December 2002

Embassy Security May Not Be Proportionate to New Terrorist Risk
by Alan B. Nichols

In October 2002, a rifle-toting postal worker in New York, angry over human rights violations in North Korea, jumped a fence at the U.N. headquarters and fired several rounds into the air before he was arrested. U.N. Security Chief Michael McCann told the Associated Press that the complex on the Lower East Side lacked the necessary security because of “financial restraints upon the organization.”

On Oct. 28, USAID (U.S. Agency for International Development) administrator Laurence Foley, serving in Amman, Jordan, was gunned down while getting into his car one morning to go to work. As of early November, the Jordanian and U.S. governments were still investigating the ambush, whose perpetrators had not yet been identified.

The 9/11 attacks against the United States and their aftermath dramatically transformed the security landscape, according to leading observers. Terrorism—historically the resource of disaffected states against other states to redress articulated grievances—has become transnational in scope. Today’s terrorists are diffuse, their tentacles reaching far and wide around the globe, and their agendas as murky as their origins.

What are the implications of this new species of terrorism for the diplomatic community? Is the level of embassy and consular security in Washington, D.C., commensurate with the increased risks of terror?

“Washington, D.C., has always been perceived as a safe haven for foreign diplomats,” said Derek LaVallee, chief operating officer of Diplomatic Solutions, a private Virginia-based advance services firm specializing in logistics, security and protocol for private businesses and the diplomatic community. “After 9/11, that perception has changed. It’s a whole new dynamic.

“Our clients are starting to appreciate security, whereas before 9/11, it was perceived as a necessary evil,” added the former White House advance man and special assistant of legislative affairs to Defense Secretary William Cohen during the Clinton administration.

Security measures at foreign embassies and consulates are aimed at protecting buildings, diplomatic personnel, information, including computerized data, and any other aspect of the mission’s operations that could be severely compromised if violated.

Thick procedural manuals focus on everything from car inspections to protection while in transit. Ambassadors and their aides may frequently alter their daily routines, including the routes they drive to work, to discourage would-be assassins.

Diplomatic security is a complex enterprise. It is one thing to protect diplomatic personnel where public access is severely restricted or denied, and quite another when diplomats conduct high-profile events, such as giving an important speech or signing a treaty, where a country desires publicity.

“The security community is scrambling to find ways to deal with the tension between security concerns and what the client’s staff wants to accomplish,” noted LaVallee. “This is particularly true for events to which the public is invited and where the attempt is to generate headlines.”

Effective event security results from planning and logistics, according to LaVallee, who cited such planning details as the limousine route, the anticipation of traffic and alternate routes, credentialing of attendees, and the position of the principals vis-à-vis the public and press. After the event, a decoy limousine may be employed to enable the diplomat or business leader and his entourage to dine privately and out of view of the press. Also, one accommodation is rarely used for an entire delegation.

Although a public event may raise visibility, it may also heighten the risk of threat. A strong deterrence presence—such as police and Secret Service—at some occasions may be essential, LaVallee explained, but deterrence must not overshadow the event to such an extent as to create the unwanted impression that dignitaries are aloof from the press and public.

Nations with a large diplomatic presence in Washington, including the majority of Middle Eastern countries, have made security a top priority, according to LaVallee, but he said that “security infrastructures at some small- to intermediate-size consulates, particularly of Latin America and Eastern Europe, remain relatively unsophisticated.”

Because of its extended exposure to terrorism, Israel’s diplomatic security is arguably the tightest in the world. “Israel’s diplomats have been targets of terror for well over 30 years,” said Embassy of Israel spokesman Mark Regev. “Over the last decade, we have established very strong security protocols at all our embassies. Security is a very real problem, not a theoretical one.

“Our procedures differ in different countries,” he added. “In some countries, the threat is more immediate.” Standard practices at Israeli diplomatic missions worldwide include careful screening of all incoming mail and people entering the complex. If an Israeli diplomat or his aides are meeting someone for the first time, additional precautions are taken, and there are strict procedures for safeguarding official vehicles and private staff cars.

In Washington, particularly, Israeli and American security groups meet regularly to exchange ideas and procedures, according to Regev, who noted that “there is mutual respect and trust.” Most recently, the two countries have worked closely to cut off terrorist funding sources, and cooperation between the security forces of the two countries is extraordinarily tight at news-making occasions, such as a visit by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

Just how does a security plan get developed? One way is to engage in what is called threat vulnerability integration methodology, which is designed to answer the question of where are you most vulnerable to what kinds of attack, explained Phil Anderson, director and senior fellow of the Homeland Security initiative at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “It’s basic tactical-level military science.”

