Embassy Security:

Background Investigations of Foreign Employees

NSIAD-89-76: Published: Jan 5, 1989. Publicly Released: Feb 6, 1989.

Additional Materials:


Joseph E. Kelley
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Office of Public Affairs
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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the Department of State's security investigation and reinvestigation practices for foreign national employees at nine overseas posts, focusing on: (1) the posts' compliance with State security investigation requirements; and (2) U.S. officials' views regarding the potential security risks that foreign nationals posed at overseas posts.

GAO found that, although the nine overseas posts generally followed State regulations when they conducted background investigations: (1) five had not investigated all current employees; (2) six did not conduct background investigations of all contract employees; (3) six did not follow established procedures for investigating local guards; (4) six had significant backlogs of long-term employees requiring reinvestigations; (5) they inconsistently applied regulations regarding who required investigation and reinvestigation; (6) they generally assigned a low priority to background investigations relative to other security concerns; (7) State did not monitor the investigations; and (8) State lacked an adequate tracking system to determine who needed background investigations. GAO also found that, although overseas officials cited such potential problems as host government pressure on foreign nationals to provide sensitive information, or foreign national employees' involvement in espionage, criminal, or terrorist activities, State indicated that, except in a few countries, the benefits of employing foreign nationals outweighed the risks.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: State initiated a review on a post-by-post basis to ensure that security investigative procedures are in compliance with existing regulations. Unfortunately, a backlog of investigations and reinvestigations at some posts has been inherent in the overseas system.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of State should ensure that the overseas posts consistently implement the requirements for investigating foreign national employees and foreign contractor personnel.

    Agency Affected: Department of State

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Regional directors from the Bureau of Diplomatic Security's Office of Overseas Programs are now specifically responsible for monitoring post performance in conducting foreign national investigations through on-site consultations and receipt of monthly progress reports on FSN investigations. A new Office of Security Oversight will also review foreign national background clearances.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of State should assign a specific headquarters unit or staff, within the Bureau of Diplomatic Security, the responsibility for monitoring post performance in conducting foreign national investigations.

    Agency Affected: Department of State

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Foreign Affairs Manual (3 FAM 922), Post Security Officers Handbook and Security Secretaries Handbook call for a tracking system. The Bureau of Diplomatic Security will monitor the backlog of investigations and the number of pending recommendations. If the number of overdue cases is high, the Bureau will instruct the post security officers to place a high priority on these cases.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of State should develop a pro forma tracking system that all posts can use for routinely identifying foreign nationals who need to be investigated or reinvestigated and ensure that any reinvestigation backlogs are promptly identified and resolved.

    Agency Affected: Department of State

  4. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Records of security clearances of each State enployee assigned overseas will be sent to the overseas post and will be maintained in the employee's personnel file. The Bureau developed a policy paper to require a Top Secret clearance for all U.S. personnel, regardless of agency, permanently assigned to a post and the methods of verifying such clearance data for TDY personnel.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of State should ensure that each post maintains a record of security clearances for all assigned U.S. personnel.

    Agency Affected: Department of State


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