Key Issues > Diplomatic Security
international icon: Art Explosion

Diplomatic Security

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.

  1. Share with Facebook 
  2. Share with Twitter 
  3. Share with LinkedIn 
  4. Share with mail 

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 (State) Bureau of Diplomatic Security (DS) is responsible for protecting U.S. personnel, information, and property at over 400 locations worldwide. DS also counters threats from terrorism, political violence, crime, espionage, and visa and passport fraud, and ensures emergency preparedness at U.S. diplomatic posts.

State can take steps to enhance security by securing facilities and transportation and by making improvements to security training and preparedness efforts.

Securing facilities and transportation

  • DS develops security standards to meet threats facing different types of facilities overseas, such as embassies. However, gaps in DS’s activities, standards, and policies (such as a failure to consistently address identified vulnerabilities) could increase the risks faced by U.S. facilities and personnel overseas.

Key Physical Security Standards at a Hypothetical Embassy

Key Physical Security Standards at a Notional Embassy

  • DS establishes security standards for the residences of U.S. personnel and other soft targets overseas. However, issues with a number of these security standards (such as inconsistencies in what the actual standards are) have raised serious questions about State’s ability to make timely and informed risk management decisions. 
  • DS helps develop and review transportation security and travel notification policies at overseas posts. However, fragmented guidance, insufficient monitoring of transportation policies, and a lack of clarity in State’s armored vehicle policy for overseas posts have made it difficult to ensure that these security measures have been implemented consistently worldwide.

Training and preparedness

  • DS provides security training to U.S. personnel serving overseas, including a weeklong course to develop personal security skills for recognizing, avoiding, and responding to threat situations. While State has updated its Foreign Affairs Manual to clarify which employees are required to complete this course, it does not fully oversee compliance with this requirement, which limits its ability to ensure that personnel are prepared for service in designated high-threat countries.

Examples of Bureau of Diplomatic Security Training Exercises

Examples of Bureau of Diplomatic Security Training Exercises

  • DS is responsible for security services related to the protection of life, information, and property at overseas posts and has a key role in preparing posts for crisis and evacuations. However, shortcomings in State’s crisis and evacuation planning documents and processes could increase the risk that post staff are not sufficiently prepared to handle crisis and emergency situations.
Looking for our recommendations? Click on any report to find each associated recommendation and its current implementation status.

More Reports

Podcasts

Key Issues Facing Diplomatic SecurityThursday, September 7, 2017
Security of Diplomatic ResidencesThursday, July 9, 2015
Diplomatic Facility SecurityWednesday, June 25, 2014
  • portrait of Jason Bair
    • Jason Bair
    • Director, International Affairs and Trade
    • BairJ@gao.gov
    • 202-512-6881