Although military science may inform security development, the last and best defense against threats of terrorism is an alert public, according to Anderson, who asked of the Jordanian diplomat assassination, “How was Foley’s identity known and did he anticipate a threat on his life and pass that intelligence on to authorities?”

Another critical component of effective security is training and education, according to Joseph Ricci, director of communications at Northern Virginia-based Vance International, which has security contracts with the Saudi and Kuwaiti embassies in Washington.

Under the contracts, embassy security personnel receive Secret Service-style training, said Ricci. “It’s important to be proactive,” he noted. “Prevention is much more effective than a retroactive response to an attack or criminal incident.”

Although the threat of a terrorist strike is always at the forefront of security planning, much of the day-to-day security concerns at embassies revolve around employee violence, petty theft, stalking and the like. “We educate staff on what to look out for,” Ricci said, noting that “computer and information theft is on the rise.”

What trends does Ricci see in the security field? “Technology is much more prevalent than it used to be,” he answered. “Access-control technology like CCTV cameras and biometric devices like retinal scanners and facial-recognition readers have become extremely sophisticated. This technology allows you to maintain security with fewer personnel, but it creates training and hiring issues.”

Any security plan, no matter how technologically advanced, can’t possibly anticipate every contingency, according to Michael Rosenberg, security division vice president at Maryland-based E.J. Krause & Associates Inc., which specializes in international trade events. Rosenberg said that with the current breakup of al Qaeda into small, independent cells, future terrorist incidents are likely to be less dramatic than 9/11 but no less devastating.

“One suicide bomber in a large metropolitan mall,” he said, “can shut down an entire industry.”

With terrorism’s transnational reach, security cooperation among nations is increasing, and as the trend continues, Rosenberg said, “There will be increasing pressure for heretofore uncooperative states to come to the table.”

As for the Washington-based diplomatic community, Ricci said the security budgets, especially of the larger embassies, have definitely increased since 9/11, and in addition, more countries are hiring American security firms.

Col. Russell D. Howard, head of the Social Sciences Department at West Point, co-edited a new book with West Point’s director of terrorism studies, Capt. Reid L. Sawyer. Titled “Terrorism and Counterterrorism: Understanding the New Security Environment,” the book includes essays by some of the world’s leading terrorism experts on new trends and responses to global terrorism.

“In the past, terrorism was state-sponsored and part of the East versus West, Left versus Right confrontation—a small but dangerous sideshow to the greater, bipolar Cold War drama,” Howard said. “But in today’s world, where terrorists are constituted in a cellular structure and act like sovereign states, the time-honored Westphallian protocols to resolve conflicts are obsolete.” (Protocols embodied in the Treaty of Westphalia of 1648 culminated the Thirty Years War in Europe.)

“It’s a different security landscape now, calling for new rules of response,” Howard concluded. “You can’t leverage the conventional elements of power and diplomacy as we once could. The new terrorism model is much more complicated. In the old days, terrorists wanted a place at the negotiating table, but who do you negotiate with today when their goal is to kill indiscriminately as many people as possible virtually anywhere in the world?”

Alan B. Nichols is a freelance writer in Bethesda, Md.

Diplomatic Security Groups
The following is a list of organizations that deal in diplomatic security matters:

Diplomatic Solutions
6066 Leesburg Pike, Suite 150
Falls Church, VA 22041
(703) 852-2900
Diplomatic Solutions is a private advance services firm offering a complete menu of services, including logistics, security, protocol, media relations and event management. The company’s principals are former advance advisers to presidents and high-level cabinet officers.

U.S. Department of State
Bureau of Diplomatic Security
Diplomatic security agents protect high-level international meetings, which recently have included the 1999 Israeli-Syrian talks in Shepherdstown, W.Va. Agents have also been assigned to U.N. foreign ministers and were a key security presence at the 2002 Olympic games in Salt Lake City. Although primarily created to protect people, information and property so that the U.S. State Department can carry out its foreign policy missions safely and securely, the bureau has and continues to work closely with foreign embassies.

iJET Travel Intelligence
900 Bestgate Road, Suite 400
Annapolis, MD 21401
(410) 573-3860
This private intelligence organization maintains a “Watch Operation” 24 hours a day and seven days per week that monitors 182 countries and 268 cities, providing real-time alerts and advisories.

Vance International Inc.
10467 White Granite Drive
Oakton, VA 22124
(703) 385-6754
Vance International Inc., a unit of SPX Corp., specializes in integrated protective services that include executive protection, uniformed security, security consulting and investigations, crisis management, asset protection, special event security and security training.

—Alan B. Nichols

Washington Diplomat
  PO Box 1345
  Wheaton, MD 20915
  Tel: 301.933.3552
  Fax: 301.949.0065