Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Diplomatic Security Service Gets No Press, Once Again

Here's a Department of State press release from last week, which I've been mulling over: Diplomatic Security Coordinates Rescue of 3-year-old American Kidnapped in Guatemala.

And here are two key quotes:

While these phone negotiations were underway, the Regional Security Office in Embassy Guatemala was able to provide Guatemala's Anti-Kidnapping Unit critical information regarding the whereabouts of the kidnappers and the victim in Planes de Barcenas, Villa Nueva, Guatemala.

On the morning of August 28, Guatemala's CAS [the anti-kidnapping unit], utilizing the information provided by the Regional Security Office, successfully rescued the girl. All five kidnapping suspects were killed during the rescue operation.

This press release interests me because it leaves so much unsaid. Such as, how was the RSO able to provide the whereabouts of the kidnappers? And how did it happen that the local police killed all five of them, with no one wounded or captured, and no injuries on the police side? Obviously, there is a story behind this story, and it's probably something really good. But, most likely, we won't ever learn any more.

Incidents like this would surely be of popular interest, however, for reasons I don't understand, Diplomatic Security has never sought publicity, unlike other Federal law enforcement agencies and security services.

Indeed, some agencies are shameless press hogs. Let me digress for an old joke: A joint task force of DEA, ATF, and FBI agents raids a house. The DEA agents release their trained dog, who sniffs all over and finds a suitcase full of cocaine. Then the ATF agents release their trained dog, who finds a buried cache of AK-47s. Finally, the FBI agents release their trained dog, who runs outside and holds a press conference to announce that the FBI has just broken up a major drug and gun smuggling ring.

Those agencies that crave publicity have had no trouble getting it. The FBI, of course, has been mythologized in scores, maybe hundreds, of movies and TV series ranging from The FBI Story (1959), which was J. Edgar's own Authorized Version of his creation narrative, to grotesque travesties like The Private Files of J. Edgar Hoover (1977). But many other agencies are featured almost as often, and with greater or lesser degrees of hagiography.

The U.S. Marshals Service had a TV series once, and a few good recent movies, one of which (U.S. Marshals) had a DS agent character as the bad guy! Since that part was played by Robert Downey, Jr., it was a case of true to life casting, perhaps. The CIA, U.S. Secret Service, Customs, Border Patrol, Naval Criminal Investigative Service, etc., etc., etc., have all had TV series and / or movies that made them familiar to the American public. And those omnipresent reality TV shows, such as COPS, have profiled seemingly every obscure police outfit imaginable; I wouldn't be surprised to see "True Tales of the GSA Parking Lot Police" on some cheesy cable channel.

But poor old DS just gets no respect from the cop-happy viewing public. It is curious.


Anonymous said...

Are you kidding me? DS has a huge Public Relations Office and puts out press releases every few days, including the one you cite. Often they do not get taken seriously, not because the public doesn't like DS but because repeated fact-checking by the media finds that the Press Releases exaggerate DS's role in the action described.

It's not that DS does not seek publicity. It's just that their publicity seeking is so filled with fluff that few journalists buy it.

TSB said...

DS has a tiny PR staff - a negligible one by comparison with other agencies - which sends out press releases, does internal newsletters, and handles inquiries, but that isn't publicity. The closest they came to publicizing DS might have been the interviews they arranged for the former RSO in Karachi in connection with his (terrible) portrayal in that Daniel Pearl movie. All the reviews I saw for the movie described him as a CIA officer, so that effort obviously made no impresssion.

I don't know of any press releases which exaggerated DS's role in an incident; perhaps you do. On that subject, however, DS really ought to publicly correct misimpressions left by other agencies. The FBI did not capture Ramzi Yousef, for example.

DS doesn't make a secret of itself but it doesn't publicize itself either. If it did, then maybe the American public would know it exists. Right now it has zero public image.

Anonymous said...

"Anonymous said... DS has a huge Public Relations Office..."

What? Where did you hear that? Fact check yourself. Find out how huge it is. You will be surprised.

TSB said...

Anon. #2,

Thank you, you are correct. DS's PR office has a director, an assistant director, and two writer/editors. Plus, I believe, two graphics technicians. The FBI, in contrast, has an Assistant FBI Director (a former journalist) in charge of a truely huge PR staff.

AMessagetoGarcia said...

Back in 2004 there was a really good article written by Washington Post staff writer. Also I found a BBC article and of course Wikipedia. TSB, you're right the Diplomatic Security Service does not advertise.




Anonymous said...

This is a bad idea.

Lawmakers Hope To Bring Federal Training Center To Eastalco Site
November 20, 2009 - 2:01am

Lawmakers are lobbying to bring a Bureau of Diplomatic Security training center to Frederick County, with the hope it will usher in hundreds of jobs.
On behalf of the county's state delegation, Delegate Paul Stull, R-Md., sent a letter to U.S. Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., about 10 days ago, asking that she support building the training center at the site of the shuttered Alcoa Eastalco Works aluminum plant near Ballenger Creek Pike.

Alcoa Eastalco Works is located in the Buckeystown area of Frederick County, Maryland, about 45 miles from both Washington, DC and Baltimore, Maryland.  The plant occupies 400 acres of a 2,200 acre tract.  Eastalco Works was capable of producing 185,000 tons of aluminum each year.  Production at the Eastalco plant ended in December, 2005, but before then, the plant produced rolling ingots, bullets and T-ingots.  Additionally, this facility was a Test Laboratory accredited by the American Association for Laboratory Accreditation (A2LA) for chemical and environmental analysis. 

Now some of you may be scratching your head asking, what are some of the hazardous materials produced from smelting operations? Most notably; cyanides, fluorides and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons all of which have the possibility of contamination of subterranean aquifers and surface waters.

Yes, probably not the healthiest location to stage basic training operations for our best and brightest working in federal law enforcement. The half-life on a majority of these waste products is much longer than one would expect. I know wouldn't want to live and work on the location / property of a decommissioned smelting operation.

I hope those in power in GSA and DSS will reevaluate this location and decide to move to one of the locations they have already scouted out or use part time in West Virginia and Virginia.

Aluminum Smelter Plant / Test Laboratory = bad location. West Virginia / Virginia = good location.

This isn't rocket science.

Anonymous said...

Problem with DSS getting publicity is the Foreign Service Corps - they do not want DSS to be given any, as the State Department is for diplomacy - not law enforcement - in the 1990's a TV executive came to the Department wanting to do a TV series on DSS - after consultations with the Department, the series wound up being about a Consular Officer - lasted about 3 weeks and off the air - posted by a retired DSS Assistant Director - 31 years.

TSB said...

Retired DSS Assistant Director,

Thanks very much for your comment. Excellent to hear from you.

I think I remember that 90s TV series - basically Allie McBeal in London, right?