Walk down Embassy Row in any large city and you'll probably be impressed with the peaceful beauty of the place. The tree-lined streets, stone walls and gardenia bushes paint a picture of quiet diplomacy and grace. However, blaring news clips of horrendous attacks on American and foreign embassies shock us into the reality that embassies are in the crosshairs of terrorists. Protecting embassies in the 21st century demands that security professionals use state-of-the-art perimeter security solutions to resist attack and intrusion.
History of Embassy Protection
As the world emerged from World War II, the primary mission of embassies and consulates was to establish and maintain communication with other governments on a diplomatic level and provide services to travelers and visiting diplomats. However, as the world economy recovered from the war, Foreign Service staff became active in economic and trade matters. Embassies became symbols of power and influence. They became the focus of noisy demonstrations and the target of rock throwing and crudely fashioned firebombs. In 1965, a Viet Cong car bomb exploded in front of the American Embassy in Saigon, killing three embassy employees, and the concept of embassy security changed drastically. Embassies and consulates had become terrorist targets.
Consulates built or leased until recently offer little protection against attack and intrusion. Too often they are on busy streets with almost no setback to provide barriers to vehicle and pedestrian intrusion. Following the 1998 embassy bombings in Nairobi and Dar-Es-Salam, the U.S. State Department decreed that future construction of consulates and embassies have a minimum 100-foot setback between the building and the street or adjacent wall. To meet this requirement, the government had to purchase or lease additional land surrounding embassy perimeters. In many cities, this expansion of the perimeter was impractical, and often the only solution was to relocate or build new embassy structures with security as the prime design criterion. Today, only 29 U.S. embassies and two consulates have the 100-foot setback.
Following the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington on September 11, 2001, the U.S. State Department temporarily closed more than 50 embassies in anticipation of further attacks. Several foreign governments closed streets surrounding U.S. and British embassies and posted guard personnel to secure the expanded perimeters. Some of these expanded perimeters remain today. However, closing streets is not a practical or permanent solution in most cities. Complicating the problem are local ordinances that require embassy buildings and grounds to maintain the appearance of residential neighborhoods. Urban planners of the world's capitals do not like buildings in embassy row to look like military bases.
Providing a barrier to vehicle bombs is only part of the security challenge. Last year, embassy row in Beijing was invaded by "jumpers," political refugees from North Korea who illegally crossed the border into China and made their way to Beijing. Living among the Chinese is not an option for illegal Koreans; the Chinese government vigorously enforces immigration laws to prevent a flood of illegal aliens from crossing the border to enjoy the benefits of China's booming economy. Upon arriving in Beijing, many illegal aliens jumped embassy walls and demanded political asylum in whatever country (primarily Eastern European) would take them. The problem became so rampant that the Chinese government had to install security fences outside the stone walls and stationed guard personnel to stop asylum seekers before they reached embassy grounds. Further, in a politically unstable world, even the most neutral and docile countries do not want to find themselves involved in an international incident as a result of people diving into their embassies.
New Product Development
The U.S. State Department is well aware of security needs and has addressed the matter squarely. In testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on March 20, 2003, Ambassador Francis X. Taylor, Assistant Secretary of State for Diplomatic Security and Director for the Office of Foreign Missions, said, "Diplomatic Security itself is not standing still either. A highly focused development effort in our physical security office has successfully delivered new products and methods that will allow OBO to better mitigate our vulnerabilities. Department of State proprietary standards for forced entry and bullet-resistant doors and windows, once the only standards in industry or government concerned with this type of security, have been supplemented by adoption of industry standards promulgated by Underwriters Laboratories and the American Society of Testing and Manufacturing. We have developed and commercialized a totally new lightweight laminated glass blast window that will lower costs and simplify installations. We have pioneered new developments in anti-ram vehicle protection and provided new products more acceptable to foreign governments and architects. And we have done this in partnership with other U.S. government agencies to leverage our work and provide better answers across our spectrum of needs."
