SAIS foreign service students weigh safety concerns after diplomat's death

Many express concern that too much security will prevent them from doing their jobs effectively

In the wake of the death of State Department diplomat Anne Smedinghoff, a 2009 Johns Hopkins graduate who was killed in a suicide attack in Afghanistan on Saturday, The Washington Post spoke with foreign service students at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies in Washington about the perils of working "in some of the most lawless countries on Earth."

The students expressed concern, not that they would not be protected when they become U.S. diplomats, but that too much security would prevent them from doing their jobs effectively.

From The Post:

Today, they know, increasingly higher walls surround embassies and compounds, and diplomats travel in armored vehicles. The result is incredibly restricted movement in places that need outreach the most. Seeing the world through bulletproof glass does not allow a true picture of life beyond the compounds, they said.

"Her death hits so close to home, and we feel horrible about it. But it also raises a tension that we all worry about right now: Can we really do these jobs we have trained for?" asked [SAIS student Staci] Raab, 26, who passed her Foreign Service exam and will soon be serving in the Middle East. "Can you do the same type of work from a compound or in a village with soldiers all around you with guns?"

Smedinghoff was traveling in a heavily armored convoy to deliver donated books to a school in southern Afghanistan. She was one of five people killed in the attack, which the State Department said was carried out by the Taliban.

"She was well-protected, so the lesson here is there is no 'zero risk,'" Daniel P. Serwer, a one-time Foreign Service officer in Bosnia and Kosovo and a professor of conflict management at SAIS, told The Post. "The truth is, the civilians who serve abroad are as much our troops as the soldiers today, and the natural bureaucratic response is to make the cars more armored, raise the wire even higher, put out more armed guards." But, he asked, "are we protecting people so much that we are losing personal contacts and connections?"

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