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The Beginning
World War I – Diplomatic Security, Diplomatic Couriers and Special Agents
The 1920s and 1930s – The Bannerman Years: Consolidation and Growing Threats
World War II – Supporting Allied Victory
1945 to 1963 – Postwar & Cold War years: Creating the Office of Security (SY)
1964 to 1983 – From Vietnam to the Rise of Global Terrorism>
1984 to 1999 – Creating the Diplomatic Security Service: SY Transforms to DSS
2000s and Beyond – Frontlines of Diplomacy

 

The Beginning

Joseph M. “Bill” Nye, the U.S. Department of State’s first Chief Special Agent, 1917-1920. (Library of Congress)

From the American Revolution through the early 1900s, U.S. foreign policy focused on establishing and preserving the nation, developing international trade, expanding national borders, and asserting regional interests.

During this era, when American representatives overseas primarily conducted business and trade, diplomatic security was mainly concerned with ensuring private channels of communication between Washington, D.C., and the nation’s emissaries and consuls.

During the American Revolution, a network of dispatch ships, forwarding agents, and dispatch agents, working with sea captains and trusted merchants, helped ensure the safe delivery of vital correspondence.

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The 15 U.S. Army Officers who served as the first Diplomatic Couriers. They were assigned to the U.S. Embassy in Paris, France in 1918. Courier founder, Major Amos J. Peaslee (center) is flanked by the first group of couriers. The U.S. Army’s Silver Greyhounds were assigned to the U.S. Embassy in Paris in 1918 as part of the Delegation to Negotiate Peace, becoming the first dedicated group of diplomatic couriers in U.S. history. (U.S. Department of State photo)


World War I – Diplomatic Security, Diplomatic Couriers and Special Agents

The threats of World War I, combined with the United States’ emerging role as a world power, led the State Department in 1916 to establish the Office of the Chief Special Agent – a dedicated group of professionals committed to diplomatic security. [Read More]

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The 1920s and 1930s – The Bannerman Years: Consolidation and Growing Threats

The Office of the Chief Special Agent suffered postwar cuts despite being tasked with expanded duties. Robert C. Bannerman became Chief Special Agent (1920-1940) and established practices for protecting visiting dignitaries and investigating fraud. In the 1930s, the detection of widespread passport and visa fraud provided early warnings of the extent of enemy spy networks.  [Read More]

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World War II – Supporting Allied Victory

World War II expanded and solidified diplomatic security as a vital function of the State Department. Leading up to the war, and well into the 1960s, the State Department faced diplomatic security threats from espionage.

As World War II approached its final stages in late 1944, U.S. officials found that security functions were scattered across multiple offices and divisions, and State Department officials favored centralizing diplomatic security responsibilities into a single entity. In 1945, the State Department established the new Division of Security. After the war, the State Department elevated the division to office status, creating the Office of Security and assigning special agents to field offices in the United States and to embassies overseas. [Read More]

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Secretary of State Dean Rusk speaks to a graduating class of Marine Security Guards (MSG). During the 1950s, the Department and the Marine Corps made significant changes to the MSG training program, including the addition of an on-the-job component (at Main State) and the development of a Marine Security Guard Handbook. Source: Department of State Records, National Archives and Records Administration.

1945 to 1963 – Postwar & Cold War Years: Creating the Office of Security (SY)

Following the Allied victory in 1945, the United States attained superpower status and oversaw global responsibilities while countering the growing threat of international communism. The State Department established an expanded Office of Security (known for the next four decades by the abbreviation SY) that began a formal partnership with the U.S. Marine Corps for embassy security guards.

During the following two decades, the State Department expanded technical security efforts overseas to combat the growing threat of espionage. In the United States, after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, the State Department increased its protection of visiting foreign dignitaries. [Read More]

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1964 to 1983 – From Vietnam to the Rise of Global Terrorism

The Vietnam War affected international perceptions of the United States and ended with the withdrawal of U.S. military forces from Vietnam and the fallen Saigon. Terrorism and threats to diplomats from the late 1960s through the 1980s transformed SY into today’s Bureau of Diplomatic Security. Terrorism and increasing attacks on U.S. diplomats dramatically altered security for overseas diplomatic posts. After the 1983 suicide bombings that killed hundreds at the U.S. embassy and U.S. Marine Corps barracks in Beirut, a congressional panel recommended the creation of the Bureau of Diplomatic Security and its “principle element,” the Diplomatic Security Service (DSS).   [READ MORE]

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Omnibus Diplomatic Security and Antiterrorism Act

1984 to 1999 – Creating the Diplomatic Security Service: SY Transforms to DSS

President Reagan signed the Omnibus Diplomatic Security and Antiterrorism Act in 1986, providing increased funding to the Bureau of Diplomatic Security.

The security improvements and initiatives developed and implemented during the 1980s and 1990s helped DSS adjust to heightened security threats.

DSS initiated the Rewards for Justice Program; expanded its criminal investigations; increased its role in protecting the Secretary of State; improved security at State Department buildings in the United States with the creation of the Uniformed Security Division; and created the Overseas Security Advisory Council and the Antiterrorism Assistance Program.

The end of the Cold War reshaped U.S. diplomacy, evolving with a new focus on multilateral cooperation and support for emerging democracies, taking diplomats into increasingly high-risk situations.

Following the August 7, 1998, terrorist bombings of the U.S. Embassies in Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania, and Nairobi, Kenya, the State Department invested billions of dollars to improve systems and facilities and increase security staffing to protect personnel and their dependents around the world. [READ MORE]

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2000s and Beyond – Frontlines of Diplomacy

Since the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, DSS has played an even more critical role in securing the State Department’s overseas operations. With more than 2,000 special agents assigned to DSS field offices in the United States and to U.S. embassies and consulates in more than 175 countries, DSS is the most widely represented U.S. security and law enforcement organization around the world. [READ MORE]

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