I want my Crash and Bang.
Earlier this week the Government Accounting Office released report GAO-05-642- Overseas Security
. This report, which deals with the efforts to protect U.S. government personnel assigned abroad carries the reassuring subtitle of State Department Has Not Fully Implemented Key Measures to Protect U.S. Officials from Terrorist Attacks Outside of Embassies.
The report primarily addresses so-called soft targets abroad (homes, schools, routes to work, etc) as opposed to "hardened" targets, such as Embassies and Consulates, but it also reviews what USG staff overseas can be expected to know and do to protect themselves. That is my main concern tonight.
Here is the short version of the report:U.S. government officials working overseas are at risk from terrorist threats. Since 1968, 32 embassy officials have been attacked-23 fatally-by terrorists outside the embassy. s the State Department continues to improve security at U.S. embassies, terrorist groups are likely to focus on "soft" targets such as homes, schools, and places of worship. We are recommending that the Secretary of State develop a soft targets strategy; develop counterterrorism training for officials; and fully implement its personal security accountability system for embassy officials. State generally agreed with our recommendations.
Now, I want to start by saying that there is no way the U.S. government can protect every person in its employ twenty-four hours a day at a level equal to what can be expected in a hardened facility. Having said that, their are some valid points in the report. Thirty-two State officials have been attacked with twenty-three killed outside of an embassy in the last thirty-five years. While the report addresses a number of issues one item comes to the fore- we do not receive counter-terrorism training.
State has not fully implemented one of the most important safeguards against terrorist attacks while traveling to and from work- counterterrorism training. Three State-initiated investigations into terrorist attacks against U.S. officials found that, among other things, the officials lacked the necessary hands-on training to help counter the attack. In response, the investigations recommended that State provide hands-on counterterrorism training and implement accountability measures to ensure compliance with personal security procedures. However, State has not fully implemented these recommendations. It does not require counterterrorism training for U.S. officials and their families at high-or critical-threat posts.
I am not talking about commando, Jack Bauer in 24, type training. I am talking about a program that already exists in the Department- it is called the Diplomatic Security Antiterrorism Course (DSAC). This is an elective course if you are going to a "high threat" post (Saudi comes to mind), but even then it is not mandatory. This course covers things such as surveillance detection training, counterterrorism driving (commonly called "Crash and Bang"), and emergency medical training. Add basic weapons training and you have a really good course -not that State will ever advocate for its officers to learn to fire a weapon.
Many of the other agencies that send folks abroad (especially in law enforcement) require this type of training. State, in its perpetual condition of budgetary crunches for training, short staffing and general aversion to anything that appears to be aggressive, leaves this course as an elective. This might be a good time to point out that the Embassies bombed in Africa were NOT high threat posts- it is very unlikely then, that any State personnel at those posts had this training.
Equally disturbing to me is this line from the report:
Moreover, State has not been training its ambassadors, deputy chiefs of mission, and regional security officers on ways to effectively promote the use of the personal security procedures.
If our Ambassadors and DCMs are not lobbying the Department for more security training it is simply not going to happen. Unfortunately that does not seem likely to occur. Political appointee ambassadors are concerned with the political role they play (understandably) and DCMs who want to make Ambassador generally don't rock the boat. Everyone seems to just sort of hunker down and hope nothing bad happens on their watch. The African bombings are history- and the only lesson that seems to have been learned is that we need to turn our Missions into fortresses. The GAO made several excellent recommendations- and I may revisit this report here in the coming days- but this to me is the most relevant:
Mandate counterterrorism training and prioritize which posts, officials, and family members should receive counterterrorism training first; track attendance to determine compliance with this new training requirement; and add a "soft target protection" training module to the ambassadorial, deputy chief of mission, and RSO training to promote the security of U.S. officials and their families outside the embassy.
Those of us serving abroad need at least the basic skills to protect ourselves, our families and our colleagues. Would an employee with basic counter-terrorism skills have been able to help prevent the African embassy attacks? We'll never know- but I am certain that without any training we are all at even greater risk.