NOTE: Retired DSS Special Agent Allen Scheel tallied 47 years with the Diplomatic Security Service, including 24 with the DSS Office of Antiterrorism Assistance (ATA). After six years as a U.S. Air Force officer, he joined the State Department in 1973 when DS was still SY and was assigned first to the Washington Field Office, then to Secretary of State Henry Kissinger’s protective detail. He was carrying a badge a year before the first Basic Special Agent Class, when newly sworn special agents received one day of on-the-job training plus a day at the qualification range; RSOs received one day of familiarization before heading overseas. Scheel served as RSO Lagos during a coup, RSO Tel Aviv during the Camp David accords, RSO Prague at the height of the Cold War, RSO Stockholm during the Reagan-Gorbachev Summit in Reykjavik, and RSO Helsinki as the United States established post-Soviet embassies in the Baltic republics.
Following are some of Scheel’s recollections of his work with ATA.
Soon after I arrived as RSO in Helsinki in 1992, I received a phone call from the deputy director of the Diplomatic Security Service (DSS) Office of Antiterrorism Assistance (ATA). He asked me to join him and several officers from the Department’s Office of Counter-Terrorism (S/CT), for a trip to Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania to try to establish an ATA program in the three countries. I quickly agreed, because my regional security portfolio included these newly established embassies.
Although none of the three countries had a traditional “terrorism problem,” the people in all three of these countries were suffering economically because of the collapse of the Soviet currency, the ruble, and the ATA program helped our embassies establish good working relationships with the newly formed police departments. I understood the importance of getting the ATA programs in the Baltic countries off to a good start, and the experience had a lasting impact on my future career.
Five years later, I bid on an ATA program manager position in Washington and started in June 1997. I planned to retire from the Foreign Service in 1999 and figured ATA would be a nice place to end my DSS career. Little did I know it would become an entirely new career.
A little bit of background on ATA: On April 18, 1983, the U.S. Embassy in Beirut, Lebanon, was stuck by a suicide vehicle bomb that killed 32 Lebanese, 17 Americans, and 14 visitors and passersby. This and subsequent terrorist attacks that year, including against the U.S. Marine barracks in Beirut, became the impetus for Congress to create the Antiterrorism Assistance program later that same year. At first, the ATA office within DSS was a small group, 10 people or fewer, whose goal was to help partner nations better deter and counter terrorism by offering training to foreign police organizations. In later years, growing numbers of terrorist attacks continued to influence the size and scope of the ATA mission, but the basic goal remains the same to this day.
On Aug. 7, 1998, the U.S. embassies in Nairobi, Kenya, and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania were attacked with truck bombs within minutes of each other. These dual attacks killed 224 people, including 12 Americans, and wounded more than 4,500. Up to that time, ATA had not been active in sub-Saharan Africa. That would soon change with a rapid expansion of the program. So, after my retirement from the Foreign Service in September 1999, I began a contract job with ATA that I never expected would last another 21 years.
On Sept. 11, the entire ATA office watched in horror as the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in New York were attacked. The ATA office was then in Rosslyn, Virginia, a couple of miles from the Pentagon, which also was attacked. The events of 9/11 had a huge impact on the size and scope of ATA programs. Suddenly, what ATA had been doing since 1983 was now the number one priority of the U.S government – countering international terrorism.
ATA contributes to our nation’s security by providing valuable training and equipment to the police organizations of our partner nations to help them combat terrorism. This training not only helps them deal with terrorism threats in their own country, but also thereby helps them protect our diplomatic missions abroad and builds important bonds of cooperation on an entire range of security and law enforcement issues.
I have seen ATA grow from a staff of 10 people to almost 200, and I have experienced several reorganizations as our programs grew ever more complex. I have also seen big improvements in the quality of the training materials we produce. ATA has invested heavily in quality control, and it shows. Whenever I traveled abroad to evaluate our training and the effectiveness of our contract instructors, I was always pleased by how well our training programs were received by the participants.
The ATA program has certainly had many successes over the years, and these efforts continue today. As I approached my retirement in April 2021, I would sometimes look back on my childhood growing up on our family farm in Iowa and reading about faraway places. Little did I know that someday I would travel to, and even live in, many of these places, and that I would have the satisfaction of knowing I had been part of the Department of State’s efforts, through the ATA program, to make the world a safer place.
Allen Scheel retired in April 2021 after 24 years with ATA, including ten years as program manager for Southeast Asia and 11 years as a training delivery coordinator managing the logistics for hundreds of overseas courses. His travels for ATA included visits to Armenia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Colombia, Côte d’Ivoire, the Czech Republic, Egypt, Republic of Georgia, Indonesia, Jordan, Madagascar, Malaysia, Mexico, Morocco, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, The Philippines, Senegal, Singapore, Thailand, Turkey, and Turkmenistan. In all, he worked in 74 countries during his State Department career.