In September 2020, the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association (FLEOA) announced that six special agents with the U.S. Department of State’s Diplomatic Security Service (DSS) received the FLEOA’s 2019 National Award for Uncommon Valor for defending the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, Iraq, against a violent, coordinated attack on December 31, 2019.
On New Year’s Eve, Special Agents Michael Yohey, of Fredericksburg, Virginia, John Huey of Atlanta, Georgia, Evan Tsurumi of New York, Thomas Kurtzweil of Jacksonville, North Carolina, Michael Ross from Canton, Michigan, and Ian MacKenzie, from St. Louis, Missouri, responded immediately to a large group of angry protesters gathering outside the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad. The protesters laid siege to the compound, throwing Molotov cocktails, rocks and projectiles over the walls. According to the FLEOA award nomination, the protesters continued their barrage against the U.S. diplomatic post for 36 hours, during which they briefly breached one of the compound access control facilities, setting fire to anything they could find while continuing to hurl rocks, Molotov cocktails, and other projectiles.
According to the award nomination, “The DSS agents, understanding the gravity of the situation and global impact a lethal response would have, held fast and deployed less-than-lethal munitions to repel the intruders…. The DSS agents and [emergency response teams] were the last line of defense protecting the over 1,300 employees and staff that live and work on the compound.”
After driving protesters out of the embassy, the special agents began fortifying the gates, putting out fires, and bolstering physical and technical security. Throughout the day and into the evening, the team of DSS special agents, the embassy’s local guard force, Marine Security Guards, and security technical experts deterred protesters that kept trying to gain access to the embassy.
DSS was the only defense against the mob of more than 3,000 protesters until the afternoon of January 1, 2020, when Iraqi Security Forces finally pushed the angry crowd back from the embassy. As the award nomination notes, “Without the sustained response of the DSS personnel and the contract support staff, there would…have been more property damage and possible casualties…. [T]heir actions prevented the escalation of violence.”
For these actions, the entire DSS security team has been nominated for the State Department’s Heroism Award.
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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