Eek! Diplomats Union Opposes Creation of Under Secretary for Security — Badda bing badda boom?!

— Domani Spero

The American Foreign Service Association (AFSA), the Foreign Service union recently released its Security Recommendations from its QDDR Security Working Group.

The recommendations available here includes the following number one item:

“We are opposed to the creation of a new Under Secretary for Security. Cross cutting decisions involving security and achieving other national priorities need to be consolidated, not further divided.”

Whaaaaat?  Here is how the AFSA Security Working Group explains it:

Non-concurrence with Decision to Create new Under Secretary for Security 

The Benghazi ARB, the Report of the Independent Panel on Best Practices, and the OIG Special Review of the Accountability Review Board Process all focus on the need to tighten and better focus responsibility for security at senior levels. The independent panel report recommends the creation of a new undersecretary level position for security. We disagree.

The problem is not just security but finding the balance between risk, resources, and the accomplishment of national foreign policy objectives. The result, as the OIG report notes (pg. 4), is that contrary positions tend to be “represented respectively by the Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs and the Under Secretary of State for Management.” Creating a new undersecretary for security will do nothing to resolve this problem and, in fact, is likely to prioritize security over our reason for being in risky locations in the first place. The need is for a single location to reconcile the two perspectives and take responsibility for the resulting decisions. This could either be in the U/S for political affairs or, as the IG recommends, at the level of the Deputy Secretary level but it should not be in a new U/S devoted exclusively to security.

All three reports note the 14-year failure at consistent implementation of similar recommendations made previously. A significant challenge for Department leadership will be to put in place and maintain effective implementation mechanisms. Almost as important will be to convince its personnel that it continues to pay attention once the political heat dies down.

Can we just say that we disagree with AFSA’s disagreement? You really want the policy folks to have the last say on security?  Really?

We have reached out to AFSA to determine who were the members of this Working Group but have not heard anything back. (Have not heard back because no one wants to hear more questions about The Odd Story of “Vetting/Scrubbing” the Tenure/Promotion of 1,800 Foreign Service Employees in the U.S. Senate?)  We understand from interested readers that AFSA is reportedly saying these are not “policy prescriptions” and that “The papers were reviewed and approved by the AFSA Governing Board before they were submitted to the QDDR office at State.”

What is clear as day is that the diplomats union is now on record not just in non-concurrence but in opposing the creation of a new Under Secretary for Security.

Assistant Secretary of Diplomatic Security Gregory B. Starr was asked about this new position during his confirmation hearing, and here is what he said:

[gigya src=’′ allowScriptAccess=’always’ bgcolor=’#ffffff’ quality=’high’ allowFullScreen=’true’ type=’application/x-shockwave-flash’ pluginspage=’’ flashvars=’system=′ align=’middle’ height=’500′ width=‘410′ ]

Prior to Mr. Starr’s nomination and subsequent confirmation as Assistant Secretary for Diplomatic Security, he was appointed to a non-renewable term of five years as the United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Safety and Security in 2009. As head of the UN’s Department of Safety and Security (DSS), he reported directly to the UN Secretary-General.

Mr. Starr’s response to the question on elevating Diplomatic Security to an under secretary position is perhaps not totally surprising.  In the org structure DS reports to M; M being one of the six under secretaries in the State Department.  Can you imagine how it would have been received in Foggy Bottom had he publicly supported the creation of the U/S for Diplomatic Security at the start of his tenure?

Meanwhile, Congress which is now on its 4,487th hearing on Benghazi and counting, has also not been a fan of elevating DS to the under secretary level.  Last year, this is what the HFAC chairman said:

“I won’t endorse a new undersecretary position until the State Department provides the committee with a compelling rationale,” Representative Ed Royce, a California Republican who is chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said. “More bureaucracy is not synonymous with effective security.”

Mr. Starr talks about access to the Secretary and his deputies, Congressman Royce talks about an expanding bureaucracy, and AFSA talks about “consolidation” at “P” or the Deputy Secretary level. The Dems think Pfftt and the GOP is basically still talking about those darn “talking points.”

No one is talking about fixing the “span of control” or the “organizational structure” that needs work.

