A State Department Under Secretary for Security? Our Readers Wade In

— Domani Spero

 

Last week we blogged about AFSA’s opposition to the creation of an Under Secretary for Security position, a position that had been recommended and approved but never implemented following the East Africa Embassy Bombings in 1998.  (See Eek! Diplomats Union Opposes Creation of Under Secretary for Security — Badda bing badda boom?!).

The Independent Panel (Sullivan Panel, 2013) tasked with looking into the Best Practices on security after ARB Benghazi (2012) has again recommended the creation of an Under Secretary for Diplomatic Security.

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

The previous recommendation in 2000 was for the creation of a new position for Under Secretary for Security, Law Enforcement & Counter Terrorism. This to us, appears to make the most sense, instead of having just one for security as the Sullivan Panel recommended.  That said, we are not optimistic this would happen anytime soon.  An expanded bureaucracy is, of course, a legitimate concern.  But to a certain extent, that has already happened with the creation of the DAS for High Threat Posts, except that the internal shuffles only happened within Diplomatic Security, and had not remedied the U/S for Management’s span of control over thirteen bureaus.

About HTP, we understand that it now stands for ‘High Threat Programs’?  Here’s an explanation from a blog pal in the know (Thanks T!) on HTP and danger posts:

“That term “High Threat Posts” was a very poor choice for the name of the new DS office, since it seems to say that high threat levels alone are enough to qualify a post for special security interest. They’ve now changed the name to “High Threat Programs,” but that’s just as bad. It’s actually a combination of high threat levels,  low host government willingness and/or capability to provide security support,  and a really bad mission physical security platform that puts a post on the list. That’s why the HTP list doesn’t correlate with the danger pay list, and why it doesn’t include even some posts that have a history of attacks. “

Diplomatic Security Great Seal

Diplomatic Security Great Seal (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

In any case, we’ve invited readers to send us their thoughts for or against the creation of an Under Secretary for Security. Below is a selection of the feedback we received:

  • ▶︎ As an active DS Agent, I fully support the creation of the U/S position. DS should have a preeminent role in the security decisions facing our diplomats. It is a complete travesty that this recommendation was made 14 years ago and still hasn’t been implemented.
  • ▶︎ I support an U/S for Security position.  It signals that the Department actually takes the safety and security of our foreign service personnel seriously. An organization chart reflects the priorities of the organization. The senior security professional should be place as high as possible within the organization and should report directly to the senior executive in the organization. The DoS currently shows they don’t take security seriously when the head of security for the organization reports to the U/S for Management instead of reporting directly to the Secretary.
  • ▶︎ A DS U/S would be a dedicated security and law enforcement  professional with the ability to ensure that security considerations are given fair discussion.
  • ▶︎ AFSA and the Department hold FSOs up as the main decision makers on everything even though they usually aren’t the best qualified. Could you imagine the uproar if we created a working group of DS Agents to decide our political or economic policies? Yet, they convene a panel of FSOs to decide security policy and no one bats an eyelash.
  • ▶︎ I’m worried that if the U/S for Security becomes a reality the Department would fill it with a political appointee or someone outside of DS which I think would be completely unfair. Could you imagine the FBI or Secret Service filling their top position with someone outside their respective agency?
  • ▶︎ While I can think of several good reasons to have, I think all will be outweighed by the fact that this will end up being a political appointee position that would have no insight into State Department operations, no knowledge or understanding of DS operations and no true experience in security operations on the global scale within which DS operates.
  • ▶︎ Our FSO colleagues can write and they can  move US policy forward. But most are completely clueless when it  comes to security and law enforcement. I see it every day. ‘Nobody  would hurt me. I’m here to help. ‘ A DS U/S would mirror the  overseas environment where other sections partner with RSOs to get  things done.  I always tell my colleagues that you tell me what you want/need to do and I’ll figure out a way to do it. It may not be exactly as they were thinking (sometimes the ideas are simply wacky), but we’ll get the work done.
  • ▶︎ Why shouldn’t there be an U/S for DS?  Start with the Finding on page 17 of the “Green Report.”  (Like the Sullivan Report, not distributed within or outside the Department, but — also like the Sullivan Report — available on Al-Jazeera’s website.)  Then read the rest of the report.
  • ▶︎ In support of a U/S for DS, INR and CT, the Secretary would be in a position to nominate an experienced, credible and respected leader such as retired Generals John R. Allen or Stan McCrystal.  This type of person would be influential and provide advise on how to best mesh security with diplomatic engagement, along with oversight for DS, INR and CT = a true model for how to break the shackles of DS under the M paradigm.

 

And then here’s this one from an FSO:

  • ▶︎ As someone who has recently served in one of the most dangerous posts in the world, I fully support the Foreign Service union’s message.  I, along with many of my colleagues, often felt extremely frustrated by the security restrictions that the Regional Security Office imposed on us diplomats.  We only rarely left our compound.  And after the fallout from Banghazi, we often couldn’t even go to other Embassies for social functions.  However – other embassy personnel – the ones who carried guns – didn’t have to follow the same rules.  As a result, they became the faces of the embassy to both the public and to the rest of the international community while we – the diplomats – stayed cloistered in our compound.  Often we felt like mere fig leaves or window dressing, present in a country only for cover to the military and security types, even though many of us would have willingly accepted the same risks that they did for the sake of our mission.  I strongly believe that the work we diplomats do abroad is equally important to the national interest as the work done by the military and other agencies.  Why then, should we not take the same risks as they do?

We’ve done away with the comments section in this blog for a while now, but it’s open today if you have additional thoughts to share.

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