need to have it with AFSA,
the employees’ representa-
tive, at the table.
Since Benghazi,
AFSA has focused on pro-
tecting the employee’s ability
to engage and advocated for
the language and security
awareness training to safely
do so (see the December
). The administra-
tion and Congress have
rightly improved the “hard”
security of our diplomatic
facilities overseas. However,
more needs to be done on
“soft” security (i.e., engage-
ment and training).
This year, for the first
time, the State Depart-
ment authorized posts to
language-designate positions
for personal security reasons.
Efforts are also under
way to provide more Foreign
Service employees with
language training, especially
specialists, in accordance
with Benghazi Accountability
Review Board recommenda-
tion #15.
AFSA is excited about the
additional training capacity
and possibilities offered by a
new Foreign Affairs Security
Training Center site in Ft.
Pickett, Va. The proposed
eligibility expansion and
curriculum revision of the
department’s signature
counterterrorism course
(FACT–OT-611) and the
development of a new course
focused on “doing diplomacy
in tough places” are more
steps in the right direction.
Together we will need to
work through these tough
questions. I look forward
to engaging with you in the
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