Diplomatic Security Service

Not to be confused with Defense Security Service.
U.S. Diplomatic Security Service
Abbreviation DSS

Seal of the Diplomatic Security Service

DSS special agent badge
Motto Protecting Americans Around the World
Agency overview
Formed 1916: Bureau of Secret Intelligence
1945: Office of Security (SY)
1985: Diplomatic Security Service
Legal personality Governmental: Government agency
Jurisdictional structure
Federal agency United States
General nature
Operational structure
Headquarters Arlington, Virginia
Agents 2,000
Agency executive Bill A. Miller, Director
Parent agency U.S. Department of State
Field Offices 8
Resident Agencies 15
Overseas Offices 285
Visa fraud, passport fraud, protection of the Secretary of State, visiting foreign dignitaries, U.S. ambassadors overseas, and U.S. embassies and consulates

The U.S. Diplomatic Security Service (DSS or DS) is the federal law enforcement and security arm of the United States Department of State. The DSS is the lead U.S. law enforcement organization abroad, and is the most widely represented law enforcement agency in the world. Its duties include protecting U.S. diplomatic missions, U.S. diplomats, and visiting foreign dignitaries; conducting criminal, counter-terrorism, and counterintelligence investigations abroad; advising U.S. ambassadors on security matters; and managing or implementing security programs worldwide.[1]


The DSS most notably provides protection for US diplomatic missions, US diplomats, and visiting foreign dignitaries. The DSS also performs a myriad of other activities including international investigations, threat analysis, counterterrorism, security technology, cyber security, and protection of people, property, and information. DSS Special Agents are federal agents with the power to arrest, carry firearms, serve arrest warrants, and perform other law enforcement activities.[1]

The majority of DSS Special Agents are jointly Foreign Service specialists and American federal law enforcement officers, making the DSS unique, as most other federal law enforcement agents are members of the Federal Civil Service. As such, because DSS Special Agents are members of the Foreign Service, unlike all other civilian federal law enforcement officers, DSS agents must serve multiple-year tours overseas as a condition of employment. When not at an overseas assignment, agents serve in field offices and HQ positions. A small percentage of DS special agents are members of the State Department's civil service (GS-1811), and are not mandated to serve tours overseas. These special agents focus on criminal work and dignitary protection within the United States.

When assigned to domestic field offices, DSS Special Agents investigate passport fraud and visa fraud, and protect visiting foreign dignitaries. DSS agents also investigate the activities of foreign intelligence agencies that are focused on the Department of State, assist in apprehending fugitives that have fled to the United States, and conduct background checks on State Department employees, applicants, and contractors.

When assigned to US embassies abroad, DSS Special Agents perform law enforcement duties at US missions, provide security assistance, protect senior diplomats, and perform other duties. The ranking DSS officer at an embassy or consulate holds the title Regional Security Officer (RSO), and is often known as the security attaché.

Both at home and abroad, DSS agents engage in other types of law enforcement including counterintelligence operations, counterterrorism operations, and dedicated protection operations for the United States Secretary of State, United States Representative to the United Nations, and other senior diplomatic officials.

There are approximately 2,400 DSS special agents. Special Agents are sometimes referred to as "DS Agents," or "DSS Agents." Both terms are used interchangeably within the agency and other organizations. DSS is technically the correct term.

Hiring process

The DSS Special Agent hiring process is widely regarded as one of the most difficult and challenging within both the federal government and general law enforcement alike. Candidates must successfully pass an intensive multi-stage evaluation process that includes a series of written exams, knowledge-based exams, writing samples, panel interviews, and situational judgment exercises; a physical fitness test (PFT); a comprehensive medical examination granting worldwide availability; and an exhaustive background investigation for security clearance at the level of Top Secret/Sensitive Compartmented Information (TS/SCI). A final suitability review and vote by a Foreign Service panel evaluates a candidate's overall ability to represent the interests of the United States abroad.

All DSS special agents have at least a four-year bachelor's degree, and most have graduate and/or post-graduate degrees. Agent candidates must be under the age of 37 at the time of commissioning, unless granted a waiver due to prior military service.[2]


After a new agent candidate is hired, he or she begins a nearly nine-month training program that includes the Criminal Investigator Training Program (CITP) at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center (FLETC) (pronounced flet-see) in Glynco, Georgia; a Basic Special Agent Course (BSAC) at the Diplomatic Security Training Center, and courses at the Foreign Service Institute (FSI) in Arlington, Virginia. After completion of all initial training, agents are required to pass quarterly re-qualifications on their duty weapons, which include the Sig Sauer P229R, Colt Sub Machine Gun, the M4 rifle, and Remington 870 shotgun. A new training facility that will consolidate DS' far-flung training venues is currently under development, but currently agent's are trained at DSs' "interim training facility" (ITF) in Winchester, VA. A new special agent is usually assigned to a domestic field office for two to three years before taking on an overseas assignment, although an agent can expect to be sent on frequent temporary duty assignments overseas even when assigned to a domestic post. However, agents may be called overseas much earlier depending on the needs of DS. As members of the Foreign Service, agents are expected to spend most of their career living and working overseas, often in hazardous environments or less developed countries throughout the world.

Protection mission

A DSS agent stands watch as Secretary of State Kerry makes a telephone call.

