‘Standing on the Sidelines of History’: Diplomatic Security Agent Wendy Bashnan Directs NATO Security

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NATO security director and Diplomatic Security Service Special Agent Wendy Bashnan in front of NATO headquarters in Brussels, Belgium.
NATO security director and Diplomatic Security Service Special Agent Wendy Bashnan in front of NATO headquarters in Brussels, Belgium. (Photo courtesy of Wendy Bashnan)

‘Standing on the Sidelines of History’: Diplomatic Security Agent Wendy Bashnan Directs NATO Security

As a longtime veteran of law enforcement and security, Diplomatic Security Service Special Agent Wendy Bashnan – the first woman to serve as Director of the NATO Office of Security – jumped at the opportunity to work in a large international organization. 

“It is exciting to step outside of DSS and work in a large multicultural, international organization.  For 70 years, NATO has served as a strong and unique political and military transatlantic alliance.  I enjoy sharing my DSS experience to influence NATO’s strategic vision for collective defense, crisis management and cooperative security,” says Bashnan. 

Bashnan meets with NATO Allied Command Transformation staff in Norfolk, Virginia, during a June 2018 inspection to ensure NATO IT network and information storage compliance with NATO security policy. (Photo courtesy of Wendy Bashnan)

In this role,  Bashnan is the principal security advisor to both the NATO Secretary General and the organization’s political decision-making body, the North Atlantic Council (NAC).  This means Bashnan has overall responsibility for the development and implementation of security policies for NATO member and partner nations.  She is also responsible for negotiating and implementing security agreements with non-NATO nations and international organizations, assessing accreditation for NATO IT networks and facilities, and maintaining compliance of security protocols by NATO personnel.  She leads and manages a team of approximately 190 staff in NATO’s Office of Security’s Protective Security Branch, Security Intelligence Branch, and the Policy Oversight Branch.

Bashnan also serves as Deputy Assistant Secretary General for Security within the Joint Intelligence and Security Division, which provides strategic intelligence and security assessments to senior NATO leaders and member nations.  The position requires extensive senior leadership in a variety of security domains, such as physical and technical security operations, executive protection, investigations, security and safety awareness and training, “duty of care” obligation to ensure security for all NATO staff traveling to high-threat environments, and security policy development and oversight. 

On a wall in Bashnan’s office, a bright space within the new NATO headquarters, a small hand-written note on a white-board reads, “How can we align everyone’s efforts and help them accomplish the organization’s most important work?” Her days center on engagement.  Whether she is traveling to member and partner nations’ capitals for meetings with national security agency directors, chairing a principals meeting of the Security Committee, or briefing the North Atlantic Council, Bashnan sees her role as an enabler.

Bashnan (center) with a group of NOS guards at the end of NATO’s 29th summit of the heads of state and heads of government, July 12, 2018, Brussels. (Photo courtesy of Wendy Bashnan)

“I lead high-performance teams of subject matter experts.  This team consists of women and men who are experts in the fields of cybersecurity, physical security, personnel security clearances, close protection, security policy development, insider threat, counterintelligence, threat and risk analysis, security awareness and training, fire and first responders, and emergency response and planning.  The NATO Office of Security is the whole kitchen and the sink,” says Bashnan.

“My job is to be their advocate.  We have to review and incorporate security into the beginning of every NATO operation to ensure the safety and security of NATO operational personnel.“

Bashnan’s greatest concerns center on violent extremism and cybersecurity. “NATO - the organization - has not been a direct target yet of terrorism or violent extremism, although member nations have.  But it is possible with the current threat environment that NATO and its headquarters could become the target of a terrorist attack,” she said.

Bashnan encourages today’s security professionals – including those in the NATO Office of Security -- to focus on all elements of violent extremism and to remain agile in adjusting operations in volatile global environments.  When it comes to cybersecurity, Bashnan sees potential threats across a wide array of organizational functions, operations, and infrastructure.

“With so many aspects of an organization linked to the internet these days, security by design is demanded....We are moving quickly away from the guard-and-key security model toward the digital-and-electronic model.  For me it is critical that we collaborate at all levels of NATO to ensure we provide a safe and secure environment for the Alliance to operate effectively,” she says.

Bashnan is enjoying the challenges and opportunities associated with her new position.  “I am blessed that I enjoy what I do,” she says. “At the end of the day, I get to stand on the sidelines of history.  It’s a great day to be a proud Diplomatic Security Service agent influencing the future of diplomacy and democracy.”

About the Author: David Bates serves in the Bureau of Diplomatic Security.

Editor's Note: This entry is also published in the U.S. Department of State's publication on Medium.