In September 2020, the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association (FLEOA) announced that a U.S. Department of State Diplomatic Security Service (DSS) security team received FLEOA’s 2019 National Award for a Special Event for safely evacuating State Department personnel and closing temporarily the U.S. Embassy in Caracas, Venezuela, amid upheaval and instability in the region.
On Jan. 23, 2019, Nicolás Maduro of Venezuela broke diplomatic relations with the United States, ordering all U.S. diplomatic personnel to leave the country within 72 hours. While State Department personnel packed their belongings, the DSS security team began implementing its emergency action plan to secure the embassy while making sure more than 100 U.S. employees and their families safely departed Caracas.
As the law enforcement and security arm of the U.S. Department of State, DSS is charged with protecting department facilities, people, and information. When a U.S. diplomatic mission is evacuated or closed, DSS is the last to depart, making sure everyone and every item are safe and secure.
Deputy Regional Security Officer (RSO) and DSS Special Agent Michele Collins of Brick, New Jersey; Assistant RSO and Special Agent Kathleen Rendeiro of Ashburn, Virginia; and Diplomatic Courier Paul Witte accompanied State Department diplomats and over 4600 kilograms of classified diplomatic material back to Washington, D.C.
After the U.S. diplomats left, the department negotiated a 30-day window with Maduro to evacuate fully the embassy. RSO and Supervisory Special Agent Patrick Mills of Chicago, Illinois; and Assistant RSOs and Special Agents Joel Gomez of Ashburn, Virginia, Kareem Parson of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and Duran Coats of Charleston, South Carolina; along with Security Engineering Officer Alan Bishop of Colorado Springs, Colorado; Security Technical Specialist Nancy Rhodes of Westminster, Colorado; and 15 Marine Security Guards (MSGs) had a few short weeks to wrap-up work and fully secure the embassy.
Although the DSS team previously had shipped tons of sensitive and classified information back to State Department headquarters via DSS diplomatic couriers, many important duties remained. Facing daily threats and a breakdown of the country’s infrastructure, the DSS team continued to implement its closure plan, keeping senior officials in Washington, D.C., apprised of the situation. The team provided daily security updates, continued investigating global transnational threats and even helped a U.S. media crew depart the country when it faced serious threat. The special agents, technical security personnel, and MSGs – with the help of Diplomatic Courier Sean Fonseca – removed an additional 1600 kilograms of classified and sensitive material, secured classified spaces, and locked up the compound as they left.
The final 23 State Department personnel left Venezuela on March 14, 2019. The U.S. diplomatic post remains closed for the time being.
DSS has the largest global presence of any U.S. law enforcement organization, operating at more than 270 U.S. diplomatic posts in over 170 countries, and in 32 U.S. cities. The organization is responsible for investigating transnational crimes and for protecting State Department facilities, people, and information.
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