The Overseas Security Advisory Council: Promoting Security Cooperation Between the U.S. Government and American Private Sector

The Overseas Security Advisory Council: Promoting Security Cooperation Between the U.S. Government and American Private Sector

TL; DR: Created in 1985, the Overseas Security Advisory Council (OSAC) is a joint venture between the U.S. Department of State and the private sector focused on international security problems of mutual concern. The council’s Research and Information Support Center (RISC), provides research and analysis, outreach to the private sector, and guidance on current and emerging digital threats. Stay tuned for OSAC’s 34th Annual Briefing in November, an informative event centered on expanding your network and knowledge.

In 1985, an increase in threats against U.S. interests prompted a group of CEOs from well-known American businesses to meet with then-Secretary of State George P. Shultz.

Their goal — to increase collaboration between the American private sector and the U.S. government on security issues — was met with the establishment of the Overseas Security Advisory Council (OSAC). Under the Federal Advisory Committee Act, OSAC operates as a joint venture between the U.S. Department of State and the U.S. private sector.

“Since 1985, OSAC has promoted security cooperation between the State Department and U.S. private sector interests around the world,” a U.S. Department of State Official said. “The council is composed of 34 representatives from companies, nonprofit organizations, and government agencies concerned with overseas security.”

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Through OSAC, the public and private sectors work to solve international security problems of mutual concern.

The director of the Diplomatic Security Service (DSS) serves as the council co-chair, as does a rotating member of the private sector community. Today, OSAC also includes more than 5,500 U.S. companies, educational institutions, faith-based establishments, and non-governmental organizations.

In addition, OSAC’s Research & Information Support Center (RISC) provides the latest safety- and security-related information via original analysis, networking events, security consultations, and threat notifications to its constituency.

Every private-sector organization in the U.S. with operations overseas is eligible to join OSAC, participate in events or programming, and use its services at no cost. Overall, OSAC works with more than 25,000 security managers and supports more than 150 individual programs across the country and around the world.

“Networking and access to decision-makers in the private and the public security sector is the cornerstone of why so many security managers have maintained their interaction with OSAC since its establishment in 1985,” the State Department official said.

By leveraging its 35 years of experience to provide the tools and best practices needed to cope with today’s evolving security challenges, OSAC is furthering its mission to mitigate security issues abroad.

35 Years of Experience Mitigating Overseas Security Problems

The security space has evolved wildly over the past few decades with the emergence of the web as a primary communications tool and an increasing reliance on digital assets. To remain relevant and useful, OSAC has worked to extend its reach accordingly.

“Since its establishment, OSAC has followed the lead of private-sector security managers to expand its scope, looking at other threats to operations abroad,” the State Department official said. “Criminality, civil unrest, cybersecurity, health issues, and natural disaster response are among the many security-related issues OSAC now addresses in its products and forums.”

In terms of web security, OSAC has recently turned its focus to concerns such as the use of VPNs in China, data protection while using public wifi, and the increase in Iranian cyberattacks on the private sector.

OSAC’s communication mechanisms have also evolved over the past decades. Originally delivered exclusively through reports and periodic briefings in Washington, D.C., OSAC now provides online access to information through OSAC.gov, the OSAC mobile app for iOS and Android, regular webinars, and its Twitter presence.

In addition, OSAC’s programming has spread both across the U.S. — with more local events available for security managers based outside of Washington — as well as to U.S. embassies and consulates around the world.

The council’s methodology has also evolved. “We must ensure that the security information we provide is clear and actionable,” the State Department official said. “Rather than focusing on academic research papers, we provide short snapshots of ongoing trends and incidents and provide interactive consultations to focus on the specific needs of a constituent.”

OSAC also conducts surveys to determine how its networks are responding to changes in the security environment and then produces timely reports for the rest of the community. This enables each organization to establish standards when it comes to preparedness.

“Since so many in the private sector with security or safety responsibilities do not necessarily have security backgrounds, we do it all in plain English, avoiding technical jargon or other formalities that might jumble the meaning of our message,” the State Department official said. “We want to make sure everyone understands what we have to say.”

OSAC’s Research and Information Support Center (RISC)

In 1997, the Bureau of Diplomatic Security (DS) created RISC — a research and information support staff dedicated to overseas security issues affecting the U.S. — in response to an OSAC recommendation. Today, RISC is made up of research and outreach programs, including country councils, regional councils, and sector-specific working groups.

The Research and Analysis unit, for example, is responsible for producing reports, briefings, and consultations on issues affecting the private sector overseas.

“Last year, we conducted more than 2,000 individual security consultations with constituent organizations and produced 200 original analytical security reports,” the State Department official said. “We published almost all of our popular 250 Crime and Safety Reports to provide a good baseline for the security environment in every country around the world.”

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The Research and Information Support Center (RISC) was formed in 1997.

The Outreach Programs unit, on the other hand, promotes and facilitates information networks such as the OSAC County Councils, which mimic the OSAC model at 142 overseas locations. Country councils help unite diplomatic missions and private sector organizations to facilitate the exchange of security-related information abroad.

In addition to country councils, the Outreach Programs unit brings together sector-specific OSAC Working Groups and OSAC Regional Councils, which provide opportunities for members to engage in security discussions centered on Africa, Europe, Latin America, the Middle East, and Pan-Asia.

Finally, OSAC’s Global Security maintains tight-knit relationships across the Intelligence Community to help urge the release of information at an unclassified level when the U.S. government is aware of specific and credible threats targeting U.S. individuals or organizations.

Moving forward, OSAC will continue to expand its mission to share security information with the private sector. Featured initiatives include a Women in Security forum, industry-specific working groups focused on topics such as aviation and academic security, and overseas country and regional councils for security managers with location-specific responsibilities.

Coming in the Fall: The OSAC Annual Briefing

OSAC is currently gearing up for its single biggest internal event of the year: the OSAC Annual Briefing. Held November 20-21, 2019, in Washington, D.C., the event will focus on expanding one’s network and knowledge. Registration is now open at OSAC.gov.

“This two-day conference hosts 1,300 security professionals from all spheres, and features analysis from our own staff, keynote addresses from major industry players, panel discussions with professionals sharing best practices derived from real incidents, and training opportunities for attendees who range from early-career analysts to chief security officers at Fortune 500 companies,” the State Department official said.

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Register now for OSAC’s 34th Annual Briefing on November 20-21, 2019.

OSAC is also preparing for other program offerings, including regional and countrywide conferences intended to help security managers learn, engage, and network with players from the government and private sector.

If you’re interested in becoming an OSAC constituent, visit OSAC.gov to sign up. Registration is straightforward and provides access to all of OSAC’s services and programming, as well as information derived from OSAC’s vast global network of constituents and organizations.

“Our constituents know who to call when they have a question or a security problem — or even if they just want to bounce an idea off of someone they trust,” the State Department official said. “This is a benefit of OSAC. Moreover, it comes at no cost to the private sector.”

Christine Preusler

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