Given the rise in global terrorism and the unpredictability of political violence and crime, ensuring the security of U.S. personnel and facilities at overseas diplomatic posts has never been more challenging.
U.S. personnel working overseas have faced increasing threats to their safety and security, including numerous attacks in high-threat, high-risk locations. The Department of State’s Bureau of Diplomatic Security is responsible for protecting people, information, and property at over 400 locations worldwide, countering threats from terrorism, political violence, crime, espionage, and visa and passport fraud.
The bureau has taken actions to secure diplomatic facilities, residences, schools, and transportation routes and to prepare Diplomatic Security agents and other officials for emergency situations. However, in each of these areas additional steps could be taken to enhance security. For example:
- The bureau develops security standards to meet threats facing different types of facilities overseas, such as embassies. However, some of the standards are unclear, contain inconsistencies, or have not been updated in a timely manner; and standards have not been developed for certain types of facilities.
Key Physical Security Standards at a Notional Embassy
- The bureau reviews vulnerabilities of older and acquired facilities, but embassies and consulates do not always implement the mitigating steps required to address these vulnerabilities.
- While the bureau installs various upgrades—such as perimeter walls, locks, and window grilles—to meet security standards for diplomatic residences, many residences do not meet all of the applicable standards.
- The bureau has developed an armored vehicle policy for overseas posts, but this policy is unclear, making it difficult to ensure that measures needed to protect personnel from transportation security threats are implemented consistently worldwide.
- The bureau has expanded training for all Foreign Service personnel over the past decade, for example, by increasing the number of personnel required to complete a weeklong course in personal security skills for recognizing, avoiding, and responding to threat situations. However, there are weaknesses in the department’s oversight of compliance with this requirement, which limit its ability to ensure that personnel are prepared for service in designated high-threat countries.
Examples of Bureau of Diplomatic Security Training Exercises
GAO-17-124: Published: Oct 4, 2016. Publicly Released: Oct 4, 2016.
The Department of State (State) has established policies related to transportation security for overseas U.S. personnel, but gaps exist in guidance and monitoring. GAO reviewed 26 posts and found that all 26 had issued transportation security and travel notification policies. However, policies at 22 of the 26 posts lacked elements required by State, due in part to fragmented implementation guidanc...
GAO-15-808R: Published: Sep 9, 2015. Publicly Released: Sep 16, 2015.
GAO evaluated four Department of State (State) Bureau of Diplomatic Security (DS) requirements that GAO determined were critical in the selection of a site for a training facility and found that Fort Pickett, near Blackstone, Virginia, fully met all four while the Federal Law Enforcement Training Centers (FLETC) campus in Glynco, Georgia, did not fully meet any. For example, building the Foreign A...
GAO-15-700: Published: Jul 9, 2015. Publicly Released: Jul 9, 2015.
The Department of State (State) conducts a range of activities to assess risks to residences overseas. For instance, State tracks information on overseas residences in its property database, establishes threat levels at overseas posts, develops security standards for different types of residences and threat levels, and requires posts to periodically conduct residential security surveys. However, 1...
GAO-14-655: Published: Jun 25, 2014. Publicly Released: Jun 25, 2014.
To manage risks at its overseas work facilities, the Department of State (State) tracks information about each facility, assesses threat levels at posts, develops security standards to meet threats facing different types of facilities overseas, identifies vulnerabilities, and sets risk-based construction priorities. For example, State assesses six types of threats, such as terrorism, and assigns t...
GAO-14-360: Published: Mar 10, 2014. Publicly Released: Mar 10, 2014.
Using data from multiple sources, GAO determined that 675 of 708 Department of State (State) personnel and all 143 U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) personnel on assignments longer than 6 months (assigned personnel) in the designated high-threat countries on March 31, 2013, were in compliance with the Foreign Affairs Counter Threat (FACT) training requirement. GAO found that the re...