We’re afraid that we’ll be back talking about this again, unfortunately, at some future heartbreak.

Diplomatic Security: Things were a changin’ in the 1980s

According to, the Department of State, by administrative action, established a Bureau of Diplomatic Security headed by a Director holding a rank equivalent to an Assistant Secretary of State on Nov 4, 1985. The creation of the new Bureau followed recommendations of the Advisory Panel on Overseas Security (the Inman Panel), which studied means of protecting Department personnel and facilities from terrorist attacks. Congress authorized the Bureau, to be headed by an Assistant Secretary of State for Diplomatic Security, in the Omnibus Diplomatic Security and Anti-terrorism Act of Aug 27, 1986 (P.L. 99-399; 100 Stat. 856).

What does not specifically say on its history page is that the creation of the DS bureau was a direct result of the bombing of the Embassy and Marine Barracks in Beirut, Lebanon in 1983.


President Ronald Reagan (far left) and First Lady Nancy Reagan pay their respects to the caskets of the 17 US victims of the 18 April 1983 attack on the United States Embassy in Beirut. (Photo via Wikipedia from the Reagan Library)

President Ronald Reagan (far left) and First Lady Nancy Reagan pay their respects to the caskets of the 17 US victims of the 18 April 1983 attack on the United States Embassy in Beirut.
(Photo via Wikipedia from the Reagan Library)

In the short history of the bureau, there had been four FSOs appointed as assistant secretary and three non-career appointees.  The current assistant secretary, Mr. Starr is the first career security official to lead the DS bureau. Since its inception, the bureau has been relegated to the administrative and management bureaus.  FSO Robert Lamb who was Administration A/S in 1985 assumed duties as Coordinator of the Office of Security. He was designated Director of the Bureau of Diplomatic Security Nov 4, 1985 and appointed Assistant Secretary of State for Diplomatic Security on March 12, 1987.

According to this, Diplomatic Security is responsible for this:

Diplomatic Security  protects the lives of approximately 35,000 U.S. employees under Secretary of State and Chief of Mission authority worldwide, as well as the lives of approximately 70,000 family members of these employees. An additional 40-45,000 locally engaged staff (LES) are also protected during working hours. In sum, with 2,000 special agents, and its network of engineers, couriers, civil service personnel and other critical staff, DS successfully protects almost 150,000 employees and family members during business hours, and about 100,000 U.S. employees and family members around the clock. Approximately 275 foreign service posts abroad, comprising thousands of buildings and residences, also fall under the Department’s responsibility and the DS protective security purview.

Currently, the DS bureau is one of thirteen bureaus including Budget and Planning, Human Resources, Overseas Buildings Operations under the “M” family of offices in the Under Secretary for Management. In essence, the top security official at State is not a security official but a management official.

Badda bing badda boom – Reorganization Sorta Done

The State Department has now created a DAS for High Threat Posts.  The State Department could argue that it has done “DS reorganization” with the creation of a new DAS for High Threat Posts.

The new DAS position for High Threat Posts was announced in November 2012, even before ARB Benghazi issued its report. Did it show the State Department’s quick response  ahead of the curve? Absolutely. The ARB report would later call the creation of the DAS HTP as a “positive first step.” 

Congress was partially mollified, something was being done.  

Just because something is being done doesn’t mean what is being done is what is needed or necessary.

We’ve learned in the Nairobi and Tanzania bombings that those missions were not even high threat posts when they were attacked. Also, in the August 2013 closure of posts in the Middle East and North Africa due to the potential for terrorist attacks, only four of 19 were designated as high threat posts.  And when we last blogged about this, six of the 17 reported new high threat posts  have zero danger pay.  

So why an office and a new DAS for HTP?

We think that the creation of a new DAS for HTP was a band-aid solution that everyone could get behind.  It did not encroach on anyone’s turf, no one had to give up anyone or anything, it did not require new money from Congress, it’s a new desk in the same shop, under the same old structure. It could be done cheaply and fast. Add a well-respected DS agent as A/S and tadaaaa — badda bing badda boom – reorganization sort of done!