DSS is the agency identified to accept high threat protection assignments around the globe. The largest permanent dignitary protection detail carried out by DSS agents is on the Secretary of State. DSS also has an ongoing protection detail on the United States Ambassador to the United Nations.

Most other "details" are on visiting foreign dignitaries and diplomats, and are on a temporary basis for the duration of a dignitary's visit. Foreign ministers from important nations, as well as those with threats, are typically covered by DSS.

DSS Special Agents protect such dignitaries as the Prince of Wales, Prince William, Duke of Cambridge, Prince Harry, the 14th Dalai Lama, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and have protected Princess Diana, Yasser Arafat,[3] Zalmay Khalilzad and Boris Yeltsin (in the days preceding the dissolution of the Soviet Union).[4]

The Bureau of Diplomatic Security's Office of Foreign Missions is responsible for the protection of foreign embassies and consulates on U.S. soil.[5] Since the DSS does not have a true uniformed force with police powers, other agencies or local police departments are reimbursed for providing this service. Two notable examples of this are the Secret Service Uniformed Division in Washington, D.C. and the New York City Police Department in New York City.

DSS Special Agents escort the Tibet leader Dalai Lama from a speaking engagement at Rice University

During the annual United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) meeting in September, DSS, as well as the USSS, protects many dozens of varied dignitaries, mostly in New York City. DSS may also provide protection to others as assigned, including foreign persons without any government status, but who might have a threat against them.[3] DSS also protects certain U.S. ambassadors overseas. Currently, the protection detail for the U.S. Ambassador to Iraq is one of the largest critical threat protection details in the history of DSS. Currently the U.S. ambassadors to China, Israel, Egypt, and Jordan all receive large amounts of protection from DSS.

DSS has the authority to provide protection for foreign heads of state, and was the lead agency through the early 1970s. However, an order signed by President Richard Nixon gave primary responsibility of protection of visiting heads of state to the U.S. Secret Service (USSS). The appointment of Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State raised the question of whether and when the Secret Service or DSS would provide protection. As former First Lady, Clinton receives Secret Service protection, as does her husband, who would, presumably, occasionally accompany her on official trips. However, DSS was named the lead agency to carry out the protection for Hillary Clinton during her tenure as Secretary of State.

DSS has also protected or does protect the presidents of Afghanistan, Haiti and Liberia. What makes these details unique is that the protection, done by U.S. federal agents—DSS—is carried out overseas, in the protected person's home country.[6][7]


DSS investigations, carried out by numerous Field Offices and Resident Agent offices throughout the U.S, and by RSOs overseas, focus mainly on passport or visa fraud. DSS Special Agents also investigate such cases as human and sex trafficking, document fraud, international parental kidnapping, violations of the Protect Act, assaults on federally protected persons, fugitive arrests overseas (with host nation assistance), counterterrorism and counterintelligence (CI) investigations and international organized crime cases. If there is a nexus to passport and/or visa fraud, use of State Department documents, diplomatic activities, the U.S. Foreign Service, or terrorism, DSS is typically involved.

Passport and visa fraud

The U.S. passport and visa are valuable travel documents. There are foreign nationals who fraudulently acquire U.S. passports and visas to carry out criminal activities, including terrorism, inside the borders of the United States. These crimes threaten the national security of the United States.

It is a federal offense to apply or assist someone in applying for a U.S. passport or visa when they are not entitled to one. Usually this means an alien in the U.S. trying to establish a false U.S. identity, or stealing the identity from an American, often one who has died. Visa fraud can also include being part of or participating in sham marriages in order to allow an unentitled foreigner to become a U.S. citizen.[8][9][10][11][12] [13]

Sometimes Americans, including Foreign Service Officers (FSOs), are the target of DS investigations, such as an FSO selling visas for personal gain. DS also investigates other alleged improper or illegal behavior by Department of State personnel, to include incidents of espionage. Such cases would involve other agencies, such as the Department of Justice. Overseas DSS must take the role of local and state law enforcement when investigating issues such as spousal or child abuse by U.S. government personnel assigned to the embassy. This is because the host country will not investigate or prosecute diplomats, who are considered to have immunity from their laws. DSS also conducts tens of thousands of background investigations per year - not just for the Department of State, but for other federal agencies as well.

In recent years, DSS has expanded its overseas investigations program with ARSO-I's (Assistant Regional Security Officer-Investigators), also known as "Overseas Criminal Investigators." These agents are given special training in consular functions and are commissioned consular officers. However, they spend a large amount of their time working with the fraud units in consular sections, investigating visa and passport fraud, as well as crimes that have a nexus to those documents, including terrorism, organized crime, trafficking in persons, and narcotics violations. The ARSO-I's may work alien smuggling and human trafficking investigations alongside the resident or regional U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Attaché who typically has jurisdictional primacy in these arenas. At the U.S. border, ARSO-I's may work alien smuggling, human trafficking, and passport and visa fraud cases with U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP). In addition, ARSO-I's also have responsibilities outside of their respective Consular assignments for mission security.


The Diplomatic Security Service Office of Investigations and Counterintelligence (DS/ICI/CI) conducts a robust counterintelligence program designed to deter, detect, and neutralize the efforts of foreign intelligence services targeting Department of State personnel, facilities, and diplomatic missions worldwide.

