REVIEW: Article

Long-Term Security Improvements at the State Department Challenge Established Procedures and Attitudes

Two years ago on August 7th, terrorists bombed the United States (US) Embassies in Nairobi and Dar Es Salaam. If you were to ask us if we are better prepared today than we were then, the answer would be “yes.” If you were to ask us if there is more we should do to improve our security posture, the answer also would be “yes.”

Over the last twelve months, we have seen several well-publicized security incidents at the Department of State building here in Washington: the loss of a laptop computer containing classified information and the discovery of a listening device in a conference room. These incidents underscore the continuing need to address all categories of security threats directed toward Department of State facilities and personnel, both overseas and domestically.

Material Tools

At the close of this fiscal year, I am pleased to report that many of the initiatives for enhanced security assets at our installations overseas have been accomplished.

One hundred and thirty-seven US Embassies now have large model x-ray machines. Eight hundred and seventy-one metal detectors have been placed at the entrances to our facilities overseas. And one hundred thirty-seven advanced technology detection units for explosive materials are being used at our vehicle entrances. These machines provide enhanced screening of objects and people entering our facilities and allow for tighter access controls.

We also have expanded our capability to protect official Americans traveling outside of government facilities overseas with the deployment of 780 fully and lightly armored vehicles. Our program to apply shatter resistant window film to official residences is now complete. And the number of local guards assigned to residences, response teams and routine patrols has increased by the thousands.

Our capability to look beyond the Embassy gate also has been aided by the installation of cameras and closed-circuit televisions. The provision of videocassette recorders at most posts allows the Bureau of Diplomatic Security (DS) to review and analyze suspicious events.

And finally in the event of imminent attack, notification systems installed at many posts will alert Embassy personnel to “duck and cover,” an important safety element which will save lives.

Surveillance detection teams have been formed at most of our posts with the assistance and support of the host nation. Specialized equipment and logistical requirements have been identified and purchased. Launching this new program required significant basic counter surveillance training for our agents and more importantly for the local nationals hired to perform this work. These teams have effectively enabled us to expand our security perimeter.

Recognizing our computer systems’ vulnerabilities to hackers and cyber terrorists in today’s information age, DS established an intrusion network detection program. This program provides warnings and indications of cyber attacks.

The list of our material accomplishments is significant; however, the largest and most time-consuming construction projects remain. Too many US Embassies and Consulates still fall below the acceptable physical security standard for distance or setback from roads, which remains our biggest vulnerability and a Department priority to fix. New Embassy construction from site selection to project completion takes an average of two to three years. Approximately thirty-five new Embassy buildings are currently on line for construction. Also, the Main State building in Washington is marked for internal physical and technical security upgrades. This construction will enhance our access control policies and ultimately provide additional layers of defense.

The reality of many of our facilities’ continued vulnerability to large car bombs and the apparent weakness of internal barriers and systems at Main State have forced us to change the way we do business.

New Procedures and Programs

Not only have we purchased the material tools to improve security, but also we have changed our policies and procedures to capitalize on their effectiveness. Today all vehicles entering our diplomatic compounds are screened for explosive devices. We have worked vigorously with many foreign governments to close public roads adjacent to our buildings with little or no setback. The Department of State’s renewed prioritization of security concerns has reinvigorated efforts for creative and timely results. In some locations, rather than waiting to build a new building, we have purchased surrounding land or buildings to create setback.

The Accountability Review Boards for the Africa bombings led by Admiral Crowe recommended the formation of a surveillance detection program as an additional counter-terrorism tool. This newly formed and equipped program now provides timely information to decision makers about possible threat indicators overseas. Posts that believe they may have identified possible pre-attack surveillance pass this information to Washington. Once this information is vetted, analysts and managers prepare more accurate vulnerability assessments. This additional variable in the threat analysis equation is a new tool for DS analysts and managers.

Additional Human Resources

We have placed DS agents in 140 new security positions overseas, increasing by 50 percent the number of professionally trained individuals serving abroad. The physical tools we have acquired would be useless if they were not successfully adopted and managed. DS special agents have proven that they possess unique competency and skills in handling the broad spectrum of Department of State security issues. And while we have hired more agents and provided them with basic training, we must continue to invest in their development, which will cement the institutional changes we have initiated.

Also, accepting and responding to the threat of transnational terrorism and our other duties requires a great fluidity of resources including the rapid deployment of special agents. For the long-term stability of our programs and to achieve the proper career development of our agents the hiring of additional personnel is imperative.

