With all the money that has been shelled out through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 Act, it turns out that the State department has its hand out, too. The State Department is requesting funding for a Foreign Affairs Security Training Center — to provide U.S. diplomats, or at least those charged with protecting them, with a greater set of survival skills. Just this New year’s Eve, the killings of seven CIA employees at the CIA’s base in Khost Province, Afghanistan, near Pakistan, was a deadly reminder of the risks involved to civilians in the field. Nor is it a new phenomenon that diplomacy can be a dangerous business. Since and including the Iran hostage taking in 1979, 66 U.S. diplomats overseas have paid for their service to their country with their lives in violent incidents.
Given this reality, a centralized training facility may not be such a bad idea. It would enable embassies to provide their own security personnel, and it might even convince embassy staff to venture out of their current fortress like structures more than they do now. Whether a new training center is considered a deplorable sign of the times or a much needed reality adjustment, it is clear that protection is critically important in some outposts. Diplomats better able to protect themselves may in the end feel less hesitant about engaging the local population. And the fact is that some of this training is already being done, piecemeal at other facilities.
A complaint heard often from foreign capitals is that American diplomats are notoriously difficult to reach, ensconced as they are behind fortress like walls and draconian security screenings. Conducting diplomacy of any kind – the essence of which is human interaction – is almost impossible when fear for the personal safety of embassy staff overwhelms the mission. Since the embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998, and particularly since the U.S. engagement in Iraq and Afghanistan, embassy security has reached new levels.
Private contractors providing protection have been controversial and difficult to oversee. The leadership and national security of the United States depends on the ability of our nation’s diplomats to function. The State Department needs people that are trained not just in traditional social interaction skills, but also in the use of modern technology,and survival in high risk environments. Ever since the near riot at State over deployments to Iraq, it has been clear that something had to be done.
According to the State Department Fact Sheet No. 3, the Master Plan for the new Foreign Affairs Training Center requires a minimum of 1,250 acres of developable land, not including setback requirements, to accommodate the following program functions: Soft Skills Training, including simulation labs; Hard skills training, including driving tracks, outdoor firing and explosive ranges, mock urban environments, weapons and explosives storage; Life Support, including student housing and medical services, Infrastructure, and Operations, including cyber security, mobile security deployments, secure communications and defensive equipment and armored vehicle operations. The description of the facility certainly evokes a new kind of American diplomat, a kind of Agent 007, as facile in throwing grenades as bon mots.