The office's counterintelligence division conducts aggressive counterintelligence inquires and counterespionage investigations with other U.S. Government agencies. Counterespionage investigations are conducted in close coordination with the FBI in accordance with their legal mandates.

The division conducts numerous counterintelligence and security awareness training programs for all U.S. Government personnel requesting or having access to sensitive Department of State facilities and information. All training programs enhance the understanding of both foreign intelligence and espionage threats and countermeasures, and educate employees on the foreign intelligence environment.

In addition, the office relies on a cadre of security engineers to deter, detect, and neutralize attempts by foreign intelligence services to technically penetrate U.S. office buildings and residences. These efforts range from detecting a simple listening device in the wall to countering the most sophisticated electronic eavesdropping devices and systems.[14]

On June 4, 2009 the DSS and the FBI arrested former Department of State employee Walter Kendall Myers on charges of serving as an illegal agent of the Cuban government for nearly 30 years and conspiring to provide classified U.S. information to the Cuban government. Mr. Myers’ arrest is the culmination of a three-year joint DSS/FBI investigation.[15][16][17][18][19][20][21]


The Diplomatic Security Service maintains agents in dozens of Joint Terrorism Task Force operations around the country. The Office of Protective Intelligence and Investigations (PII) in the Threat Intelligence and Analysis division has DS Special Agents who travel all over the world investigating threats to the Secretary of State and U.S. Embassies and Consulates. Any time there is a threat or an attack against a U.S. Embassy or Consulate, DSS Special Agents are the first on the scene to investigate.

The Rewards for Justice Program (RFJ) is the counterterrorism rewards program of DS. The Secretary of State is currently offering rewards for information that prevents or favorably resolves acts of international terrorism against U.S. persons or property worldwide.

From April 15, 2013 to April 19, 2013, DSS Special Agents along with members of the FBI, State Police, Boston Police, Cambridge Police, and other law enforcement agencies investigated the Boston Marathon Bombing that occurred on April 15, 2013, leading to the death of one suspect and the capture of the second suspect. The Investigation is currently ongoing.[22]

Other investigations

DS investigates crimes against State Department personnel and other U.S. Government personnel and families assigned under Chief of Mission authority at a U.S. Embassy or Consulate abroad. DS Special Agents have investigated thefts, assaults, rapes, and murders, among other charges, around the world. Unlike investigations conducted in the United States by other federal agencies, DS Agents have to work jointly with their foreign counterparts in often hostile areas of the world.

On January 28, 2009, a news story broke about a CIA station chief Andrew Warren in Algiers, Algeria who was under investigation by DS for having allegedly raped two Muslim women.[23][24]


USMS and DSS team

The U.S. Diplomatic Security Service is tasked with tracking and capturing fugitives who have fled U.S. jurisdiction to avoid prosecution. During 2009, DSS assisted in the resolution of 136 international fugitive cases from around the globe.[25]

In 1995 DSS Special Agents Jeff Riner and Bill Miller, the RSOs assigned to the U.S. Embassy in Pakistan, along with Pakistani police and Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), arrested Ramzi Yousef, who was wanted in connection with the 1993 World Trade Center bombing in New York City.[26]

DSS Special Agent Terrance Lawrence located and returned Jared Ravin Yaffe from Brazil. Yaffe, wanted in California for multiple counts of alleged child sexual assault, kidnapping, and unlawful flight to avoid prosecution, was returned to the United States on May 12, 2009, to face trial. On February 11, 2009, the United States District Court, Southern District of California issued a federal arrest warrant for Yaffe for unlawful flight to avoid prosecution. Yaffe was profiled on the television show America’s Most Wanted on April 11, 2009.[27]

On September 19, 2009, Special Agents from the U.S. Diplomatic Security Service (DSS) located Derrick Yancey, a former Deputy Sheriff from DeKalb County, Georgia, in Punta Gorda, Belize. Yancey was wanted in Georgia for double murder of his wife Linda Yancey and a day laborer. Upon arrival at a local bar, at 6:05 PM local time, a DS agent tapped on Yancey's shoulder and told him "It is time to go." Belize authorities then arrested Yancey. Yancey was featured on America's Most Wanted.

On November 23, 2009 DSS Special Agents from the U.S. Embassy’s Regional Security Office (RSO) worked closely with the U.S. Marshals Service, Guatemalan National Police, and INTERPOL to locate alleged murder suspect 24-year-old Ariel Beau Patrick, who was taken into custody in Guatemala. Ariel Patrick was featured on America's Most Wanted.[28]

America's Most Wanted featured the capture of Robert Snyder in Belize - DSS Special Agent (RSO) Rob Kelty was interviewed by John Walsh.

