GAO Report: Diplomatic Security Needs Strategic Review

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The Government Accountability Office had just released its report titled Diplomatic Security’s Recent Growth Warrants Strategic Review (GAO-10-156 November 2009). It lists down Diplomatic Security’s policy and operational challenges.

First, according to Diplomatic Security officials, State is maintaining missions in countries where it would have previously evacuated personnel, which requires more resources and, therefore, makes it more difficult for Diplomatic Security to provide a secure environment.

Second, although Diplomatic Security has grown considerably in staff over the last 10 years, staffing shortages in domestic offices and other operational challenges further tax Diplomatic Security’s ability to implement all of its missions.

Finally, State has expanded Diplomatic Security without the benefit of solid strategic planning; neither State’s departmental strategic plan nor Diplomatic Security’s bureau strategic plan specifically addresses the bureau’s resource needs or its management challenges.

The GAO report also gives an overview of the impact of the missions in Iraq and Afghanistan on Diplomatic Security:


Staffing the Iraq mission:
As previously discussed, staffing the large number of special agents at the Iraq embassy has drawn staff away from other missions and offices. Iraq is a critical threat post; therefore, Diplomatic Security fills it and other critical threat posts first. In 2008, 81 Diplomatic Security special agents—or 16 percent of Diplomatic Security staff—were posted to Iraq for 1-year tours. To fill this need, State officials reported that special agents frequently leave positions in other countries before completing the end of their tours to serve in Iraq. In 2008, we reported that, in order to provide enough Diplomatic Security special agents in Iraq, Diplomatic Security had to move agents from other programs, and those moves have affected the agency’s ability to perform other missions, including providing security for visiting dignitaries and visa, passport, and identity fraud investigations.

Afghanistan is currently Diplomatic Security’s second largest overseas post with a staff of 16 special agents in 2008, which increased to 22 special agents in 2009. As of April 2009, Diplomatic Security was responsible for the security of approximately 300 authorized U.S. civilian personnel, although Diplomatic Security expects that number to increase if State opens consular offices in the cities of Herat and Mazar-e-Sherif. While Diplomatic Security has not been placing a special agent in every contractor-led convoy, as in Iraq, Diplomatic Security plans to increase the use of Diplomatic Security staff for all convoys. To address these changes, Diplomatic Security plans to add an additional 25 special agents in 2010, effectively doubling the number of agents in Afghanistan.

Other operational challenges that impede the Diplomatic Security’s ability to fully implement its missions and activities were also indentified including two glaring ones on foreign language deficiencies and experience gaps. Excerpted from report:


Foreign language deficiencies:
Earlier this year, GAO found that 53 percent of RSOs do not speak and read at the level required by their positions. According to officials in Diplomatic Security, language training for security officers is often cut short because many ambassadors are unwilling to leave security positions vacant. However, GAO concluded that these foreign language shortfalls could be negatively affecting several aspects of U.S. diplomacy, including security operations. For example, an officer at a post of strategic interest said because she did not speak the language, she had transferred a sensitive telephone call from a local informant to a local employee, which could have compromised the informant’s identity.


Experience gaps:
Thirty-four percent of Diplomatic Security’s positions (not including those in Baghdad) are filled with officers below the position’s grade. In a previous publication, GAO reported that experience gaps can compromise diplomatic readiness. In addition, Diplomatic Security officials stated that these gaps between the experience level required by the position and the experience level of the employee assigned can affect the quality of Diplomatic Security’s work. For example, several ARSOs with whom we met were in their first overseas positions and stated that they did not feel adequately prepared for their job, particularly their responsibility to manage large security contracts.

The GAO concludes that “Diplomatic Security faces human capital challenges, such as inexperienced staff and foreign language proficiency shortfalls. The implications of this growth—in conjunction with the potential for increased challenges in Iraq, Afghanistan, and other hostile environments as well as the management challenges listed above— have not been strategically reviewed by the department. Nevertheless, State leadership acknowledges the importance of broad strategic planning, as evidenced by the Secretary’s new QDDR, which is intended to ensure people, programs, and resources serve the highest priorities at State.”

