Cover: Seizures of Western Diplomatic Facilities

Seizures of Western Diplomatic Facilities

Historical Timelines, 1979–2019

Published Jan 25, 2021

by Jacqueline Gardner Burns, Christopher A. Mouton, Adam R. Grissom, John P. Godges

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Research Questions

  1. What were the durations of attacks on Western diplomatic facilities since 1979, and how much advance warning was there of each attack?
  2. What implications do historical timelines of duration and advance warning of attacks on diplomatic facilities have for efforts to respond to such attacks?

As the most visible symbols of Western governments and their policies, American and allied diplomatic facilities are frequent targets of contention and violence. To develop effective response capabilities, it is necessary to know the timelines under which response forces will need to operate—specifically, a response will be effective only if it occurs before the attack culminates.

This report presents a review of attacks on Western diplomatic facilities since 1979, focusing on the duration of each attack and how much advance warning there was of the attack. The authors find that the majority of attacks culminated in two hours or less. These timelines confirm the need for a three-tiered planning approach consisting of Early Security Augmentation, Anticipatory Security Augmentation, and In Extremis Response.

Key Findings

  • There have been 33 successful seizures of Western diplomatic facilities since 1979.
  • The majority of attacks culminated in two hours or less, and over 90 percent culminated in six hours or less.
  • In the past decade, however, the median attack duration was four hours, and the average was 4.8 hours. The lengthening of this duration could offer wider windows of opportunity to intervene.
  • The median period of time for indications of elevated risk remained consistent at 2.5 days. There were two or more days of warning for nearly 60 percent of successful seizures.
  • The historical timelines for attacks on diplomatic facilities indicate the need for a three-tiered planning approach consisting of Early Security Augmentation, Anticipatory Security Augmentation, and In Extremis Response. U.S. Department of Defense capabilities apply primarily to the latter two tiers.

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