On April 26, 2010 after failing to check in with pretrial services within two days of his April 21 hearing on his bond status, Andrew Warren 42, was apprehended by a combined team of Norfolk Police Department Fugitive Investigators, DSS Special Agents and U.S. Marshals. Judge Ellen S. Huvelle of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia issued a bench warrant for the arrest of the former CIA officer.[29][30] On July 30, 2010, special agents from the U.S. Department of State's Diplomatic Security Service (DSS) located fugitive George Alvin Viste in Peru. Viste was wanted in Clark County, Washington on seven different criminal charges including the rape of a child, child molestation, and incest. “Diplomatic Security’s Regional Security Office in Lima worked closely with the U.S. Marshals Service and our law enforcement counterparts (INTERPOL) in Peru to locate Viste,” said Jeffrey W. Culver, Director of the Diplomatic Security Service.[31][32][33]

On October 8, 2010, DS agents located Dario Sarimiento Tomas in Pampanga, Philippines. DS worked with Philippine officials to apprehend Tomas, who was wanted in South Korea on charges that he defrauded an individual there of more than $200,000. Tomas was arrested by law enforcement officials from the Philippine National Bureau of Investigations and National Police. Tomas was assigned to the U.S. Embassy in Seoul as a Customs and Border Protection Officer.[34]

On January 12, 2011, DS agents located and helped return California fugitive John Pope from Mexico. Pope, formerly of San Francisco, was taken into custody by Mexican authorities in La Paz, Mexico on January 12 and returned to the United States on January 18, 2011 to face trial. Pope has been wanted by the San Francisco District Attorney's Office since October 20, 1998, in connection with allegations of fraud concerning embezzlement of $1,000,000 from the estate of a deceased San Francisco businessman.[35]

On February 3, 2011 Paul Eischeid, a fugitive and member of the Hells Angels who had eluded U.S. Marshals for nearly eight years, was arrested. The accused murderer was arrested in Buenos Aires. An Interpol Red Notice, as well as investigations by the U.S. Marshals Service and the U.S. Diplomatic Security Service in Argentina led to the fugitive's capture.[36]

On October 5, 2011, in cooperation with the U.S. Marshals Montana Violent Offender Task Force and the Diplomatic Security Service, the Belize Police Department arrested Michael Patrick McNulty, 48, on a $100,000 warrant issued by the state of Montana.[37]

On November 7, 2012, U.S. Marshals Service (USMS) announces the capture of John Earl Gorham. The U.S. Parole Commission issued an arrest warrant for Gorham on Oct. 17, regarding the subject’s original conviction of sodomy, kidnapping and assault with the intent to commit sodomy. Gorham was convicted and sentenced to 35 years on these charges. Gorham was arrested for being drunk in public and for sexually assaulting a 14-year-old female at a Chantilly High School football game. The USMS and task force partners from the Diplomatic Security Service located Gorham at his residence on Church Lane in Bowie, MD. The subject was arrested without incident and turned over to the U.S. District Court in the District of Columbia for prosecution.

On April 20, 2013, in coordination with Nicaraguan authorities, the FBI’s Panama City Legal Attaché Office and the Diplomatic Security's Regional Security Office of the U.S. Embassy in Managua located Eric Justin Toth in Esteli, Nicaragua, where he was placed into custody. His arrest was the result of an exhaustive and well coordinated investigation by the FBI’s Washington Field Office, the FBI legal attaché, and Special Agents of the Diplomatic Security Service assigned to the U.S. Embassy in Managua.[38]

Overseas mission

Regional Security Office (RSO)

The DS presence overseas is led at each post (embassy) by a DS Special Agent who is referred to as a Regional Security Officer, or more commonly as the "RSO", who is the special agent in charge of a Regional Security Office and who serves as the senior law enforcement advisor and security attaché to the U.S. Ambassador.

Like all members of the Foreign Service, DS agents cannot remain posted in the United States for more than six consecutive years and must eventually be assigned to an overseas post.[39]

Once assigned overseas, a DS agent will typically serve first as a Special Agent called an Assistant Regional Security Officer (ARSO) in a Regional Security Office. Agents that enjoy the overseas lifestyle will try to get a second tour in a Special Agent slot at a large embassy or even possibly a Regional Security Officer (RSO) slot at a small post or a Deputy Regional Security Officer (DRSO) at a medium-sized post. Usually after two back-to-back overseas tours agents will be encouraged to return to the U.S. and serve in a Headquarters position before returning overseas as a Regional Security Officer.

DS has been expanding its criminal role overseas and now has many overseas fraud investigator positions. These positions are referred to as “I” positions - as in “Investigator” - and they are commonly referred to as ARSO-Is. These agents work out of the consular sections of embassies and consulates instead of the Regional Security Offices. The performance of these agents is rated by the RSO or the Deputy RSO and is reviewed by the Consul General.

There are several other overseas positions filled by DSS agents. At new building construction sites, agents will serve as the Site Security Manager (SSM) where they will supervise the overall security of the new building including the Construction Security Technicians (CST) and Cleared American Guards (CAG). For construction at posts where there is a critical counterintelligence (CI) threat, agents will also serve as CI investigators dedicated to preventing compromise of the most sensitive spaces within the new embassy.

It is common for domestically assigned DS agents to serve temporary duty (TDY) at Embassies overseas. Such duty can range from various types of protection duties to RSO support or security training for an overseas post, and may last for as little as a few days to multiple months.

DSS agents have often found themselves in harm's way with four agents and 28 contract security specialists killed in the line of duty as of July 2006. The vast majority of DSS casualties had taken place within the five years in Iraq where DSS continued to conduct its most critical and dangerous protective missions.

It should be noted, however, that the Regional Security Officer title is currently in an unofficial period of flux and, although not officially sanctioned, some agents posted overseas use derivative titles such as security attaché or only use their agent titles on their business cards. Newer agents generally dislike the title because it doesn’t reflect their law enforcement status and consider it a vestige of Diplomatic Security's SY days.