According to the State Department’s response to this report, there is no current plan to conduct a strategic review of Diplomatic Security’s mission and capabilities under the QDDR, but it still mentioned the QDDR’s overall strategic focus on building operational and resource platforms for success” in its response. See State’s full response in Appendix X.

For the next several months, State can point to the QDDR as the possible response to the different challenges ranging from foreign assistance to human capital challenges and all that ails State. But the QDDR is not expected to be completed until summer or fall of 2010 (I hear that an interim report could be released early next year), half-way through this administration’s first term.

Let’s see what else DS, the American Academy of Diplomacy and AFSA might add to this report. The GAO as well as Ambassador Eric J. Boswell, A/Secretary of State for Diplomatic Security, Ambassador Ronald E. Neumann, (Ret.) of the American Academy of Diplomacy and Susan R. Johnson of the American Foreign Service Association will be at the Senate tomorrow, December 9 for The Diplomat’s Shield: Diplomatic Security in Today’s World hearing (Dirksen Senate Office Building, room 342, 2:30 PM).

Related Item:
GAO-10-156 State Department: Diplomatic Security’s Recent Growth Warrants Strategic Review | November 2009 | PDF


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Confirmed: US Reps to 64th General Assembly of the UN

The following nominees were confirmed by the US Senate yesterday to be U.S. Representatives to the 64th General Assembly of the United Nations (UNGA):

PN1001
Bill Delahunt, of Massachusetts, to be a Representative of the United States of America to the Sixty-fourth Session of the General Assembly of the United Nations.

PN1002
Elaine Schuster, of Florida, to be a Representative of the United States of America to the Sixty-fourth Session of the General Assembly of the United Nations.

PN1003
Christopher H. Smith, of New Jersey, to be a Representative of the United States of America to the Sixty-fourth Session of the General Assembly of the United Nations.

PN1005
Wellington E. Webb, of Colorado, to be an Alternate Representative of the United States of America to the Sixty-fourth Session of the General Assembly of the United Nations.

PN1016
Laura Gore Ross, of New York, to be an Alternate Representative of the United States of America to the Sixty-fourth Session of the General Assembly of the United Nations.


CONFIRMATIONS — (Senate – December 07, 2009)

[Page: S12646] GPO’s PDF

Diplomat in One Very Hot Oven

Senior Canadian diplomat Richard Colvin testified at a House of Commons committee in mid November that he warned the Canadian government and military officials that Afghan detainees being turned over by Canadian soldiers were being tortured.

“[O]ur actions were counter to our own stated policies. In April 2007, Prime Minister Stephen Harper said publicly that “Canadian military officials don’t send individuals off to be tortured.” That was indeed our official policy. But behind the military’s wall of secrecy, that, unfortunately, is exactly what we were doing.”

A longer excerpt from his testimony is in The Globe and Mail website here.

The push back came quickly, of course. The Globe and Mail reported two days later that “The Harper government devoted the day to a public-relations counteroffensive against Mr. Colvin through phone calls and e-mails to reporters, as well as Mr. MacKay’s attacks. It painted the career diplomat’s testimony as groundless and “ridiculous” and suggested his reports of torture ultimately stem from Taliban propaganda.”

“We are being asked to accept testimony from people who throw acid in the faces of schoolchildren and who blow up buses of civilians in their own country,” Defense Minister Peter MacKay reportedly told the Commons on November 19.

Today, several somebodies finally came forward to defend Mr. Colvin. Steven Chase and Campbell Clark reports that twenty-three former ambassadors are speaking out against the Harper government’s attacks on the diplomat’s credibility, saying that Ottawa’s response to his Afghan detainee abuse testimony threatens to cast a chill over Canada’s foreign service. More from the report:

The ex-heads of Canadian diplomatic missions say in a letter released to the media that they’re worried the treatment of Mr. Colvin will discourage diplomats from reporting frankly to Ottawa from their foreign postings.