There appears to be no immediate end to the attacks on U.S. embassies and consulates and those of nations friendly to the U.S. As a result, Congress approved $1.07 billion for embassy security and worldwide security upgrades for the fiscal year 2002. In addition, Congress expanded authority for expenditures on overseas security within the Embassy Security Construction and Maintenance account to $900 million annually through fiscal year 2004. While these allocations fund a wide variety of security upgrades, the bulk of the funds are for physical security.
Nations on Embassy Row have deployed an array of sophisticated security systems as they have become available. The use of chain link fence and razor wire is reserved for only embassies in troubled cities where aesthetics be damned. While chain link fencing can be fitted with sensor beams and cables, it provides little resistance to vehicle ramming or an attacker with wire cutters.
To meet the challenge of producing a secure perimeter that offers both vehicle ramming resistance and intrusion protection, two companies joined forces to produce a state-of-the-art fence system that offers a high level of protection while maintaining acceptable aesthetics. Ameristar', a producer of high-quality perimeter fences, and Perimeter Products Inc., a leader in perimeter intrusion detection, joined forces to develop a fence and detection system to withstand vehicle assault, detect intruders attempting to penetrate the perimeter, and meanwhile maintain acceptable aesthetics. The Ameristar Impass fence features horizontal open-architecture platforms that carry anti-ram cables and/or Perimeter Products sensor cables. Using severely sharpened high-strength steel spears, called pales, fastened securely to the rigid framework of specially formed rails and posts, Ameristar fencing discourages intruders from climbing over the top.
The result is a fence that meets the recently upgraded U.S. State Department's anti-ramming standard SD-02.01, yet gives early warning of intruders through Perimeter Products' MX-5000 control unit with global processing and its advanced processor. PPI tested both the standard and Helisensor? with armored jacket and determined the standard cable would offer more than adequate protection yet remain cost effective.
The strain-sensitive fence protection system contains two component parts: the sensor cable that senses vibrations and the signal processor that analyzes the data. The sensor cable is an "electret" transducer cable that is specially manufactured with a permanent electrical charge throughout its entire length. The charge is stored within the cable dielectric material. It is able to detect mechanical vibrations in the fence caused by an attack. In the Ameristar horizontal platform, the cable is out of sight and protected from vandalism. The fence corner posts allow sensor cables to traverse vertically and continue through an adjacent horizontal platform for additional protection.
Intrusion detection and anti-ramming capabilities are also offered separately by a number of manufacturers. BEI Security manufactures two perimeter intrusion products called the Fiber-Net and the Fiber Sensor. The Fiber-Net is a mesh net woven through with fiber-optic cable that can be employed on top of an existing fence to provide zero-false-alarm cut detection. The FiberSensor is also a fiber-optic cable sensor, but it provides motion and vibration detection. It can be laid across existing fence or buried to detect persons or vehicles in other parts of the campus.
Delta Scientific offers a full line of unobtrusive bollards and high-security portable and fixed-site barriers. The company's high-security surface-mounted barricades are installed at the Florida State Capital Building in Tallahassee, and its Delta IP500 quick deployment barrier protects the U.S. Department of Commerce's Herbert C. Hoover Building. Delta also provides vehicle barriers disguised as flower planters to provide protection without the "fortress" look.
Several companies have developed new products or adapted existing systems to meet perimeter security needs. For example, Protection Technologies Inc. products offer excellent detection in areas surrounding construction sites through the use of stereo Doppler radar that distinguishes between persons or objects moving toward the perimeter and ambient conditions. The protection is needed during construction to combat theft of building materials and the implantation of eavesdropping devices.
Protecting the perimeter of embassies and consulates demands security consultants to consider scenarios that would have been the fodder for spy novels only a few decades ago. Advancements in fence design and perimeter detection with an eye on aesthetics offer choices not previously available.
Dick Zunkel is a contributing writer for Security Technology & Design.