According to U.S. law, the title "security officer" is legally defined as someone who is employed by a private entity and is not a law enforcement officer.[40] Additionally, it is noted that RSOs no longer cover multiple countries and are thus not regional. Even some more seasoned agents have taken to referring to themselves as Special Agent-in-Charge/Regional Security Officer on their official biographies.[41]

The method in which the RSO title is implemented also has the potential to create confusion when interacting with outside organizations. It is possible at larger overseas missions with multiple diplomatic facilities located in the same country to have multiple agents with the Regional Security Officer title. India, for example, has an RSO position at the embassy at the Senior Foreign Service level and 4 other RSOs at the consulates at the significantly lower grade 3 level yet all of these agents have the same job title.[42][43][44] Sometimes the title Senior Regional Security Officer will be used to help prevent confusion or to indicate that the agent is the most senior in the country.[45][46]

Ramzi Yousef

Ramzi Yousef Captured by the DSS

DS agents have been involved in the investigations of most terrorist attacks on U.S. interests overseas in the past twenty years, including the 2000 bombing of the USS Cole, and bombings of two U.S. Embassies in East Africa in 1998. Perhaps most notably, in 1995 DSS Special Agents Jeff Riner and Bill Miller, the RSOs assigned to the U.S. embassy in Pakistan, along with Pakistani police and Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), arrested Ahmed Ramzi Yousef, who was wanted in connection with the 1993 World Trade Center bombing in New York City. Despite FBI press releases, it was not the FBI who captured Yousef but the ISI and DSS.[47][48][49][50]

Special event security

In addition to being posted at U.S. missions around the world, DS agents also have the unusual role of securing large-scale special events where there is a significant U.S. interest. In the past, DS agents have worked closely with their foreign counterparts to secure such events as the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, China, the 2007 Pan American Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, 2006 Winter Olympic Games in Turin, Italy; the 2010 Winter Olympics in Canada,[51] 2010 World Cup Football Matches and a host of other special events. While the Olympics are the most well-known events, DSS agents have worked with host country security on numerous other large-scale events around the world. For events with a large U.S. presence, such as the Olympics, an Olympic Security Coordinator—always a DSS agent—will be named to manage all of the security and liaison with the host government. All other federal agencies, such as the FBI, ATF, USSS, and DOD components, will report to the DSS agent in charge.[52][53][54][55]


The origins of DS go back to 1916 with a handful of agents assigned special duties directly by the Secretary of State, Robert Lansing. Headed by a Chief Special Agent, who was also called Special Assistant to the Secretary, these agents worked in Washington, D.C., and New York City. This group of agents would sometimes be referred to as the Office of the Chief Special Agent, however it was known as the Bureau of Secret Intelligence. They were operated with private funds from the Secretary's office. Conducting sensitive investigations, they focused mainly on foreign agents and their activities in the United States (this in the days before the CIA; and before the FBI became the primary domestic intelligence organization for the U.S.).

Bureau of Secret Intelligence

1916 Badge of the Bureau of Secret Intelligence, today's DSS

The U.S. Diplomatic Security Service was known as the Bureau of Secret Intelligence at its inception in 1916.[56][57] The Department of State's Bureau of Secret Intelligence was also known as U-1, an off-the-books adjunct to the Division of Information.[58][59] Before the United States entered World War I, German and Austrian spies were conducting operations in New York City. The spies were using forged or stolen identity papers. President Woodrow Wilson authorized the Secretary of State Robert Lansing to establish a security arm of the Department of State. Three agents were recruited from the United States Secret Service because of their experience with counterfeit currency. Since the United States Postal Inspection Service (USPIS) had the best laboratory, the director of the new agency was recruited there.[60]

The Bureau of Secret Intelligence was also known as the Office of the Chief Special Agent. The assumption is that the name "Office of the Chief Special Agent", which was sometimes used in 1916, and to this day by various information portals to include the Department of State's website, to downplay the bureau's original mission.

After 1918, when Congress passed laws requiring passports for Americans returning from overseas, and visas for aliens entering the United States, State Department agents began investigating passport and visa fraud. Around this same time State Department agents began protecting distinguished visitors to the United States. During World War I the Chief Special Agent's office had the responsibility for interning and exchanging diplomatic officials of enemy powers. By the 1920s the Chief Special Agent, no longer reporting his office's activities directly to the Secretary of State, began reporting to the Assistant Secretary of State for Administration. Within the next two decades major passport fraud activities were detected worldwide, often involving both Communists and Nazis. Many of these fraud rings were exposed and neutralized.

Office of Security (S.Y.)

During World War II, State Department agents were once again involved in interning and exchanging diplomatic officials of enemy powers. Around this time the Chief Special Agent's office became known as SY, which was short for the Office of Security, which in turn was under the Administration Bureau of the Management Undersecretary. After World War II, SY began expanding its presence overseas, with numerous Regional Security Officer (RSO) positions created in overseas posts.

In 1961, Otto Otepka, then a Deputy Director of SY, brought to the attention of the United States Senate Internal Security Subcommittee deficiencies in the State Department clearance process. The allegations were traced all the way up to then Secretary of State Dean Rusk. Despite multiple awards, appeals from multiple U.S. Senators, and not backing down, Secretary Rusk removed Otepka from his position and ultimately unceremoniously fired him.