Elevating Diplomatic Security — A 14-Year Old Idea Comes Back

Elevating Diplomatic Security in placement and reporting  within the State Department is not a new idea. The Accountability Review Board following the twin bombings of the the US Embassies in Nairobi and Tanzania recommended  in January 1999 that “a single high-ranking officer [be] accountable for all protective security matters.”

13. First and foremost, the Secretary of State should take a personal and active role in carrying out the responsibility of ensuring the security of US diplomatic personnel abroad. It is essential to convey to the entire Department that security is one of the highest priorities. In the process, the Secretary should reexamine the present organizational structure with the objective of clarifying responsibilities, encouraging better coordination, and assuring that a single high-ranking officer is accountable for all protective security matters and has the authority necessary to coordinate on the Secretary’s behalf such activities within the Department of State and with all foreign affairs USG agencies.

The ARB Nairobi/Tanzania was not talking about an assistant secretary, since that position was already in existence since 1985. It clearly was talking about a higher ranking official accountable for security.

August 1998:  The U.S. Embassy in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, in the aftermath of the August 7, 1998, al-Qaida suicide bombing. Eleven Tanzanians, including 7 Foreign Service Nationals, died in the blast, and 72 others were wounded. The same day, al-Qaida suicide bombers launched another near-simultaneous attack on the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi, Kenya, which killed 218 and wounded nearly 5,000 others. (Source: DS Records)

August 1998: The U.S. Embassy in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, in the aftermath of the August 7, 1998, al-Qaida suicide bombing. Eleven Tanzanians, including 7 Foreign Service Nationals, died in the blast, and 72 others were wounded. The same day, al-Qaida suicide bombers launched another near-simultaneous attack on the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi, Kenya, which killed 218 and wounded nearly 5,000 others. (Source: DS Records)

In fact, in the aftermath of the East Africa twin bombings, there was a move to consolidate security and threat intelligence functions under one entity, the Under Secretary for Security, Law Enforcement & Counter Terrorism and having Diplomatic Security report directly to the Secretary of State.

The Cohen-Albright memo proposed combining pertinent security and threat intelligence units into one single unit within the new DS (operational threat intelligence functions of Intelligence & Research (INR), DS Intelligence and Threat Analysis (DS/ITA), and the threat analysis unit of Counter—Terrorism (S/CT). The rationale for this?  That “this will ensure that we have one single entity within the Department responsible for all operational security and threat intelligence, and it also establishes clear, formalized lines of communication and accountability on threat matters with the IC and the Department.”Currently, INR continues to reports directly to the Secretary, CT reports to (J) and ITA remains at DS.

One change that did happen as a result of the twin bombings  was the relocation of RSOs reporting authority from Management Counselors to the Principal Officers at overseas posts.  The (M) at that time, Bonnie Cohen instructed posts that RSOs must now report to, and be evaluated by, DCMS or Principal Officers, rather than their current reporting relationship to administrative counselors. In her memo to Secretary Albright, she wrote: “This will elevate the role of security at posts, ensure that senior post management are engaged in the decision making process of security/threat issues, and establish clear lines of accountability, responsibility and communication. This will correct a number of problems that have arisen by having DS personnel part of the administrative section at post.” See the Cohen to Albright memo here (pdf).

The May 5, 2000 action memo from DS which was approved by Secretary Albright called for placement of  the Bureaus of Diplomatic Security (DS) , International Narcotics and Law Enforcement(INL) and the then Office of the Coordinator for Counter-Terrorism (CT) under this newly created Under Secretary. INL and CT currently reports to the Under Secretary for Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights (J). The new under secretary position proposed and approved in 2000, an election year, never materialized. Secretary Albright was in office until January 19, 2001.  A new administration came into office and in January 20, 2001, Colin L. Powell was appointed Secretary of State by George W. Bush.  See the Carpenter to Albright memo here (pdf).

Similarly, following the Benghazi attacks, the Accountability Review Board Benghazi made the following recommendation in December 2012:

2. The Board recommends that the Department re-examine DS organization and management, with a particular emphasis on span of control for security policy planning for all overseas U.S. diplomatic facilities. In this context, the recent creation of a new Diplomatic Security Deputy Assistant Secretary for High Threat Posts could be a positive first step if integrated into a sound strategy for DS reorganization.

