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Offices & Departments

Regional Security Office

Securing Our Embassies Overseas

The Bureau of Diplomatic Security (DS) is responsible for providing a safe and secure environment for the conduct of U.S. foreign policy.

Every diplomatic mission in the world operates under a security program designed and maintained by Diplomatic Security. In the United States, DS investigates passport and visa fraud, conducts personnel security investigations, and protects the Secretary of State and high-ranking foreign dignitaries and officials visiting the United States.

The protection of life is the most critical element of the DS mission, and is an absolute requirement for the global conduct of foreign affairs. With the emergence of terrorist coalitions that operate across international borders, the threat of terrorism against U.S. interests is greater than it ever has been. Clearly, we can no longer consider any U.S. mission overseas as being in a low-threat environment. As a result, Diplomatic Security is more dedicated than ever to its mission of providing a secure living and working environment for our Foreign Service colleagues as they implement foreign policy and promote U.S. interests around the world.

DS special agents serving in regional security offices anchor our overseas security efforts and provide the first line of defense for our personnel, their families, U.S. diplomatic missions, and national security information. More than 400 DS special agents in over 160 countries advise chiefs of mission on all security matters and develop and implement the programs that shield each U.S. mission and residence overseas from physical and technical attack.

Special agents, in concert with other mission or post elements, formulate plans to deal with various emergency contingencies ranging from hostage taking to evacuations. Often in times of crisis and political instability, DS special agents rely on the U.S. military for assistance. Since the early 1990s, special agents have worked closely with the military, especially the U.S. Marine Fleet Antiterrorism Security Teams, which have provided emergency force protection support for Department of State operations in a number of countries when the host government was unable to do so.

In addition, special agents are the primary liaison with foreign police and security services overseas in an effort to obtain support for U.S. law enforcement initiatives and investigations. Much of the investigative and law enforcement liaison work done by special agents abroad is on behalf of other federal, state, and local agencies. The Bureau receives more than 5,000 requests for overseas investigative assistance from U.S. law enforcement each year, and has achieved noteworthy success in locating and apprehending wanted fugitives who have fled the United States.

DS special agents also provide unclassified security briefings and other professional advice to U.S. businesses overseas.

While special agents face a tremendous challenge in implementing a mission's security program, it is clearly one that cannot be handled alone. In the challenge to safeguard our personnel and sensitive information overseas, DS security engineering officers (SEOs) augment the efforts of the security office. SEOs are the primary developers and promulgators of technical policy and regulations. They design or develop, implement, and manage security equipment programs at our missions abroad. In a constantly changing technical environment, SEOs are responsible for maintaining our technical security posture at all our diplomatic posts in order to provide a secure working environment. SEOs also work to detect and prevent loss of sensitive information from technical espionage.

Besides SEOs, special agents depend upon Marine Security Guards, U.S. Navy Seabees, local guards, cleared American guards, local investigators, host government officials, and other DS elements domestically and abroad to provide assistance in combating criminal, intelligence, and terrorist threats against U.S. interests worldwide. These entities play a crucial role in the overall DS security efforts overseas.

At some of our highest threat posts, further security assistance is often needed. In those instances, DS dispatches Mobile Security Teams from Washington to conduct training for embassy personnel, their dependents, and local guards in protective tactics such as attack recognition, self-defense, hostage survival, and defensive driving. These teams also provide emergency security support to overseas posts, including protective security for chiefs of mission, surveillance detection operations, and assistance with post evacuations.

Following the bombings of the U.S. Embassies in Dar es Salaam and Nairobi, security for our missions overseas took on even greater importance. As a result, DS conducted a comprehensive review of security at all U.S. diplomatic missions. Since the bombings, hundreds of DS agents and security engineers have traveled all over the world to augment security at missions abroad and have worked tirelessly to prevent further attacks.

With Congressional passage of the $1.4 billion Emergency Embassy Security Supplemental in Fall 1998 (of which the Bureau received about $588 million), DS has taken significant steps to improve security at our missions abroad. While this funding allowed DS to make immediate upgrades to many missions, additional funding is needed to either build new embassies or purchase existing buildings that can be better defended. At this time, the Department and the Administration are working with the Congress to obtain additional funds.