Starting sometime after World War II SY began regularly protecting visiting heads of state, but had done so sporadically since the 1930s. Before his departure in 1947 SY Director Bannerman began codifying procedures for overseas security. This process continued in the late 1940s with a number of RSO positions being created. From that time and through the early 1970s the number of agents remained relatively small, hovering around 300, with more than half of these serving overseas at any given time. The April 1983 U.S. Embassy bombing was a catharsis for 'SY', which would transform 'SY' into the newly created Diplomatic Security Service, part of the Bureau of Diplomatic Security.

Bureau of Diplomatic Security & Diplomatic Security Service

Congress formed a commission headed by Admiral Bobby Ray Inman to look into the bombings of U.S. Diplomatic facilities in Beirut. The resultant Inman Report recommended that security at the State Department needed to be elevated to a higher priority. Thus in 1985 Congress created the Bureau of Diplomatic Security (DS), headed by the Assistant Secretary of State for Diplomatic Security, and the Diplomatic Security Service (DSS), headed by the Director of DSS, who is subordinate to the Assistant Secretary of State for DS.[61] However, the DSS is the federal law enforcement agency, and not the Bureau of Diplomatic Security (DS).

The Director of DS is an active DS agent, and is often referred to by a term more familiar: the Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary (PDAS), as he/she is senior to the various Assistant Directors of Diplomatic Security who hold positions equivalent to Deputy Assistant Secretary (DAS). The PDAS designation signifies the DSS director's preeminence over the other DASs within DS, while at the same time signifying his/her position under the Assistant Secretary of State for Diplomatic Security.[62]

The first several Assistant Secretaries for DS were senior Foreign Service Officers, the last three have been senior law enforcement, brought in from other law enforcement agencies. With the creation of DS and the DSS, its ranks grew to well over 1,000 agents. However, by the mid-1990s budget cutbacks were foisted on the U.S. State Department by Congress and the Department in turn trimmed the budget of DSS to the point where it had dwindled to a little over 600 agents. At the time this seemed justified by Department hierarchy who thought DS was growing much too fast in over-reaction to the Beirut bombings.

Although DS was by then a Bureau within the State Department, overseas the vast majority of RSOs continued to report to the Administration Officer. This changed in 1999, as fallout from the east Africa embassy bombings of 1998. The terse message from the then Undersecretary for Management announcing the immediate change made it clear that this action was against his best judgment and insinuated that it was done because then Secretary of State Madeleine Albright ordered it. This change stripped DS out from under Administration Officers and placed the RSO directly under the Deputy Chief of Mission (DCM) in the chain of command at an Embassy.[63]

Looking at its history it becomes apparent there is a pattern of forced changes in relation to security for the U.S. State Department and its facilities overseas (American embassies and consulates). Often this change is the result of a serious incident, such as a terrorist attack on a U.S. mission. Since 1999 and especially after the creation of the U.S. embassies in Kabul and Baghdad there seems to be an increasing acceptance and desire by State Department hierarchy to fully embrace and support the goals of the Diplomatic Security Service. Likewise, DS has been allowed a greater degree of independent action in administering itself and has been allowed to hire new agents at a rate that keeps overall numbers from slipping downward.

DS vs. DSS

Bureau (DS) Organizational Chart
DSS Organizational Chart

For people who do not work for the Department of State (DoS), there is much confusion about the relationship between the Bureau of Diplomatic Security (DS) and the Diplomatic Security Service (DSS). Even within Department of State there is still some confusion regarding the difference between DS and the DSS.

The Bureau of Diplomatic Security (DS) oversees all security related matters of the U.S. Department of State, which includes security at U.S. embassies and consulates. DS has approximately 34,000 employees; 2,000 of whom are the U.S. federal agents within DSS. The DSS was structured as a law enforcement agency within DS. As such the DSS is the primary mechanism by which the Bureau of Diplomatic Security accomplishes its law enforcement (criminal investigative) and security missions.

An assistant secretary of state is in charge of the Bureau of Diplomatic Security. Under the Assistant Secretary of State are several Deputy Assistant Secretaries (DAS). The Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary (PDAS) is the Director for the Diplomatic Security Service (DSS). The Director of DSS is an active DSS Special Agent.[64]

Within DoS, all employees who work for DS (the bureau) are referred to as DS employees. Even within DSS, agents refer to themselves as DS Agents. This usage is also used in DoS press releases, although recently multi-agency press releases from the U.S. Attorney’s offices use the technically correct Diplomatic Security Service. Additionally, agents are frequently assigned to positions within DS (the bureau) but outside of the DSS chain of command hierarchy. This may seem a little counterintuitive but is a common practice within the Department of State. For example, while assigned overseas, DoS employees are evaluated by their superiors at the embassy or consulate to which they are assigned. In the case of DSS agents, the RSO (senior special agent at post) is rated by the Deputy Chief of Mission and reviewed by the Chief of Mission (Ambassador). The DSS hierarchy in Washington has no input on the agent’s evaluation. This is only a technicality however, as agents frequently receive instructions from HQ.

