“She was well-protected, so the lesson here is there is no ‘zero risk,’ ” said Daniel P. Serwer, a retired Foreign Service officer in Bosnia and Kosovo and now a professor of conflict management at SAIS. “The truth is, the civilians who serve abroad are as much our troops as the soldiers today, and the natural bureaucratic response is to make the cars more armored, raise the wire even higher, put out more armed guards.” But, he asked, “are we protecting people so much that we are losing personal contacts and connections?”
The issue of how much security is enough was among those at the center of the political storm over the death of Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens after an assault by extremists on the U.S. mission in Benghazi. He was a veteran diplomat, spoke the local language fluently and had more than three decades of on-the-ground experience in the Middle East.
In Washington, an investigation by an Accountability Review Board appointed by the State Department faulted the department for security shortcomings. Testifying before both the House and Senate Foreign Affairs committees, former secretary of state Hillary Rodham Clinton pledged to adopt more security while insisting that diplomats must be able to travel in dangerous places to do their jobs.
“We are in a new reality. We are trying to make sense of changes that nobody had predicted but which we’re going to have to live with,” Clinton said.
Inside the SAIS lunchroom, where photographs of the Dalai Lama, Colin Powell and Madeleine Albright line the walls, some of the students had already changed their Facebook profiles to an image of a black ribbon paired with the Department of State seal in honor of Smedinghoff.
“I know it’s complicated, but sometimes the best security is having good relations with ordinary people and that means spending time with them,” said Jacob Cohn, who has passed his Foreign Service test and served in the Peace Corps in the Gambia. “Even though this was a horrible tragedy, we can’t just retract and move behind the barbed wire. I don’t think Anne would have wanted us to do that, either.”