Securing Our Embassies Overseas

Gate at U.S. EmbassyThe Secretary of State, and by extension, the Chief of Mission (COM), are responsible for developing and implementing security policies and programs that provide for the protection of all U.S. Government personnel (including accompanying dependents) on official duty abroad. This mission is executed through the Bureau of Diplomatic Security (DS). Personal and facility protection are the most critical elements of the DS mission abroad as they directly impact upon the Department’s ability to carry out its foreign policy. With terrorist organizations and coalitions operating across international borders, the threat of terrorism against U.S. interests remains great. Therefore, any U.S. mission overseas can be a target even if identified as being in a low-threat environment.

As a result, DS is more dedicated than ever to its mission of providing a secure living and working environment for our Foreign Service colleagues as they implement foreign policy and promote U.S. interests around the world. Nearly 800 DS special agents serve in regional security offices at over 250 posts worldwide. The DS special agents, also called regional security officers (RSOs) when serving abroad, manage security programs and also provide the first line of defense for our personnel, their families, U.S. diplomatic missions, and national security information. RSOs serve as the primary advisor to the COM on all security matters by developing and implementing security programs that shield U.S. missions and residences overseas from physical and technical attack.

RSOs, in concert with other U.S. Government agencies represented at post, formulate plans to deal with various emergency contingencies, including defining emergency management responsibilities for incidents ranging from hostage taking to evacuations. Often, in times of crisis and political instability, RSOs rely on the U.S. military for assistance. Unified commands have the capability to supply post with combat-equipped troops, e.g., Fleet Anti-Terrorism Security Teams (FAST), to augment post security requirements.

RSOs are the primary liaison with foreign police and security services overseas in support of U.S. law enforcement initiatives and investigations. Much of the investigative and law enforcement liaison work accomplished by RSOs abroad is on behalf of other federal, state, and local agencies. DS has achieved noteworthy success in locating and apprehending hundreds of wanted fugitives who have fled the United States.

RSOs also provide unclassified security briefings and other professional security advice to U.S. businesses, academia, faith-based groups, and non-governmental organizations as part of the Overseas Security Advisory Council (OSAC) Country Program, which has as its primary goal an effective security communication network.

RSOs face a tremendous challenge in implementing a mission’s security program, and it cannot be handled alone. In the challenge to safeguard our personnel and sensitive information overseas, DS security engineering officers (SEOs) augment the efforts of the security office. SEOs are the primary developers and implementers of technical security policy and regulations. They design or develop, implement, and manage security equipment programs at our missions abroad. In a constantly evolving technical environment, SEOs are responsible for detecting and preventing loss of sensitive information from technical espionage.

In addition to SEOs, RSOs depend upon Marine Security Guards, U.S. Navy Seabees, surveillance detection teams, local guards, cleared American guards, local investigators, host government officials, and other DS elements domestically and abroad to provide assistance in combating criminal, intelligence, and terrorist threats against U.S. interests worldwide. These entities play a crucial role in the DS security efforts overseas.

At our highest threat posts, RSOs may often require further security assistance. In those instances, DS dispatches Mobile Security Teams from Washington to conduct training for embassy personnel, their dependents, and local guards in protective tactics such as attack recognition, self-defense, hostage survival, and defensive driving. These teams also provide emergency security support to overseas posts, including protective security for COMs, surveillance detection operations, and assistance with post evacuations. In cases where the host country is either unable or unwilling to provide necessary security for the conduct of American diplomacy, specially trained DS special agents lead contractor-provided personal protection teams and guard services in areas of ongoing conflict.

Following the bombings of the U.S. Embassies in Dar es Salaam (Tanzania) and Nairobi (Kenya) in 1998, security countermeasures for our U.S. missions overseas took on greater importance, and this continues today.

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