Bureau of Secret Intelligence (Office of the Chief Special Agent) directors

SY directors

DSS directors


DSS Special Agent on the range with the M2 .50 caliber Machine Gun
DSS Special Agents with M4s at range
U.S. Diplomatic Security Service on the range with M249 SAW

When assigned to the United States special agents are authorized to carry firearms both on and off duty and when assigned overseas are authorized to carry firearms when approved by the chief of mission.

Standard issue: [67]

Former weapons included the SIG P228 (9 mm pistol), Uzi submachine gun, the Ruger Mini-14 carbine. Stockless or "shorty" versions of the Remington 870 shotgun may still be found in some DSS offices. DSS agents used to carry the Smith & Wesson Model 19 revolver (.357 Magnum caliber), but switched to 9 mm pistols around 1993.[67]

Additional issue:[67]

These and other weapons systems may be employed by DSS Special Agents assigned to high-threat locations. The agents going to those locations attend additional training (HTOC) in these weapons before they are deployed.


Since the establishment of the Diplomatic Security Service, four Special Agents have died in the line of duty.[68] As of March 2016, a further 133 locally engaged DS staff, host country law enforcement personnel and members of the US military had been killed while undertaking diplomatic security duties.[69]

In popular culture

The Diplomatic Security Service Wiki[71] has a comprehensive list of DSS pop culture video references[72] with links to video clips.

Many former DSS agents have become authors and written works of fiction and non-fiction about their experiences.[73]

