We received the following from Sender A, writing anonymously “I would happily critique or call out any regional or functional bureau in the Department of State under my true name, but I do not believe it would be safe to do the same in this case.” The writer says he/she had over 30 years of experience with the State Department, with almost all overseas service at differential posts. Service in Washington, D.C. included top ranking positions at more than one bureau. –D
~ * * * ~
Warrior Culture, Militarization, and Diplomatic Security
I’m puzzled that, with all the attention being paid to policing and law enforcement reform in the wake of the murder of George Floyd, no one seems to have instigated any scrutiny of the policies and practices of Diplomatic Security. Watching the heavily armed, camouflage clad federal officers operating in Portland certainly demonstrated that federal law enforcement in general has become significantly militarized; the same is true, in my experience of DS. Given the shortfall in consular revenue and the likely upcoming budget impact of coronavirus, it seems to me that a genuine cost/benefit analysis of Diplomatic Security and its practices is overdue. My hope is to start this discussion.
As a retiree and former Chief of Mission, I’ve observed with dismay for many years the militarization of diplomatic security and the proliferation of “security theater” by which I mean practices don’t actually make us safer but make the practitioners feel more powerful. At my COM post, with a new secure chancery in a low threat country, the entry procedure for visitors (including mine) was so onerous that most contacts were unwilling to meet with me in my office. They invariably preferred to meet in restaurants, which tells you something about the real level of threat. Despite three years of trying, I was unable to make much of a dent in this. I also saw a lot of security theater during tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. The emphasis on weapons (the heavier the better), vehicles, and security technology often outweighed any reliance on cultural or political understanding and mostly served to keep very expensive American employees hunkered down inside US facilities.
The militarization of the State Department, while most acute in DS, is not confined thereto. It reached a peak during the GW Bush presidency, when Sec. Rice constantly exhorted us to become “expeditionary.” While the warrior diplomat model seems to have waned, especially in light of the limited and often short-lived results of the Provincial Reconstruction Team experiment (gains accomplished at great risk and high cost in lives), the warrior ethos remains strong in DS.
Consider also the 20-story DS headquarters building in Rosslyn, that was built and kitted out mostly with antiterrorism funds (or so I was told). What really goes on there that is not duplicative of work already done elsewhere, (e.g., intelligence analysis)? At my last security clearance update, I was surprised to learn from the investigator (who worked out of his car!) that DS contracts out virtually 100% of clearance investigations, including new hires.
Then there’s the new training center, far away from Washington, about 60 miles SW of Richmond Virginia. I am baffled that the Department’s leadership allowed DS to slip the net and take their training so far away, apparently with no oversight. How will DS employees be integrated into the work of the Department when they have no interaction with the rest of us in training. Who will even know what is contained in DS curriculum. Why isn’t DS training at least structurally under the Foreign Service Institute, as is the training for (as far as I know) every other speciality.
I’m old enough to remember DS before its employees became law enforcement special agents, when they focused on soft skills, contacts, and interpersonal skills to solve problems, and when DS employees occasionally served tours outside DS which enhanced their understanding of other functions of the mission. I don’t miss everything about the “olden days,” especially not the derelict buildings that housed many of our missions, but I do believe that something was lost. Setbacks and blast resistant buildings aside, I’m not convinced that we’re that much safer with current security practice.
I acknowledge the many sacrifices that DS agents and other employees have made to keep Embassies, consulates and employees safe, and I’ve respected and liked many DS agents with whom I’ve worked. This letter is about leadership, risk management, which we claim we practice, and most of all about organizational culture. I’ve read with interest a number of past Diplopundit items about DS’s response to sexual harassment, sexual assault, and complaints from female agents about the work environment and believe that many of these problems have their roots in warrior culture as well.