The Bureau of Diplomatic Security: A Brief History

February 1, 2007

Photo of Diplomatic Security headquarters outside of Washington.
The Bureau of Diplomatic Security headquarters building outside of Washington, D.C. DEPARTMENT OF STATE PHOTO.

The Bureau of Diplomatic Security is the security and law enforcement arm of the U.S. Department of State. Throughout its 90-year history, DS has contributed significantly to the Department's mission and to the national security of the United States.

Historical Visa and Passport Investigative Function

Security within the U.S. Department of State was established formally in 1916 under U.S. Secretary of State Robert Lansing. At that time, the Chief Special Agent also carried the title Special Assistant to the Secretary and reported directly to the Secretary of State on special matters. A handful of agents worked out of Washington, D.C. and New York City and conducted a wide range of sensitive investigations, with a special focus on the operations of foreign agents and their activities in the United States.

DS's authorities pertaining to travel documents were established in 1918, when Congress passed legislation requiring passports for Americans traveling abroad and visas for foreign nationals seeking to enter the United States. Soon thereafter, the Department of State's Chief Special Agent's Office-DS's predecessor-began investigating passport and visa fraud. Ensuring the integrity of the U.S. passport and visa has remained a core responsibility, even as DS's mission continues to evolve to meet the changing security needs of the State Department.

In 1984, in the aftermath of the Beirut terrorist bombings, U.S. Secretary of State George Shultz formed an advisory panel to study the increasing problem of terrorist attacks on U.S. diplomats and facilities overseas. Chaired by retired U.S. Navy Admiral Bobby Inman, the Advisory Panel on Overseas Security (Inman Panel) conducted an exhaustive examination of the Department's security programs. In June 1985, the Inman Panel submitted its recommendations to the Secretary of State, which resulted in the creation of the Bureau of Diplomatic Security and the Diplomatic Security Service. The Inman Panel's recommendations also encompassed ensuring the integrity of U.S. visas and passports. The recommendations were codified by Congress with passage of the Omnibus Diplomatic Security and Antiterrorism Act, which was signed into law by President Reagan on August 27, 1986.

An Established And Unique Global Presence

The tragic 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies in East Africa served as a catalyst to enhance DS's responsibilities for ensuring the security of State Department personnel and facilities. DS partnered with the Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations to establish blast-resistant, yet aesthetically pleasing, office space worldwide. That partnership has resulted in more than 50 new embassy compounds and design innovations that make possible the building of facilities in challenging environments, such as construction of the new embassy compound in Baghdad.

Another outcome of the 1998 East Africa bombings was the expansion of DS's federal law enforcement efforts, engendering a truly global presence and impact. In addition to DS's 25 field and resident offices in the United States, one-third of DS Special Agents are assigned to U.S. embassies and consulates in 159 foreign nations, providing security for 269 U.S. diplomatic posts. No other federal law enforcement agency can boast such a geographically diverse presence in the international law enforcement community. This has allowed DS to forge working relationships with foreign police, security services, and international law enforcement organizations worldwide. In the post-9/11 world, DS's ability to coordinate a myriad of foreign and U.S. local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies to protect U.S. interests is both unparalleled and critical. DS can identify and facilitate the arrests and prosecutions of potential terrorist suspects through this global network before they even reach American shores.


Table of Contents

Mission Statement | Introductory Letter From Assistant Secretary Griffin | The Bureau of Diplomatic Security: A Brief History | Visa and Passport Fraud: An Overview | Introduction | Strategic Goal 1 | Strategic Goal 2 | Strategic Goal 3 | Conclusion | Appendix: Operation Triple X