Academy of Diplomacy’s Pickering and Neumann Warns Secretary Kerry About Risk Avoidance At All Cost

— Domani Spero
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The American Academy of Diplomacy’s chairman, Ambassador  Thomas Pickering and its president, Ambassador Ronald Neuman wrote a letter last week to Secretary Kerry urging his “support to get America’s diplomats into the field and back into contact with local societies.” The group is concerned that the demand that civilian officers operate “at or near zero risk” undermines the effectiveness of American diplomacy and America’s national security interests.

Excerpt below:

As terrorist attacks have grown, security restrictions have become more intense. This has been necessary but is now too dominant in decision making. Many of us have run critical threat posts. We have no illusions about the need to calculate and mitigate risk. But ultimately we must all judge the relative risks of any action against its benefits to the national interest. What we see happening in far too many places are decisions reflecting Washington guidance to avoid risk at all cost. This approach is spreading from critical threat posts to other less threatened posts and personnel, creating a chilling effect for our diplomats attempting to carry out their missions through travel and contacts across a wider range of security environments.

The demand that civilian officers operate at or near zero risk undermines the effectiveness of American diplomacy and, by extension, America’s national security interests. Engaging with the local population and its leaders is crucial to the knowledge essential to sound policy. Failure to do so adequately is a short-term loss for the conduct of diplomacy and a long-term loss for policy formulation. We support the view taken by senior Department officials who have acknowledged the need for accepting prudent risk in the conduct of diplomacy. However, we believe that your own leadership must be engaged to reinforce these statements and the concrete actions need to convey to the field some acceptance of measured risk taking.

The Academy urge more training on risk management not just for officers but also for Chiefs of Mission:

Foreign Service Officers accept worldwide assignment and that includes a measure of risk; that idea needs reinforcement. More tradecraft training for officers borrowing from the best the US government has to offer may be useful. Greater education in risk management certainly is needed for Chiefs of Mission who must be empowered to make critical decisions. Chiefs of Mission are already charged with securing their staffs but need much more training in how to make security judgments. More resources need to be devoted to all these areas. Security officers need to believe that their task is to enable mission performance as safely as possible but not to avoid all risk.

The group believes that “a focused conversation with Congress is required to gain acceptance for the realities of the decisions needed” and tells Secretary Kerry that it is prepared to help in a dialogue with Congress but needs a “specific direction” from the secretary of state for current practices to change.

The American Academy of Diplomacy is currently working on a major study of what is needed to improve the professionalism of American diplomacy and the capacity of Foreign Service Officers.

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In the post-Benghazi bureaucratic world — going forward. To where?

TSB over at The Skeptical Bureaucrat noticed the words being bandied about in the post-Benghazi bureaucratic world:

“Going forward” was the phrase we heard over and over at last month’s hearings. Will embassy security get better “going forward” after Benghazi? Will any real improvements come out of that disaster?
[…]
According to Hillary’s letter to Congress, the Department will now prioritize resources on a list of about twenty specially designated high threat posts. All well and good. But, if the next attack happens at one of those posts, will we then blame middle managers in an office annex in Rosslyn for not having sent more money and manpower to High Threat Post A and less to HT Posts B and C? And if the next attack happens at one of the 250 or so other diplomatic missions in the world, will we blame the same managers for not having upgraded Post D to the high threat group? And won’t every post in the world request every security measure it can think of “going forward” after Benghazi? Yes, yes, and yes. We can prioritize by risk, or we can cover our bureaucratic asses by spreading resources around evenly, but we can’t do both at the same time.

By the way, what’s up with that very odd term being used to describe those posts of special concern? High threat posts? As Diplopundit has noted, they are not literally the Department’s high threat level posts, and the criteria for designating them has not been explained, so far as I know. The ARB used the phrase “high risk/high threat” posts but that’s no better, not to mention kind of incoherent if you are a stickler for risk management definitions, since “threat” is only a component of “risk.”

Why isn’t the Department using the perfectly good term “Special Conditions” posts? That’s already an established category of diplomatic post with its own special rules for applying security standards and providing resources under extreme conditions. You can find it in 12 FAM 057.3, which the department has made publicly available here. That would be a step forward in terms of clarity, at least.

Read in full, The Skeptical Bureaucrat on Risk Management “Going Forward.”

You betcha every post in the world will have their requests down in bold, dark ink. Especially, if they are a designated danger post but not on the newly designated “high threat” list.  Then the somebodies will be on record approving or denying such and such request.  But you know, the request was on record when Ambassador Bushnell made her request on behalf of the US Embassy in Nairobi.  And there were paper trails and sworn testimonies concerning the requests made for the security in Benghazi.  Yeah. A lot of good it did them.

The other thing we’ve been thinking about on that high threat designation — surely, the people who are intent on doing our people harm are not totally dumb.  Given the opportunity to attack – would they really expend more efforts on those US diplomatic posts already considered “high threat” (what with the accompanying spending for fortifying/protecting those posts)?  If you were in their shoes, wouldn’t you attack targets that are not on those “high threat” list? Because why would you bang yourself against the hard wall when there is a soft wall um, okay, a wall of lesser hardness elsewhere?

By designating those missions as “high threat” posts, is it possible that we have discouraged the attacks against those facilities but have merely shifted the targets to diplomatic posts not on that list?  Okay, think about that for a moment.  There are about 250 posts not/not on that high threat list.