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Counterterrorism funding

War on Terror | Old fears and cyclical lulls

Two years ago, Stratfor wrote an article discussing the historical pattern of the boom and bust in counterterrorism spending. In that article we discussed the phenomenon whereby a successful terrorist attack creates a profound shock that is quite often followed by an extended lull. We noted how this dynamic tends to create a pendulum effect in public perception and how public opinion is ultimately translated into public policy that produces security and counterterrorism funding.

In other words, the shock of a successful terrorist attack creates a crisis environment in which the public demands action from the government and Washington responds by earmarking vast amounts of funds to address the problem. Then the lull sets in, and some of the programs created during the crisis are scrapped entirely or are killed by a series of budget cuts as the public's perception of the threat changes and its demands for government action focus elsewhere. The lull eventually is shattered by another attack-and another infusion of money goes to address the now-neglected problem.

On March 13, The Washington Post carried a story titled "Hardened U.S. Embassies Symbolic of Old Fears, Critics Say." The story discussed the new generation of U.S. Embassy buildings, which are often referred to as "Inman buildings" by State Department insiders. This name refers to buildings constructed in accordance with the physical security standards set by the Secretary of State's Advisory Panel on Overseas Security, a panel chaired by former Deputy CIA Director Adm. Bobby Inman following the 1983 attacks against the U.S. embassies in Beirut and Kuwait City. The 1985 Inman report, which established these security requirements and contributed to one of the historical security spending booms, was also responsible for beefing up the State Department's Office of Security and transforming it into the Diplomatic Security Service (DSS).

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It has been 11 years since a U.S. Embassy has been reduced to a smoking hole in the ground, and the public's perception of the threat appears to be changing once again. In The Washington Post article, Stephen Schlesinger, an adjunct fellow at the Century Foundation, faults the new Inman building that serves as the U.S. Mission to the United Nations in New York for being unattractive and uninviting. Schlesinger is quoted as saying: "Rather than being an approachable, beckoning embassy-emphasizing America's desire to open up to the rest of the globe and convey our historically optimistic and progressive values-it sits across from the U.N. headquarters like a dark, forbidding fortress, saying, 'Go away.'" When opinion leaders begin to express such sentiments in The Washington Post, it is an indication that we are now in the lull period of the counterterrorism cycle.

Tensions over security

There has always been a tension between security and diplomacy in the U.S. State Department. There are some diplomats who consider security to be antithetical to diplomacy and, like Mr. Schlesinger, believe that U.S. diplomatic facilities need to be open and accessible rather than secure. These foreign service officers (FSOs) also believe that regional security officers are too risk averse and that they place too many restrictions on diplomats to allow them to practice effective diplomacy. (Regional security officer-RSO-is the title given to a DSS special agent in charge of security at an embassy.) To quote one FSO, DSS special agents are "cop-like morons." People who carry guns instead of demarches and who go out and arrest people for passport and visa fraud are simply not considered "diplomatic." There is also the thorny issue that in their counterintelligence role, DSS agents are often forced to confront FSOs over personal behavior (such as sexual proclivities or even crimes) that could be considered grounds for blackmail by a hostile intelligence service.

On the other side of the coin, DSS agents feel the animosity emanating from those in the foreign service establishment who are hostile to security and who oppose the DSS efforts to improve security at diplomatic missions overseas. DSS agents refer to these FSOs as "black dragons"-a phrase commonly uttered in conjunction with a curse. DSS agents see themselves as the ones left holding the bag when an FSO disregards security guidelines, does something reckless, and is robbed, raped or murdered. It is most often the RSO and his staff who are responsible for going out and picking up the pieces when something turns bad. It is also the RSO who is called before a U.S. government accountability review board when an embassy is attacked and destroyed. In the eyes of a DSS special agent, then, a strong, well-protected building conveys a far better representation of American values and strength than does a smoldering hole in the ground, where an "accessible" embassy once stood. In the mind of a DSS agent, dead diplomats can conduct no diplomacy.


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