Having lived under diplomatic security for 42 years I was interested in the report that the tragedy in Benghazi was the result of poor diplomatic security.  I could tell many stories about the subject but will speak of a few that represent the whole picture. 

I was at our embassy in Ankara, Turkey in the late 1970’s when an undeclared civil war was raging.  The main result was the collection each morning of bodies left from street fighting the night before in all the main cities and towns.   We were on heightened security at our embassy.  But one night someone threw a bomb over the wall that exploded right in front of the window to my office.  The next day I closed the heavy steel shutters over the window and moved my desk to the far corner of the room.  I never opened the shutters again. 

The embassy realized that our Marine detachment was insufficient to provide full security.  You may be interested in knowing that the marine detachment at any of our embassies is relatively small, maybe 15 people to provide 24/7/365 coverage.   This means that maybe there are 5-6 marines on duty during the day and 2-3 at night.  And our consulates almost never have marine guards.  The embassy in Ankara decided to supplement the marines with hired security guards. 

However, regulations covering hiring guards led to a rather tortured arrangment.  First, the guards could not be direct hire employees and had to be contracted.  Second, we could not contract individuals, but had to contract a single entity to supply the guards.   Third, the embassy had determined that there were no suitable private guard services in Turkey with whom to contract for guards.  We wound up with the security officer finding suitable guards and then contracting them, betlieve it or not, through the embassy snack bar association which had been set up to operate the cafeteria in the embassy.  I used to point out to visitors that our guards were employees of the snack bar. 

Over the years we have developed better understanding of local guard services and today most of our embassy guards are hired from such local services.  However, in some cases we have determined that these guards must come from an American firm, enter the infamous Blackwater company that provided guards for our embassy in Baghdad. 

So there you have it, the main protection for our embassies and other diplomatic missions comes from contracted guards who may be anyone from employees of the embassy snack bar to an established American firm.  But they are not employees of the US Government.  .

While the marines and guards protected me at the embassy or consulate, I had no guards when outside the mission or at home.  I decided that my main protection while outside the mission was anonymity and always sought to blend in with the crowd.   I was relatively safe as long as no one took me for anyone but just another Joe walking down the street.  Of course I stood out in Vietnam, but did not stand out among the thousands of American civilians working there during the war.  I guess I realized how well I could blend in with the masses came in Turkey when a Turk came up to me on a street corner and asked in Turkish the directions to a nearby street which I told him in Turkish.  I was wearing a tweed wool coat and newspaper boy cap like any good Turk so was nothing more than a man standing on a corner.  

I also lived in Turkey as a private American citizen.  This was during the Gulf War next door in Iraq which had served to revive a left-wing  terrorist group in Turkey that went around killing two types of people, Turkish generals and American businessmen.  I instituted strict security procedures in my office and covered our windows with bomb proof transparent covers.  The main instruction was to not open the front door to anyone, not even one’s mother, if the person was not there on a scheduled appointment.  I survived again.

Funny the only time I did not follow my basic security procedure of remaining anonymous was as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Asmara, Ethiopia.  I was known by almost the entire 200,000 residents of the city because I was the coach of the most successfull soccer team my school had ever had.  I guess my Peace Corps “cloak” protected me.