Security Technical Specialists—Experts Who Think Outside the Box

In 2014, Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf asked the U.S. Embassy in Monrovia for assistance with opening three large safes recovered after they went missing during the country’s civil war. A Security Technical Specialist (STS) from the Bureau of Diplomatic Security (DS) stepped in to help, using his technical expertise and equipment. As he began opening the safes, curious crowds began swarming outside the building. The first two safes were empty. The last safe held some of Liberia’s vital documents and historical artifacts, including its original Declaration of Independence.   

While cracking open safes for non-U.S. government officials is not a regular duty for STSs, these “out-of-the-box” assignments are not uncommon for these DS Foreign Service specialists. From major international meetings and events, such as the United Nations General Assembly and the Global Entrepreneurship Summit, to protection against technical espionage and terrorism, STSs play a critical role in helping to safeguard U.S. diplomatic facilities worldwide.  

Since the creation of the skill code in 1999 in response to the East Africa embassy bombings, STSs have used their technical expertise to install, maintain, and repair complex security systems in U.S. Department of State locations throughout the world--offering protection for diplomatic facilities and personnel from technical espionage, acts of terrorism, and crime. 

DS employs modern technologies in hundreds of overseas and domestic facilities involving advanced electronic, computer, and wireless countermeasures, as well as mechanical, civil, and structural technologies. These countermeasures include anti-ram vehicle barriers, infrared cameras, armored vehicles, and biometric access control. 

“Life as an STS is definitely not life in a cubicle,” said STS Jorge Delfin. “Our work is incredibly varied. We manage projects and people; advise, supervise and train; support dignitary travel; and, of course, explore the use of new technology, all while installing, maintaining and repairing a vast array of complex technical security equipment.”

A security technical specialist from DS puts the finishing touches on a walk-thru-metal-detector installation at the Kenyan International Convention center during the 2015 Global Entrepreneurship Summit in Nairobi, Kenya. [State Department photo] 

STSs are usually working behind the scenes before, during, and after major international events where DS provides security. For example, at the most recent United Nations General Assembly, STSs were part of a cadre of technical security experts who deployed and maintained a sophisticated array of communications, surveillance, and protective equipment. 

STSs also work closely with Marine Security Guards overseas. Marine Security Guards are charged with the protection of personnel, equipment, and classified information, and they rely on STSs to install and maintain technical security systems that monitor the interior and exterior perimeter of U.S. facilities throughout the world. In November 2015, immediately following the terrorist attacks in Paris, local STSs mobilized quickly to provide technical support and expertise when additional Marine Security Guards were sent to strengthen security at the U.S. embassy. 

In September 2013, terrorists attacked the U.S. Consulate in Herat, Afghanistan. Thanks to the DS Regional Security Office team and the layers of blast mitigation and other physical security measures, the consulate was successfully defended. Following the attack, STSs helped recover video evidence of the attack and replaced surveillance cameras that had been destroyed.

On the rare occasions when U.S. missions have to be evacuated due to imminent threats or other security challenges, STSs, as part of the security engineering and technical team, spring into action by removing or, in some cases, destroying electronic equipment, or undertaking other measures to help fortify the embassy’s infrastructure. STSs, along with Marine Security Guards and other security personnel, are often among the last to leave--taking the final action to remove or destroy sensitive information and security technology before vacating the premises. 

Because of their subject matter expertise, STSs are sometimes called upon by the regional security officer or the security technology office to serve as technical advisors to support the embassy in its community work with local host country schools and facilities. At the U.S. Embassy Yaoundé, Cameroon, for example, the embassy staff asked the local STS to join and provide technical security advice to the Ambassador’s Self Help team, which traveled to the cities of Buea, Kumba, and Douala in Cameroon to provide funding and support to children and youth in the region.

“STSs couple their technical knowledge and skills with the ability to think outside the box--working together to ensure that their State Department colleagues can carry out their foreign policy missions safely and securely,” said STS Delfin. 

About the Author: Barbara C. Gleason serves as a Public Affairs Officer in the Bureau of Diplomatic Security at the U.S. Department of State. Jorge Delfin, quoted in the article, is a Security Technical Specialist/Operations Manager in the DS Bureau.

For more information:

A DS security technical specialist holding one of the artifacts recovered from a safe, after assisting the country of Liberia by cracking open three large safes recovered after they went missing during the country’s civil war. [State Department photo]
November 29, 2016

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