Diplomatic Security (DS), United States Bureau

Diplomatic Security (DS), United States Bureau


The Bureau of Diplomatic Security (DS) is the law enforcement and security arm of the United States Department of State. Created on November 4, 1985, it bears responsibility for ensuring the safety of Americans who are serving their government in embassies and consulates overseas as well as protecting foreign dignitaries who visit the United States. It also investigates crimes involving passport and visa fraud.

Diplomats traditionally have given little concern to security. Aware of this shortcoming and the increasing risks of terrorism, the secretary of state convened an Advisory Panel on Overseas Security under the chairmanship of retired Admiral Bobby R. Inman. The 1985 Inman Report warned that growing security demands at home and abroad required the Department of State to establish a professional law enforcement service with its own structure for personnel recruitment, advancement, and assignment. In light of the danger of mob attacks and terrorist sabotage upon U.S. embassies, the panel also recommended that more physically secure sites and buildings replace a large number of diplomatic facilities around the world. The new service would initiate and direct this relocation and building program.

Upon its creation, DS began providing protective details based on the level of threat to selected foreign officials within the U.S as well as to American ambassadors and other officials overseas. It does not protect visiting heads of state but, in response to specific threats made against them, will guard foreign missions in the U.S. through agreements with state and local law enforcement authorities. On the average, DS participates in more than 150 foreign and domestic dignitary details each year. By the mid-1990s, DS personnel had thwarted twenty-two assassinations in progress, eighteen of them overseas. The service also evacuated embassies in nations on the verge of collapse.

To monitor and analyze all international and domestic terrorism matters, DS relies upon Intelligence and Threat Analysis (ITA) to link with the U.S. intelligence community. Besides issuing a classified Daily Security Brief to senior DS and State Department officers, ITA produces two annual publications. Significant Incidents of Political Violence against Americans is a narrative and statistical compendium of all acts of terrorism and political violence against U.S. interests in a given year. Terrorist Tactics and Security Procedures offers case studies of specific terrorist attacks or security developments that affect the safety of Americans abroad. ITA also distributes the semiannual Security Environment Threat List (SETL), which helps DS prioritize resource allocation by categorizing political risks and crime at all U.S. missions overseas.

DS also attempts to deter the efforts of foreign intelligence agencies to compromise U.S. employees. It investigates crimes involving passport and visa fraud while examining the backgrounds of employees, applicants, contractors, and others who seek access to Department of State information or facilities. Additionally, the service investigates personnel security matters with counterintelligence ramifications in conjunction with the National Counterintelligence Center.

DS generally receives little notice and is probably best known for its regular bulletins of security suggestions for U.S. business representatives overseas. By working with the Department of State's Overseas Security Advisory Council as well as American embassies and consulates, it provides current information about precautions that can provide some degree of protection by serving as psychological and practical deterrents to would-be terrorists. This information includes warnings about new crime strategies, such as kidnappers who first appear as vendors operating carts across from the homes of Americans, as well as time-honored advice like recommendations to vary daily travel routes.

The volume of DS investigations has steadily increased each year. In light of the current high risk of terrorist activity, the demand for DS service will likely continue to grow.



Katz, Samuel M. Relentless Pursuit: The DSS and the Manhunt for the al-Qaeda Terrorists. New York: Tom Doherty Associates, 2002.

Smith, G. Davidson. Combating Terrorism. New York: Routledge, 1990.

United States Department of State, Bureau of Diplomatic Security. Countering Terrorism: Security Suggestion for U.S. Business Representatives Abroad. Washington, D.C.: Department of State, 1999.


United States Department of State. "Bureau of Diplomatic Security." March 29, 2003 < http://www.ds.state.gov > (March 29, 2003).


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