Why Not Let Diplomatic Security Do It?
Sunday, April 22nd 2012
Here’s a thought: why don't the State Department’s Bureau of Diplomatic Security (DS) agents protect the President when he travels to foreign countries?
If there is a constant theme in public diplomacy, it is that the people in the field, at the embassy, know best how to do what the USG needs done.
One reason the Secret Service agents in Cartagena got caught with their pants down (metaphorically speaking) is because they were out of their element. They were in unfamiliar, foreign territory.
Had any one of them taken the time to ask the embassy RSO (the most senior Diplomatic Security agent on the ground), they would have been briefed on local practices such as the requirement to register all visitors to hotel guests’ rooms. The RSO would have mentioned that these registrations are sent to the local police department each day.
As the Wikileaks documents proved so well, the people who work in American embassies abroad are extremely well informed, know how things work, and understand the local laws and regulations, as well as distinctly local practices. When it comes to personal security, the local law enforcement agencies, particular laws and regulations, and everything that affects Americans visiting in a foreign country, the embassy RSO is the person to ask.
By contrast, the Secret Service agents advancing Presidential trips are fish out of water. They know no one in local authority, they do not understand the language, they don’t know the laws nor how they are enforced, and they have to look at a street map to find their way.
A few years ago, as the embassy in Madrid was preparing for a visit by President Clinton, two Secret Service agents who had just arrived, were robbed of their briefcases while checking in at a major downtown hotel. Subsequent review of lobby video recordings showed one of Madrid’s finest thieves – the ones who prey on tourists – calmly lifting and walking away with the agents’ briefcases. The Secret Service folks were especially embarrassed because their weapons were in those cases.
On another occasion, in London, I witnessed the Secret Service driver deposit the President of the United States on the wrong side of a driveway, and thus out of the planned photograph and greeting ceremony with the Prime Minister, all because he was unused to driving on the left. Even the President’s limousine should obey British road rules in London.
One has to ask, why do we entrust the President’s security to people who have only been in a town a few days?
Especially, why do we do this when we have experienced, U.S. government sworn law enforcement officers – the DS agents – at hand with the kind of local experience, language skills, and specific foreign area knowledge needed to do the job?