"I have never felt more vulnerable in my life. Our office is about 15 feet from the street. . . . If there were any bomb blast, our building would collapse like a house of cards."
The comment is from a U.S. career diplomat writing from a foreign post. It was one of about two dozen sent recently from overseas missions to the association that represents foreign service officers.A sampling of the comments, made available to The Associated Press, suggests that, in the wake of the Aug. 7 bombing of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, many American envoys are suffering from security jitters.
The identities of the individuals and their locations were withheld in order to avoid tipping off potential terrorists.
The message from the person who felt vulnerable, dispatched to Dan Geisler, president of the American Foreign Service Association, said State Department security officers rejected the idea of blast shields for the embassy windows because they would be useless in the event of an attack.
"Mission management has recommended that a new building be built, but that would take several years (assuming, of course, the money is appropriated)," the message said.
Another officer wrote: "I sit in an office less than 20 feet from the perimeter wall, which lines a busy street. Not a day passes that I don't consider what point behind me would be the best location to place a bomb if one wanted to take down this building."
Geisler received the messages in response to a memo he sent to over-seas posts soliciting opinions on local security conditions. Diplomatic personnel accept the fact that defending U.S. interests abroad is a risky business, but "what we don't accept is needlessly exposing people to attack in order to save money," he said.
Since the bombings in Africa, administration officials say the number of threats has risen dramatically, to two or three a day from one or two a week before Aug. 7.
To some diplomats, mere security upgrades won't be enough. One memo sent to Geisler said, "The quality of a number of buildings that the USG (U.S. government) obtained is really sub-standard."
Another wrote that the post where he has served for the past year has never had a fire drill. In addition, the diplomat wrote, there is no system for contacting all U.S. personnel in an emergency.
One U.S. diplomatic residence was found twice recently to be under surveillance. On a third occasion, there was an unauthorized entry into its walled yard. To discourage surveillance, a 24-hour guard was authorized until the following week, after which the situation was to be re-evaluated.