At the Transfer of Remains Ceremony to Honor Those Lost in Attacks in Benghazi, Libya. September 14, 2012. State Department photo by Michael Gross

At the Transfer of Remains Ceremony to Honor Those Lost in Attacks in Benghazi, Libya. September 14, 2012. State Department photo by Michael Gross


The Independent Panel on Best Practices was the result of the ARB Benghazi recommendation that the State Department established a Panel of outside independent experts with experience in high threat, high risk areas to support the Bureau of Diplomatic Security, identify best practices from other agencies and countries and regularly evaluate security platforms in high risk, high threat posts.  The panel headed by former USSS Director Mark Sullivan made one thing clear:

“One clear and overarching recommendation, crucial to the successful and sustainable implementation of all of the recommendations in this report, is the creation of an Under Secretary for Diplomatic Security.”

Aaand, we’re back exactly where we were in the late 1990s when  Booz Allen was asked to look under the rocks on all security concerns about the Department cited in the Inman Panel Report and Admiral Crowe’s Accountability Review Boards and tasked with providing recommendations and best practices to the State Department.

Do you get a feeling that we’ve been going round and round in circle here?


Under Secretary for Diplomatic Security – Signed, Sealed, Delivered – and Ignored?

We should note here that the  Independent Panel on Best Practices (IPoBP) report is not locatable at the State Department’s website.  The August 2013 report is available here via Al Jazeera. U.S. taxpayers paid for the Panel members to  go look under the rocks, interview hundreds of people, write up their report, and the report is only retrievable from AJAM? Seven months after the report was issued, the State Department’s Deputy Secretary Heather Higginbottom met with members of the Best Practices Panel on March 26, 2014.

These two items tell us the clear importance placed by the bureaucracy on the recommendations of outside independent experts. It’s like — it’s done, now go away.

We suspect that had the Independent Panel on Best Practices report did not make it to AJAM, we may not have been able to read it. A copy was also given to The New York Times by someone who felt it was important to publicize the panel’s findings on diplomatic security.

The Best Practices report says that “crucial to the successful and sustainable implementation of all of the recommendations in this report, is the creation of an Under Secretary for Diplomatic Security.”

If this position is created, it would be the seventh under secretary position at the State Department. It would join two other “Security” bureaus: Arms Control and International Security (T) and Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights (J). It would be at par with its previous home, Management (M). It would be on equal footing with Political Affairs (P). It would control a significant security budget and about 2,000 special agents, and its network of engineers, couriers, civil service personnel , other critical staff and contractors. It could draw bureaus from other under secretaries, similar to the ones approved in 1999 and never implemented, into the DS orbit.  Most importantly, it would report directly to the Secretary of State:  one accountable security official with the authority necessary to manage on the Secretary’s behalf security matters  within the Department of State and with all foreign affairs USG agencies.

That’s a lot of change. There will be tooth and nail fights on lots of corridors.  The new Deputy Secretary Higginbottom will have lots of friends who will borrow her ears. And the bureaucracy will go on self-preservation mode.

One good news if this happens?  There will be no pointing fingers at each other when something horrible happens.  We’ll have one accountable official to drag before Congress.

Speaking of “T” and “J”, a diplomatic security agent asked, “Does that mean we give more importance to ‘international security’ and ‘civilian security’ than we give to our own personnel?”

Does it?


DS Doesn’t Need to be in the Room?

At posts overseas, the Regional Security Officer reports to the Ambassador not the Management Counselor (see the Cohen  to Albright memo here).  The Best Practices report notes that this  “direct line of authority from the Ambassador to the RSO, utilizing the Country Team and Emergency Action Committee when necessary, was seen as critical to effective post security management and responding to dynamic threats.”In part, the report says:

[A]t the headquarters level, the same clear lines of authority and understanding of responsibilities are not as well defined or understood. This has led to stove-piped support to posts and lack of understanding of security related coordination requirements among DS, the Under Secretary for Management, and the Regional Bureaus, as noted by the Benghazi ARB. In fact, some senior Foreign Service officers and DS Agents who met with the Panel identified the Under Secretary for Management (M) as the senior security official in the Department responsible for final decision making regarding critical security requirements.
Among various Department bureaus and personnel in the field, there appeared to be very real confusion over who, ultimately, was responsible and empowered to make decisions based both on policy and security considerations. “
Diplomatic Security is only one of eleven diverse support and administrative functions reporting to the Under Secretary for Management. This is a significant span of control issue and, if unaddressed, could contribute to future security management failures, such as those that occurred in Benghazi.


