The rise of terrorism abroad and the threat of it at home is changing the way U.S. diplomatic personnel live and work. Secretary of State George P. Shultz, who has been meeting regularly since early October with a team of top officials on the details of security and security threats, is pushing to adapt State Department facilities and practices to the unpleasant facts of life in this new era.
The meeting participants have included Ronald I. Spiers, undersecretary for management; Robert E. Lamb, assistant secretary for administration; Hugh Montgomery, director of intelligence and research; David Fields, director of security, and Robert B. Oakley, director of the Anti-Terrorism Office. The meetings cover specific threats to U.S. missions, as well as security planning and evaluation. Shultz has made it a practice on recent overseas trips to inspect the security arrangements at U.S. embassies.
In recent years, the department's spending on security has grown nearly sixfold, from $44.8 million in fiscal 1979 to $233.4 million in fiscal 1985, including funds that were added in a supplemental appropriation after the embassy annex in Beirut was bombed this fall.
In an interview, Lamb described several developments that are affecting State Department people.
For security reasons, movements of officials, employes and the public will be more carefully controlled now. At the main State Department building, for example, an advanced computerized ID card system is being prepared that will replace the current system for regulating access to the building. Next year, machines at entrances, vehicle ramps and sensitive areas will read the ID card and decide whether the bearer should be allowed in.
Greater changes are in store for those who are assigned abroad. In addition to the two-day terrorism course that overseas personnel and their families now take, intensified security training is being planned for ambassadors, deputy chiefs of mission and security officers.
The department is ordering more and better armored cars, hoping to have at least one heavily armored vehicle at every post where the threat of terrorism is considered to be high and light armor on other motor pool vehicles there. Lamb said a research and development program, in cooperation with the automobile industry, is going to try to provide "off-the-shelf" armored vehicles that weigh less and are designed better than those that are available now.
The National Academy of Sciences, under a memorandum of understanding with State, is starting to design the "U.S. embassy of the future," with an emphasis on physical and communications security. The academy will investigate new materials and construction techniques as part of the project.
In the past, when there were concerns about the safety of diplomats and embassies, especially in developing countries, State "countered with one of the advantages of American society, our characteristic openness," Lamb said. But now the access between American embassy officials and foreign citizens is being drastically reduced. Vehicle and personnel barriers are going up and installations are being removed from city centers and set back from roads to make them less visible and less accessible.
Asked if this is a temporary or permanent phenomenon, Lamb replied, "I'm afraid it is for the long term." Nothing is in sight that would diminish the threats, he said.
Roger H. Robinson, assistant director of security for operations, said "young, flexible, adaptable college graduates" with or without previous experience in the field are being recruited as special agents. The number of security officers abroad is being increased substantially after five years of virtually no growth, he added.