WASHINGTON — Security professionals for U.S. companies, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), and academic institutions gathered at the State Department today for an annual briefing held by the government to share information on global threats and risks facing U.S. private interests operating overseas.
The two-day conference is organized by the Overseas Security Advisory Council (OSAC), a public-private partnership between the State Department and U.S.-based companies and NGOs to share information regarding threats to their overseas operations. The theme of this year's conference is "Confronting Global Risks."
Over the two days, stakeholders will hear presentations from OSAC security analysts and speakers on the current threat environment as well as learn best practices members can adopt to combat terrorism, kidnapping, crime, and other security threats while establishing on-the-ground partnerships that can improve security readiness and response.
In previously taped remarks, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton gave a brief address to the audience thanking OSAC and its constituents for helping to protect the U.S. private sector overseas. In his introduction of Secretary Clinton, Ambassador Eric Boswell, assistant secretary for diplomatic security, called OSAC a vehicle for spreading freedom across the world.
Established in 1985, OSAC originated out of a relationship between a handful of U.S. CEOs and then Secretary of State George Schultz as American corporations abroad faced increasing terrorist attacks and similar threats. Twenty four years later, the organization is considered one of the country's most successful U.S. public-private partnerships. It is comprised of a core council—co-chaired by the director of the Diplomatic Security Service and a private sector representative— as well as over 100 country councils and 6,700 members.
OSAC members receive a host of benefits when they join the organization, including 24-hour emergency response, threat assessments, incident reports, travel advisories, as well as access to regional security analysts, said Sarah Rosetti, a spokeswoman for the Bureau of Diplomatic Security. Country councils inside foreign countries also allow constituents to network and share information on a local level and establish partnerships between U.S. embassies and themselves.
Speakers at the conference's opening event stressed that establishing and strengthening information sharing and security relationships between the U.S. government, companies, and other institutions remains vitally important in an increasingly dangerous world.
David W. Schrimp, director of corporate security services for 3M and the private-sector co-chair of OSAC, told attendees that the organization excels at customer service and relationships. "They truly partner with us," he said.
When terrorists attacked various locations in Mumbai last year and hotels in Jakarta this year, OSAC immediately shared critical information with its members operating in India and Indonesia, said Jeffrey W. Culver, the director of the Diplomatic Security Service and co-chair of OSAC.
He also noted that OSAC proactively anticipates the private sector's needs and provides threat assessments and other information for upcoming global events such as the 2010 Olympic Games in Vancouver or the 2010 FIFA World Cup international soccer championship in South Africa.
The opening address of the conference featured Sam Worthington, president and CEO of InterAction, the largest coalition of U.S.-based international nongovernmental organizations in the world. Representing primarily international development and humanitarian organizations, Worthington's talk discussed how providing security abroad for NGOs differs from providing security for companies.
The primary difference between corporate security and NGO security, he said, is a corporation can pull the plug on its operations when stability in any given location rapidly deteriorates, while NGOs are most needed when events take a turn for the worst.
That difference in mission, however, has taken its toll on many NGOs operating in global hotspots such as Afghanistan, Somalia, and Sudan. Every year, increasing numbers of aid workers are killed, kidnapped, or attacked. Last year ranked as the deadliest year on record for aid workers with 260 killed, kidnapped, or seriously injured in violent attacks, according to the Humanitarian Policy Group, which tracks these statistics each year. According to Worthington, 23 employees of InterAction members died last year. The increasing violence directed at aid workers has many motivations, he told the audience, ranging from perceptions of NGOs as "Western" invaders to greed, such as kidnapping for ransom and vehicle thefts.
Despite different security postures, Worthington stressed how important OSAC is to helping NGOs partner and share security information and best practices with corporations working in the same areas. According to Rosetti, NGOs are increasingly joining OSAC for the security benefits. Currently, 433 NGOs and faith-based organizations have joined the group.
These beneficial information-sharing relationships, however, have made NGOs uneasy, reports National Public Radio.
OSAC also helps aid groups share security information with private companies, a practice that many NGOs had avoided in the past to help maintain their image as neutral parties.
"I'm going to some of these meetings and I'm sitting down with the head of security for Marriott Hotels, for example," says Save the Children's O'Neill. "They've had a number of incidents and they have useful procedures for us to learn."
But an incident earlier this year may have convinced many NGOs of OSAC's importance. In April, a Canadian volunteer of Rotary International was kidnapped in Nigeria. Although Rotary was not a member of OSAC, the organization helped coordinate a response to the kidnapping with the Canadian government, Nigerian authorities, other NGOs, and tribal leaders, NPR reports. Thirteen days later, the volunteer was released, and Rotary became a member of OSAC.
After his address, Worthington told Security Management that InterAction's coalition of NGOs do not want to be "isolated" from businesses and other institutions working in the same areas. In response, they're integrating into the "broader security community," he said.
For more information on how a U.S.-based company or NGOs can join OSAC, click here.
♦ Screenshot of OSAC Banner
♦ Photo of Sam Worthington, president and CEO of InterAction, speaking at OSAC's 24th Annual Briefing by Bureau of Diplomatic Security