The Foreign Service Journal - December 2013 - page 40

Views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the AFSA State VP.
or (202) 647-8160
The Sept. 11, 2012 attack
on our mission in Benghazi
reminded us of the inherent
dangers of our profession.
“Independent Panel” and the
Office of the Inspector Gen-
eral have all made recom-
mendations on how to mini-
mize future diplomatic loss
of life. In addition, Congress
is considering legislation that
includes an embassy security
However, to break the
vicious cycle of attack, report
and congressional action,
we must ensure that this
response includes a formal-
ized process of evaluat-
ing risks and rewards, and
embraces enhanced lan-
guage and security aware-
ness training for Foreign
Service employees.
V i t a l Pr es en c e
Va l i da t i on Pr o c es s
In line with a basic busi-
ness school lesson—that
risks and rewards drive
investment decisions—
the department needs to
introduce a similar diplo-
matic security calculus. It is
developing a Vital Presence
Validation Process that will
ultimately enable senior
leadership to decide when
the “rewards” (U.S. interests)
are sufficiently high enough
to bear additional “risks” (to
U.S. diplomatic facilities and
personnel.) The department,
as an institution, may be
more accepting of risk when
Diplomatic Security 101: Risks and Rewards
and where our interests are
significant—during the wars
in Afghanistan and Iraq, for
example—but less so when
our interests are not.
That decision-making
process will affect Foreign
Service employees, who will
ultimately bear any addi-
tional unmitigated risk. AFSA,
the exclusive representa-
tive of the Foreign Service,
looks forward to consulting
with the department on this
Such a risk-reward
calculation is not new, to be
sure. At an individual level,
employees already make
their own risk-reward calcula-
tions based on quantifiable
metrics, like danger pay,
various incentive packages
and Career Development
Program considerations.
Enhan c i ng
Tr a i n i ng
The department and its
employees have a shared
responsibility for personal
security. The department
invests in buildings, pro-
grams and personnel to mini-
mize and mitigate employee
risk, but employees must
also be security-conscious to
avoid or escape threats.
In the current fiscal cli-
mate, the department should
evaluate the effectiveness of
competing training requests
to maximize the return of its
training dollars in these two
areas: language and security
While the department
offers employee language
training based on a position’s
language designation (which
is reviewed on a triennial
basis), at present, there is no
explicit personal security cri-
terion to review when making
such a determination (see 13
FAM 221.2).
AFSA suggests includ-
ing such a criterion, while
encouraging bureaus and
posts to consider more
asymmetric language desig-
nations. In many cases, 1+/0
language skills obtained via
an FSI FAST language course
may be sufficient enough for
an FS employee to recognize
and avoid threatening situa-
Post-Benghazi, the
department expanded
employee eligibility and
increased the off-site length
of its Foreign Affairs Coun-
ter Threat course, OT 610
(known as “crash and bang”).
However, participation in
the course is limited by the
capacity of the driving school
in West Virginia.
While AFSA supports the
department’s long-term solu-
tion to create a foreign affairs
security training center, it
may be able to increase its
immediate training dollar
return by examining the
length, focus and venue of
the current course. An irony
of the “crash-and-bang”
course was that many of its
participants were headed
to countries in which they
were prohibited from driving.
When I participated in the
course, I was one of five For-
eign Service employees out
of the hundreds in Afghani-
stan that could actually
drive. Could the five days of
student per diem and tuition
be used more effectively and
reach a larger audience if the
FACT course had a different
focus and venue?
Se c r e t a r y Ke r r y,
Ad vo ca t e
Early in his tenure,
employees to engage with
the world,” and not to “pull
back” from diplomatic secu-
rity challenges. He declared
that U.S. Marines were
overseas not just to protect
classified material, but also
the people producing and
handling it. Since then, Sec.
Kerry has demonstrated
his willingness to address
diplomatic security risks and
rewards on multiple occa-
He is creating the envi-
ronment for diplomatic
engagement to flourish. For
his efforts to fully succeed,
the department needs to
institutionalize this risk-
reward process and enhance
employee training.
I look forward to hearing
your ideas regarding security
risk and reward at post. Next
month: Occupy AFSA.
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