See also


  1. 1 2 "Bureau of Diplomatic Security". State.gov. 2012-05-11. Retrieved 2012-05-17.
  2. "CHCOC". Chcoc.gov. Retrieved 2012-05-17.
  3. 1 2 "Protection of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas". CBS News. 2009-09-25. Retrieved 2012-05-17.
  4. "Information on protection work". U.S. Department of State. Retrieved July 16, 2007.
  5. "U.S. CODE Title 22 Chapter 58 Subchater I section 4802(a)(1)(D) July 22, 2008". Law.cornell.edu. Retrieved 2012-05-17.
  6. "State's Security Bureau Takes on Expanded Role". The Washington Post. 2004-09-07. Retrieved 2012-05-17.
  7. "Afghan President Karzai Flanked by Diplomatic Security Special Agents". U.S. Department of State. March 18, 2005. Retrieved 2012-05-17.
  8. Media-Newswire.com - Press Release Distribution. "Tacoma Man Who Posed As Fiancé In Visa Fraud Sentenced To Prison Time". Media-newswire.com. Retrieved 2012-05-17.
  9. "Harry Reid Aide's Sham Marriage to Terror Suspect". Humanevents.com. 2010-09-21. Retrieved 2012-05-17.
  10. "Reid staffer gone amid fake marriage revelation". CNN. 2010-10-26. Senator Harry Reid staffer gone amid fake marriage revelation
  11. "Federal Prosecutors see more cases of Passport Fraud". Sltrib.com. 2011-05-27. Retrieved 2012-05-17.
  12. "Providing False Information On Passport Applications Leads To Federal Prosecutions" (PDF). Retrieved 2012-05-17.
  13. David Fein. "Guinean Citizen Guilty Of Immigration Offense". Justice.gov. Retrieved 2012-05-17.
  14. "Counterintelligence Investigations". State.gov.
  15. "Arrest of Walter Kendall Myers". State.gov. Retrieved 2012-05-17.
  16. "Cuban spies arrested". State.gov.
  17. "Federal Indictment of Myers" (PDF). Icdn.turner.com.
  18. "Walter Kendall Myers and wife arrested for spying against the U.S". State.gov. Retrieved 2012-05-17.
  19. Hsu, Spencer S. (2010-07-17). "Walter Kendall Myers sentenced to life in prison". Washingtonpost.com.
  20. "Cuba's Spy Program Deeply Rooted in U.S.". Cubaverdad.net.
  21. "U.S. investigates Syrian diplomats for spying on protesters - State Department may limit their travel". washingtontimes.com.
  22. "DSS take part in 2013 Boston Marathon Bombing Investigation.".
  23. "Exclusive: CIA Station Chief in Algeria Accused of Rapes" (PDF). Abcnews.go.com.
  24. "Affidavit in Support of a Search Warrant" (PDF). Abcnews.go.com.
  25. "DSS collaborates with America's Most Wanted". Amw.com. 2010-02-26. Retrieved 2012-05-17.
  26. "The Intelligence Officer's Bookshelf — Central Intelligence Agency". Cia.gov. Retrieved 2012-05-17.
  27. "Diplomatic Security Locates and Returns A Fugitive From Brazil". State.gov. Retrieved 2012-05-17.
  28. "DSS Agents help locate a fugitive from justice in Guatemala". State.gov. Retrieved 2012-05-17.
  29. Stein, Jeff (2010-04-26). "Former CIA Station Chief arrested". Blog.washingtonpost.com. Retrieved 2012-05-17.
  30. Cole, Matthew (2010-04-27). "ABC - Former CIA spy arrested". Abcnews.go.com. Retrieved 2012-05-17.
  31. "Diplomatic Security Press Release". State.gov. 2010-08-19. Retrieved 2012-05-17.
  32. 30.07.10. "Peruvian press release with video". Elcomercio.pe. Retrieved 2012-05-17.
  33. "Reuters images" (in Norwegian). Scanpix.no. 2012-01-09. Retrieved 2012-05-17.
  34. "Diplomatic Security Press Release". State.gov. 2010-10-29. Retrieved 2012-05-17.
  35. "Newsblaze article". Newsblaze article. 2011-01-23. Retrieved 2012-05-17.
  36. "Americas Most Wanted AMW". Amw.com. Retrieved 2012-05-17.
  37. "Montana Fugitive arrested in Belize". Billingsgazette.com. 2011-10-07. Retrieved 2012-05-17.
  38. "FBI Top Ten Fugitive Now in Custody" (Press release).
  39. "Foreign Service Act of 1980 - Public Law 96-465 Sec.504" (PDF). 13 October 2008. Retrieved 2008. Check date values in: |access-date= (help)
  40. "Biographies of Senior Management". 14 May 2011. Retrieved 2011. Check date values in: |access-date= (help)
  41. "RSO Chennai Title Usage Example". 14 May 2011. Retrieved 2011. Check date values in: |access-date= (help)
  42. "RSO Mumbai Title Usage Example". 14 May 2011. Retrieved 2011. Check date values in: |access-date= (help)
  43. "RSO Hyderabad Title Usage Example". 14 May 2011. Retrieved 2011. Check date values in: |access-date= (help)
  44. "SRSO India Usage Example". 14 May 2011. Retrieved 2011. Check date values in: |access-date= (help)
  45. "SRSO Usage Examples google results". 14 May 2011. Retrieved 2011. Check date values in: |access-date= (help)
  46. "State's Security Bureau Takes on Expanded Role, Washington Post article by Robin Wright". The Washington Post. 7 September 2004. Retrieved 2007. Check date values in: |access-date= (help)
  47. Book - The New Jackals: Ramzi Yousef, Osama bin Laden and the Future of Terrorism, by Simon Reeve
  48. Targeted: Volume 1, The Evil Genius (Ramzi Yousef) (Wild Eyes Productions for the History Channel; A&E Networks) 2003
  49. "REWARDS FOR JUSTICE - Millions of dollars for Information Leading to the capture of Terrorists - DSS". Rewardsforjustice.net.
  50. Murphy, Kim (2010-02-11). "U.S. Diplomatic Security Agents at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Canada". Latimes.com.
  51. "China, United States Cooperate on Olympic Security". America.gov.
  52. "Special Agents at the Olympics". Features.csmonitor.com.
  53. "DS Protects" (PDF). State.gov.
  54. Murphy, Kim (2010-02-11). "U.S. Diplomatic Security at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Canada". Latimes.com.
  55. Sources: Washington Post, Sept 7, 2004, State's Security Bureau Takes on Expanded Role, Washington Post article by Robin Wright; (Book) 2002 Relentless Pursuit: The DSS and the Manhunt for the Al-Qaeda Terrorists, Samuel M. Katz.
  56. "U.S. Department of State DS Pictorial History Photo 5 of 192 - 1916: U.S. Secretary of State Robert Lansing creates an informal Secret Intelligence Bureau to examine information of a secret nature received from other U.S. agencies and from allied intelligence agents, and to oversee surveillance of the German Embassy in Washington, DC. The office is never a formal Department bureau but only a few special agents located within the Office of the Counselor. Lansing also proposes an inter-agency secret service to be centered in the Department of State, but the White House fails to act on the suggestion. In 1917, he hires the first Chief Special Agent, Joseph M. Nye. These initiatives come in response to German and Austrian acts of fraud, propaganda, sabotage, and espionage in the United States during the First World War. (Source: Library of Congress, National Photo Company Collection)". State.gov. Retrieved 2012-05-17.
  57. Allen Dulles by James Srodes, Page 83
  58. Book: The Armies of Ignorance: The Rise of the American Intelligence Empire by William R. Corson, 1977; Page 74
  59. "h2g2 - The Diplomatic Security Service of the USA". Bbc.co.uk. 2003-10-21. Retrieved 2012-05-17.
  60. "Statement on Signing the Omnibus Diplomatic Security and Antiterrorism Act of 1986". Reagan.utexas.edu. 1986-08-27. Retrieved 2012-05-17.
  61. Archived June 16, 2010, at the Wayback Machine.
  62. "12 FAM 420 Post Operations - Post Security Management".
  63. Bureau of Diplomatic Security official home page http://www.state.gov/m/ds/
  64. "U.S. Official G. Marvin Gentile Dies".
  65. "ref". Itoday.ru. Retrieved 2012-05-17.
  66. 1 2 3 "US Department of State Mobile Security Division". Specwarnet.net. 1985-11-04. Retrieved 2012-05-17.
  67. "The Officer Down Memorial Page". Odmp.org. Retrieved 2012-05-17.
  68. "Diplomatic Security Memorial". US Department of State. Retrieved 19 March 2016.
  69. "Listings - NCIS: LOS ANGELES on CBS". TheFutonCritic.com. 2012-02-07. Retrieved 2012-05-17.
  70. "Diplomatic Security Wiki".
  71. "Film Clips".
  72. "DS Authors". Diplomatic Security Wiki. 2013-08-15. Retrieved 2014-08-08.

Further reading

See Bureau of Diplomatic Security Bibliography

External links

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