“The Colvin affair risks creating a climate in which officers may be more inclined to report what they believe headquarters wants to hear, rather than facts and perceptions deemed unpalatable,” the ex-ambassadors say.

“A fundamental requirement of a foreign service officer is that he or she report on a given situation as observed or understood,” the former heads of mission said. “It is only in this way that any government can draw conclusions knowledgeably and make its considered decisions, even if at variance with the reports received.”

Read the whole thing here.

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Will the Afghanistan Civilian Surge Go Super Surge?

It looks like the much touted 974 figure is just a “down-payment” to the “total” civilian surge to Afghanistan. SRAP deputy Paul Jones is now talking about more civilian advisers to Afghanistan beyond the 974 expected to get there in early 2010. Ambassador Holbrooke’s deputy was over at the American Enterprise Institute yesterday and had this to say:

The President will soon request from Congress the resources needed to implement this focused civilian effort. His request will include not only a sizable increase in civilian assistance, but also funds to support deployment of additional civilian experts beyond the roughly 1,000 U.S. government civilians who will be on the ground by early next year. These civilians will help build Afghan governance and private sector capacity. In the field, they will work from District Support Teams and PRTs, side by side with our military. Some will also extend our permanent diplomatic presence outside of Kabul by staffing new consulates in Mazar-e-Sharif and Herat.

We are now in the midst of the civilian surge. I spoke last Thursday at the Foreign Service Institute with a class of 90 experts from USAID, USDA and State who will be deploying before Christmas; the next such class is in two weeks, so our tempo is quick. On Friday, I met with a packed room of Foreign Service Officers looking to sign-up for tours in 2010 and beyond. Next week, I’ll travel to Camp Atterbury, Indiana, where every civilian deploying to the field undergoes a week-long, realistic, intensive field exercise with our military counterparts.

Secretary Clinton is proud of noting that among these civilians are our top experts from 10 different U.S. government departments and agencies. And once deployed, they report to our Embassy in Kabul through a unified civilian chain of command, with senior civilian representatives at every civ-mil platform. In short, our selection, training and leadership is better than ever before. The result is improved civ-mil coordination at all levels of our effort in Afghanistan, and gives us the civilian expertise out in key districts that will allow our locally-focused strategy to succeed. Admiral Mullen attested to the quality of the civilians during his appearance before the Congress last Thursday.

See Mr. Jones’ full remarks at the AEI here.

Although we now know that there are 10 participating agencies, we still do not have a breakdown of which agencies are going to Afghanistan, and how many staff they are contributing to this effort. We also still do not have the breakdown sector-wide of these civilian experts.

And – some of you may know this, but I still have no idea where the larger part of the 974 are coming from. See my previous post 974 to Afghanistan for the Civilian Surge. Or where are they going to get the “beyond” 1,000 civilian experts now planned.


I also almost forgot to mention – this OIG report from August 2009 indicates that there are “nearly four life support and personal security contractors to every one U.S. Government staff member at these Regional Embassy Offices and Regional Reconstruction Team.” That report was on the regional embassy staffing in Iraq. Note that Mr. Jones above has the “District Support Teams and PRTs” in Afghanistan –different name but I suspect, functionally similar to REOs in Iraq.

Afghanistan is in a far worse state than Iraq, of course, but if we go by the Iraq calculation rounded down, that 974 civilian surge number actually means additional life support and personal security personnel of 2,922 or a total surge of 3,896 individuals (life support and protective services normally handled by contractors).

On a related note, Laura Rozen of Politico has posted a December 5 memo from retired General Barry R McCaffrey, who is now adjunct professor of International Affairs at West Point. The memo “provides a strategic and operational assessment of security operations in Afghanistan.” In it the general says that the “civilian agency surge will essentially not happen” – see below:

“The international civilian agency surge will essentially not happen —although State Department officers, US AID, CIA, DEA, and the FBI will make vital contributions. Afghanistan over the next 2-3 years will be simply too dangerous for most civil agencies.”

A bunch of folks would have something to say about that from Foggy Bottom to Pennsylvania Avenue.