So moving DS into an under secretary position under S simply mirrors what is already happening at posts overseas. Except that like everything else in a bureaucracy, it’s complicated.

AFSA says that creating a new under secretary for security will not resolve the contrary positions that typically resides between Management (M) and Political Affairs (P) and would “likely result in prioritizing security” over the reason for being in risky locations in the first place.

A DS agent who supports the creation of a U/S for DS explained it to us this way:

“What they really mean is that security considerations raised by a DS U/S would have to be given equal  weight to the other reasons for being in a risky location.”

What we’re told is that all the other under secretaries and assistant secretaries have to do right now is convinced “M” that they need to be at location X.  They do not need to work with DS at all. “When  D is getting briefed, DS doesn’t even have to be in the room.” 

Now, that might explain why DS professionals have very strong feelings about this.

So what if it’s going to be a three-way bureaucratic shootout?

You might have heard that Benghazi has flared up once more.  Take a look at this screen grab from one of the emails recently released via FOIA by the State Department to Judicial Watch.  Who’s missing from this email?

Screen Shot 2014 email fogarty

A Staff Assistant to the Secretary, received an update from the A/S NEA about Benghazi and passed on the update to the senior officials in Foggy Bottom. You’d expect an update from a diplomatic security official, but as you can see in the email header, neither the sender nor the source of this email is even Diplomatic Security.

One more thing –we have occasionally heard what goes on at posts before it goes on evacuation. At one post, the Front Office did not want to go on evac because it was concerned it would become an “unaccompanied post” and thereafter limit the quality of bidders it would get during the assignment season. The decision whether post should go on authorized or ordered departure does not reside with the security professionals but with management and geographic officials.

So basically, if this  U/S for Security position becomes a reality, instead of a bureaucratic shootout between P and M, there would be a three-way shootout between P, M and DS.  In addition to policy  and resource consideration, the bureaucracy will be expected to give security considerations equal  weight when standing up a presence in a risky location or on any matter with a security component.  If the three could not sort it out, the Deputy Secretary or the Secretary would have the last say.

The Best Practices Panel says that “An effective security function must be co-equal to the other organizational
components and have a “seat at the table” to ensure strategic accountability, common understanding of risk, and corresponding mitigation options and costs.

Frankly, we cannot find a reason to argue with that, can you?

Are we doing this again in 2025?

Here is a blast from the past:

The Under Secretary would coordinate on your behalf all operational threat intelligence and security issues with other USG agencies.[…] This reorganization offers better command, control and accountability of Departmental security functions and responsibilities; streamlines the flow of security and threat intelligence information with DS as the focal point for the intelligence agencies; sends a strong signal to the Hill and others that we are taking security seriously by this reorganization; addresses the ARBs‘ findings; and institutionalizes the security apparatus at State to reflect a robust, progressive and disciplined approach to security, which is unaffected by political or personal preferences.

 That reorganization was never implemented. And here we are back to where we were some 14 years ago.

Are we going to do this again in 2025?

* * *

P.S. We’d be happy to put together the top ten reasons for and against the creation of an Under Secretary of  for Security. Send your contributions here by this Friday. The names of contributors, for obvious reasons, will not be published. If we get enough submissions, we’ll blogit.


Related items:

Report of the Accountability Review Boards on the Embassy Bombings in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam on August 7, 1998 | January 1999:

Accountability Review Board (ARB) Report on Benghazi Attack of September 11, 2012 (pdf) (Unclassified) December 2012 | More documents here:

The Independent Panel on Best Practices | August 2013 (pdf) via Al Jazeera





Enhanced by Zemanta