Fresh Analytical Models

Accepting the global nature and capability of transnational terrorism, we have redefined our analytical approach to threat analysis and thereby radically altered our perception of vulnerability and defensive needs. This broadened approach challenges existing offices to widen their level of support and focus. No longer do we channel our resources and attention on what appears to be the most vulnerable posts. Today we must be flexible to the ebbs and flows of threat information and establish a baseline for required readiness. This allows us to anticipate rather than to respond to each crisis.

Additionally, our asset protection decision-making model has been altered. The threshold for post closure has been lowered. If a post is vulnerable due to inadequate physical security measures and there is credible threat information, an Embassy may cease operations until the threat is abated. This is now an accepted management model for Ambassadors and the Department. By closing our facilities to the public for a few days or limiting the operating hours during the potential time frame for an attack, we are attempting to disrupt potential attackers. We also are shifting our risk management paradigm to accept short-term closures and reductions without necessarily resorting to wholesale evacuations or closures. This new flexibility and forward action hopefully will deter some detractors and signal an aggressive defense.

New Attitudes

The recent efforts by DS and the entire Department to sensitize employees to security issues have been remarkable. It is clear we have improved the more concrete portions of our mission. Creating an appreciation for security at all levels of the Department is a more intangible effort to change an institutional culture.

Having the proper material tools and analytical models to thwart our nation’s enemies is only part of the solution. Perhaps the more important part of our mission is the sustenance of this new approach and the prioritization of security needs—around the world and at home. Furthermore, the responsibility for good security practices at the Department has been widened beyond DS to include all bureaus.

In order to change people’s attitudes about the importance of security on the job, we believe education is a key element. Successful security programs incorporate employees into the overall security effort. Instead of adopting a hierarchical or a top-down method, which assumes employees don’t need the background information on policy and procedures, we share important information with employees in security briefings. Refresher security briefings are now mandatory and over 9,000 employees have participated. DS is also open to employee concerns and suggestions about security.

The annual process of employee performance evaluation includes the formal outline of job duties in a signed Work Requirements Statement. Under Secretary Albright’s direction, the Department of State’s Bureau of Human Resources has adopted a new policy, which requires employees’ work requirement statements to include a section on the employee’s performance in upholding security regulations. This formal process highlights each employee’s responsibility and the role security plays in everyone’s job and career.

Domestic Focus

Protecting American officials and national security information is equally important at home as it is abroad. Recent security short falls at the Department and the terrorist attacks against the World Trade Center and the Federal Building in Oklahoma City are startling reminders of this need. And effecting change at home is the more difficult area upon which we need to improve. Most of us regard the threat as “over there” somewhere. While we serve overseas most people perceive the threat as more real and are subsequently willing to make lifestyle changes. As we have seen, the end of the Cold War does not mean an end to hostilities toward our country. To believe nobody would dare target us at home is naïve. Continued awareness training and vigilant procedural reviews will help keep the domestic vulnerabilities in focus. But more importantly, it will be our new attitudes, which will serve as our greatest protection.

The Department has tightened security procedures in proportion to the modern day threat. Some of these changes have been unpopular. In particular, the reinforcement of the escort policy for allvisitors to the Department has been ballyhooed by retirees. Let me make clear that the new policy was not aimed at retirees, and it was never the intention of the new policy to bar them from the building. The new policy reinstates a consistent access policy which links the need for unescorted access inside the Main State Department building to individuals with active employment or activities within the Department. In time, hopefully everyone will see this as the acceptable business practice it is.

As much as we have shied away from accepting the necessity for change, it is our duty to ensure change perseveres. Individual employees have the responsibility to adhere to security rules and to promote an atmosphere of security alertness. Failure to do so must be met with appropriate discipline as decided upon by the Bureau of Human Resources. Such measures serve as an institutional deterrent to others. And in fact, most employees at the Department are already committed to ensuring the integrity of our buildings and information.

The Bureau of Diplomatic Security is working to ensure the Department, as an institution, learns from the lessons of the past. The cynical view suggests our nation’s security interests will only be addressed and funded when a tragedy or incident occurs. This must not occur and a continuous effort must be made to ensure that our security measures evolve with the changing threats we face. Now is the time to continue our momentum and focus. Our efforts must be as consistent and steady as those who wish to do us harm.


Issue Date


Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of Diplomatic Security and Director of the Office of Foreign Missions